You can’t even imagine how it is like to be a simple, ordinary student from an ex-communistic, sad and cold country who, out of the blue, is thrown into a crazy, colorful, flamenco-dancing and cured ham-smelling world. Well, I freaked out a few times. So let me drop some knowledge about the things that may surprise a first-timer in Madrid:
Sun, sun, sun. I had spent 22 winters in the most un-sunny city in Poland. I remember my mother dragging me with her for a walk every time the sun was starting to shine. It wouldn’t last long and it wouldn’t happen more than every 5 days in summer and every 15-20 day in winter. So it is perfectly understandable that I freaked out by the amount of sun in Madrid, isn’t it? Not only is it sunny for almost 365 days per year, but also the sky is always clear. You will barely spot a cloud. So don’t forget to always have sunglasses with you!
People will be nice to you. No need to re-read it, it is not a mistake. Now, you think what the hell, right? Why do I need to mention it? I am doing it for all the ex-communistic grumpy citizens from Central and Easter Europe. I am not proud of it but I have to admit, we are rather unkind and sometimes even nasty people. Hey, no judging! We had been living too long under communistic control. Not smiling and nagging at everyone were the only permitted entertainment in our little communistic country. So we kind of nailed it!
Here’s the thing, people you don’t know will tend to talk to you, they’ll smile at you and make a chitchat. They won’t want anything in return. They are not trying to sell you anything or rob you. They are not necessarily hitting on you. They are just this way. So feel free to move your lips and smile back to them. It will make you feel good! I am sure you will get to know so many different local people: musicians in the Metro, older waiters in bar, handsome accountants at a bus stop, Hindi clerks in a grocery store.
Obsession with jamón iberico. Everybody in Spain loves jamón iberico. And I mean it. You won’t find a single Spaniard who would prefer having a tapa of fried potatoes instead of some slices of cured ham. And even every single snack from the supermarket is ham flavored as well.
The first time I saw the huge brown-y, strangely smelling hams sagging down from the ceiling, I kind of wanted to throw up. Then I tried it and still felt like throwing up. With time I realized that not only do the Spaniards eat tons of jamón, but they also prepare very strange dishes out of it. The craziest emblematic one, which you may try in every touristy restaurant, is melon con jamón. It is a big slice of freshly cut melon with 2 slices of jamón on it. I didn’t even bother to ask WHY? I just got used to it. And then the most unexpected thing happened…. I started to kind of enjoy jamón myself (please don’t tell my mum).
(Don’t) Catch me, if you can. It is kind of a game, between Spanish Police and illegal African immigrants selling fake bags. You can enjoy “the (don’t) catch me if you can show” in Madrid downtown. Rules are simple. Team A, African immigrates with white sheets (which by the way, can be easily turned into a bundle) selling the knock-offs on a tourist-rush street. Team P, Police supposedly trying to catch them. The funny thing is, the Police won’t even bother to chase them. They will just appear, out of the blue, and wait for the African immigrants to get lost.
I thought selling things on the street is not legal, especially stolen imitations. And also I was sure that being an illegal immigrant increases the risk of being caught by the Police and deported. But not in Madrid!
Feel free to drink tap water. The first time I saw my Spanish roommate having a glass of water from our kitchen tap, I thought “girl, you’re gonna have the diarrhea of your life!”. And she probably would have had, if she had done it in Poland. But not in Madrid. The quality of tap water is amazingly good here.
Not only will this luxury allow you to save a couple of bucks, but it will also make your life so much easier. Especially when you’re thirsty at night after having drunken too much tequila shots during a fiesta.
Madrid never sleeps. Spaniards use to call their beloved capital city the European New York. Well, I have never been to NYC but I can assure you, Madrid never sleeps. It’s especially helpful if you feel like having a slice of pizza or churros with hot chocolate at 4 am on a Thursday. Or if you fancy mingling with drunken strangers after a party (or before). You wanna continue partying at 7 am? Not a problem, you will find plenty of after-party places to go crazy at and thousands of people following your lead.
I especially appreciate the fact that I will never be alone on a street in Madrid when I find myself walking through the city to catch a night bus to the airport at 5 am. Meeting happy drunk people who greet you when you pass by with huge luggage makes you forget about the few hours of sleep you had that night.
Tiny beers. Before ordering a beer in a bar, lower your expectations and forget how big a pint in your country is. A Spanish beer would be like 3 or 4 times smaller. Over last 7 years I have seen many foreign friends of mine laughing hard when a waitress served them a tiny glass of beer. What’s the point, you may ask? First, let me remind you that Spaniards are very sociable creatures who love to mingle. The point is to have a quick small beer in one bar, chat a while with random people and go to another bar. Then, have another small beer, chat with other random people and be off to another bar. And keep moving from one bar to another, drinking tiny beers and eating little tapas. As you may see, you couldn’t do if each pint of beer was bigger than 0.2 ml.
No sitting in bars. Unless you want to have a 3 course meal, you won’t be allowed to rest your butt on a chair. Having a tapa with a glass of wine must be done in a Spanish way – standing close to the bar counter. That’s the way is works here, so just don’t behave like “a tourist” and follow the rules.
So, if you ever decide to visit Madrid, don’t act like you were surprised. You’ve been warned!