Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Things to miss about Madrid - By Kate

After two and a half years of life as Madrileños, our flat is now empty of our possessions and we've said our goodbyes to the friends we've made here and we're en route to board a boat for Blighty.

Not surprisingly, I'm consumed with mixed feelings. I'm looking forward to living closer to our families and our old friends in England again. The ease of living in a country where I can speak and understand the language is definitely something to be appreciated. And having "the knowledge" of a place - all those little details that make life easier, which has to be learned from scratch in a new location - is something I now appreciate like never before.

But there are plenty of things I shall miss about living in Madrid and indeed Spain. Here are the main ones in no particular order:

The sunshine. There's a lot of it. Sometimes too much. But especially during Spring and late Autumn, it's wonderful.
The fresh fruit. It's great to be able to eat things like mangoes and Kiwi fruit, knowing they haven't been imported. And I shall really miss things like brevas (a large, early type of fig) and picotas (wonderfully sweet dark cherries).
The Hispanic love of babies and small children. Everywhere you go your little cherubs are routinely admired and welcomed by people of all ages and in all places. Where many in the UK tend to assume a slightly pained expression suggesting a bad smell under their nose when they catch sight of children, Latinos smile indulgently and affably chub their cheeks. Even tantrums are greeted with sympathy tinted with the knowing amusement.The breathtaking number of children's play parks. The generosity of spirit extended towards little nippers isn't confined to the general public, Spain's local authorities also make sure their younger citizens are amply provided with places to have fun and let off steam.
The easy give-and-take of high-density living. Take noise, for example. We've never once experienced any dubiousness towards the inevitable noise made by Rosie both as a baby and an energetic toddler. In fact, one set of neighbours came round specifically to tell us not to worry about it. When we've wanted an early night and the sound of loud TVs or music have penetrated our flat, a simple knock on a wall, ceiling or window or (in a couple of cases) a polite request to turn things down have yielded a generally good-natured and prompt response. Why do so many people in the UK take umbrage if requested to keep it down as a mark of consideration for those who live nearby?
Friendly neighbours. Related to the above. We hadn't been living here long before we knew the names of those also living on our floor and were on "que tal?" terms with many more. And although they don't know us well, many have expressed regret when we've told them we're leaving.
The drinking culture. Spaniards love to drink, especially en masse and for extended periods of time. But they don't usually drink to get drunk and it's very unusual for people to show aggression after they've had a few. I can walk through Madrid's busiest nightlife areas on a Friday or Saturday night, surrounded by people drinking and not feel the slightest fear that a fight may break out near me or I might get accosted by an inebriated arsehole who can't see straight. You can't say the same thing about many of the UK's towns and cities, unfortunately.
The public transport. Madrid's system of underground trains and bus routes is excellent. Generally clean, air-conditioned, inexpensive and very frequent. AND the bus drivers don't throw a hissy fit when you board their vehicle pushing a baby buggy.
Non-homogenous high streets. There are still large numbers of independent specialist retailers in Spain and each barrio has its own particular character.
The cafe/bar culture. With lots of outdoor seating and food served all day. Plus the free tapas, of course, meaning ordering food is often not necessary.The trees. Madrid is the most wooded capital city in the world - thankfully, the shade provided is desperately needed during the summer months. Mind you, it does make for an awful lot of municipal leaf-blowing during the winter...
Cheap but stylish women's hair-cuts. There are various things that cost less in Spain compared with the UK, but this is the one where the gap seems to be biggest. €12.50 for a cut and blow-dry....
The sense of satisfaction the comes from communicating in non-mother tongue. The flip side of struggling to understand and be understood. One source of regret is that we're leaving just as I was starting to get a handle on Spanish to the extent that I can at least have a basic conversation with someone.

Naturally, there are aspects of life in Madrid I definitely won't miss:

The summer heat. It quickly becomes unbearable and despite awnings, shutters and ceiling fans, sleep is a restless business when temperatures hit the high thirties. On the other hand, laundry is dry within a few hours of being hung out, so it's not all bad.
Language befuddlement. I've still got a distance to travel before I'm truly comfortable operating in Spanish. It's frustrating to be unable to express myself to someone or to not understand what they're telling me. I can "get by" in Spanish, but to my regret, that's my current limit.
Doggy do's. Urban Spanish dog-owners are somewhat behind their British counterparts when it comes to cleaning up after the family pet. Apparently, they're a lot better than they used to be - which makes me shudder to think what state the streets were in a few years ago.
Over-packaging. Especially fruit and veg. Shops are now beginning to be less generous when it comes to dispensing plastic bags, but there's a way to go yet.
The paucity of charity shops. We found one not far from our barrio, but they are few and far between. Second-hand shops do exist, but the time and energy needed to dig through the jumbled heaps of unsorted clothes to find a decent bargain is usually more than I'm willing to give.
Screeching washing lines. Aerial clothes lines tend to operate on a pulley system and unless you're an abseiler, its very hard to lubricate the metal wheels, which get steadily more oxidised as the years pass. Therefore an alarming series of banshee howls as someone hangs out their laundry is inevitable. And responsible for many a disrupted nap (in my case - Rosie seems to be able to sleep through them, thankfully).

One thing's for sure - as a first experience of living in a country other than the one where I was born it's been a fantastic adventure. I return with a wealth of experience I would never have otherwise had. Not to mention as mother of a daughter who was conceived and born in Madrid. That's an incredible thing in itself.

Will we come back to Spain to live? Perhaps. Certainly, our sojourn here has done nothing to put us off.

Meanwhile, we will do our best to keep our Spanish alive and encourage Rosie to grow up with a grasp of the language from the country of her birth.

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