Wednesday, November 19, 2008

5 things I miss about living in Madrid

It's now been more than a month since I left Spain. I had expected the transition back to America to be much more difficult, but the exciting elections and far-less-exciting economic issues have kept my mind focused on other things. There are, however, a few noticeable absences from my "new again" life in America. While there are many more things I miss about Spain, here are the five things I'm missing most about Madrid right now:

1. Speaking Spanish every day
A bit obvious, but I honestly didn't realize how difficult it would be to maintain my Spanish in America. I now live near a neighborhood with a large Hispanic population, and there are of course some Spanish-language radio stations and TV stations here. But it's not the same as walking outside my door and having to speak Spanish to take care of my daily tasks. While I often complained about the "old school" way in which many things are done in Spain, I now realize that these antiquated methods were also a great way for me to practice my Spanish. By this I mean such tasks as going to a bank or meeting with my landlord to pay rent and bills -- in America, we never need to have face-t0-face contact with anyone, we just write a check or pay online. In Spain, the language was just a natural and large part of my daily life, whereas here I have to find time and ways to make Spanish part of my routine.

2. The markets
I'll admit it -- I now feel overwhelmed when I go to the supermarkets here. There are so many products and so many choices, and most of what's on offer is processed. I miss the markets in Madrid, where an entire two- or three-storey building was full of individual stands offering fresh (and cheap!) fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meats... In Spain, I was inspired to shop daily for fresh ingredients and cook for myself -- here, I walk into a supermarket and just want to get the whole experience over with as soon as possible.

3. Jamón serrano, cheap Rioja, and great cheese
I knew I would miss the jamón, and I've still got a quarter kilo set aside for a special day. I can get manchego cheese here, but finding Torta del Casar is quite a feat. And it wasn't just the Spanish cheeses that were great in Spain -- at El Corte Ingles I was able to buy relatively fresh French cheese like reblochon or Swiss tomme or gruyere. I bought some gruyere here the other day; it was rubbery and tasteless. So sad. And then there's the wine. In Madrid, you can get a good bottle of wine at any grocery store for just a few euros -- spend that much on wine here, and it will most likely come in a box!

4. Having people out and about at all times
OK, let me preface this by saying there were times when it annoyed me having so many people around, particularly when I was in a hurry or just wanted some peace and quiet to go for a stroll. But now that I'm in the opposite situation -- living on a street that is deadly quiet for about 23 hours a day -- I miss seeing signs of human life at all hours of the day and night. I suppose it also goes back to my first point about speaking Spanish -- in Madrid, I always had neighbors around to bump into in the hall or wave to while hanging the laundry in our communal patio, or I just had to walk outside and there were people around to say hola to.

5. Pub quizzes
I'm a trivia buff, so I was thrilled to discover pub quiz when I was in Madrid. I became almost obsessive and tried out several of them before finally swearing allegiance to just one place. I'm starting to see a few pub quizzes or trivia nights crop up around here, and I'll be sure to check them out once I put together a team. I suspect it won't be quite the same, as a large part of the thrill for me in Madrid was hanging out with the Brits. I learned a lot about their culture, history, and language (haha), and I did my best to represent the U.S.

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