By Hillman Hollister, Boston
I am doing an internship right now while following an exchange programme of Harvard University with an American university in Madrid. I love Spain, but there are things that are different to our way of living. What you need to know when you come to Madrid as an American:
Top 10 of things you should know before coming to Madrid
- Your schedule will shift 3 hours later. If you say “buenas noches” to a Spaniard at 6pm, they are going to look at you like you just told them that the United States is good at soccer. Nighttime doesn’t start until maybe 8 or 9pm, and it is not uncommon for people to stay out until 6 in the morning on the weekends. Get ready to eat lunch at 2pm and dinner at 10pm. It sounds a little extreme to foreigners, but if you embrace it you will certainly learn to love it.
- Drinking is part of the culture. More often than not, locals in Madrid are not drinking to get drunk. Alcohol functions more as a conversational stimulant, and in Spain conversation is undeniably important. There is a word in Spanish which has no direct translation in English: sobremesa. It refers to the time when you sit with your amigos after a meal and simply talk. This chatting can last an hour or even longer, and it is often fueled by alcohol.
- You need to work to improve your Spanish. Somehow people in Spain have some sort of sixth sense that allows them to instantly detect if you are not a native Spanish speaker. They will often instinctively switch to English as soon as you start up a conversation with them. If you want to get better at speaking Spanish, you should steer conversations away from English and hold them there.
- Make sure to wear socks and/or shoes in the house. Many Spanish people are not too fond of bare feet making contact with the floor. I’m not exactly sure what this stems from, but better safe than sorry. Just wear some socks, man.
- Eat some tapas. Tapas are basically like the Spanish version of appetizers, and they come in several varieties. There are, of course, the classics: patatas bravas, croquetas and tortilla Española. But every restaurant has its own take on these delicacies. Often times, it is worth it to hop around to several different places consuming tapas instead of sitting down and getting an entrée at one restaurant.
- Do not buy drinks at clubs. This is pretty much a universal rule across Europe. The price of a drink skyrockets as soon as you enter a place with some loud, bumping music. The club knows that you probably already have a drink or two in you when you arrive, and that you just might be willing to spend 15 euros on a coke and rum. This is a quick and efficient way to lose all of your money.
- Use a bus to do all of your touristy stuff. There’s no point in trying to avoid it—you are going to have to hit the major tourist spots at some time or another. I’ve found that a fun, stress-free way to get it done without too much hassle is through a tourist bus such as the conveniently named “Madrid Bus Tour”. This bus will take you to all of the key spots (Prado, Palacio Real, etc.) and let you hop off and explore a little for only about 20 euros. Not to mention that the bus has an open top which lets you get a really nice view of the city as you drive around.
- Bring your student ID everywhere. If you have a student ID, make sure you bring it to any museums, palaces or cathedrals that you want to enter. A lot of times there are student discounts which will cut the ticket prices in half or even eliminate them entirely.
- Be wary of club promoters. If you are walking around the streets at any time after 9pm, you will undoubtedly be swarmed by people promising you great music and free drinks at a nearby club. Don’t be afraid to tall them no or to ignore them entirely.
- Get involved with the soccer fanatics. There will undoubtedly be some kind of soccer game going on while you are in Madrid, and it is absolutely imperative that you get involved. The energy that surrounds this game in Spain is nothing short of electric, and there’s nothing quite like going to a bar and becoming a part of this energy.