Once upon a time, I left Spain and wrote about the top five things I would miss about living in Madrid. It was all very true, and reminds me of the things I should appreciate now (whilst I’m still here). However, as with all things positive, there’s always a downside to everything. A lot of people assume that living abroad is glamorous, always fun, and never problematic. However, as I’ve elaborated on several times before, it can often be stressful. In terms of Madrid-specific things, here are the top five things that I take issue with.
1. The Staring
There are two things that make me very uncomfortable, and staring is one of them. Usually, this is a pet peeve shared between shyer folk, but I find that it applies to me, too. Here in Madrid, you could be walking on the street, minding your own business, and find yourself being stared down by the person walking towards you. I don’t quite understand why, or how, this is totally acceptable, but it seems that staring isn’t much of an issue to Madrileños. The worst place to experience this, however, is probably on the metro. The woman sitting across from you on the metro? She’s probably staring at you, her eyes furrowed. The man to her left? Don’t count him out – he’s staring at you, too.
Now, my intention isn’t to generalize. Not all Madrileños are like this, and not even all of these serial starers are Madrileños (let alone Spaniards). That being said, this is much more of a Madrid thing than an anywhere-in-Canada thing, so it’s still very much a culture shock (and problem) to me. While it’s probably sometimes a compliment to be looked at, I can’t help but get a little annoyed by it.
2. The Noise Levels
Normally, when people think about noise levels in a city, they assume you’re talking about the sound of traffic. In this case, I mean the sound of people. While not everyone in Madrid speaks very loudly, on average, Madrileños do talk much louder than most other people I’ve met in my life. I come from a louder-than-average family, but they don’t compare to Madrileños (at all). I myself have even been labeled as “loud”, but in Madrid? I’m “soft-spoken”.
I do have to admire the way Madrileños can project their voices, but it often seems completely unnecessary. It’s also extremely off-putting when someone’s natural voice sounds like they’re shouting, but then again, maybe I just prefer smooth voices.
Not having enough space is the second thing (after staring) that can easily make me feel uncomfortable. Granted, this one is probably a big city thing rather than a Madrid-specific issue. Still, it’s quite bizarre to me how much I feel I get touched by random strangers in Madrid. On the metro – once again a focal point – there is always someone touching you. There could be a great deal of room a few feet away, but the next person to get on will, almost definitely, come stand right next to you. Chances are, they’ll touch your bag, arm, or something. It’s never done in a very obvious way, but there always manages to be too much proximity. While I consider myself to be quite comfortable with touching, I usually apply this to friends, family, and even new acquaintances. Random strangers, however, don’t apply. Another thing I may not be as comfortable with is something speaking to me about 5 cm from my face, but it can often happen under the Madrileño sun.
Many people don’t have as much of an issue with any of this, but there’s one major problem in my case: I hail from one of the world’s biggest, and most spacious, countries in the world. Unlike the United States, Canada isn’t highly populated, so we’re probably more claustrophobic. Therefore, take this one with a grain of salt.
4. The Language Confusion
In all honesty, this one isn’t really Madrid’s fault. It is, by all accounts, my own. There’s really no changing where I’m from, and that Spanish is not (and never will be) my first language. It probably won’t ever be my second language, either, and would have to fight to be my third one. As a result of being multilingual, my brain can become extra confused by having to think in yet another way. To make things worse, I teach French as well as English. While teaching English can be a little challenging, it pales in comparison to teaching French in Spanish.
There is, however, one bone I have to pick with Madrid when it comes to languages. Should someone find out you speak English, it seems that it’s sometimes difficult for them to carry on with you in Spanish, unless you absolutely insist on speaking Spanish. Thankfully, I find that the longer I spend my time in Madrid, the less this becomes an issue. Still, there are always the extremely incompetent English speakers that refuse to revert to Spanish, despite my 2nd graders easily putting them to shame in that department. It can also lead to some strange encounters, and very strange approachers. A phone call in English? Forget about it – that just leads to more staring. No bueno.
There are some things I absolutely love about Madrid’s location. Firstly, Madrid is in central Spain, meaning that traveling to any other part of Spain is sort of a breeze. It’s also well-positioned in Europe, and is only a few hours away from a coast. Its location is why it’s so sunny, too, which is never to be depreciated. Madrid also has beautiful mountains, some of which I’m lucky enough to see every day at work. However, as much as I love what Madrid has to offer as a big city, I’m not really a closed-quarters city person. What I appreciate the most, about any place, is usually its natural beauty. The ocean, in particular, is my favourite place to be. As cheesy as it sounds, I’ve always considered myself to be a “water person” rather than a city or country person. As such, I find it difficult to completely attach to cities or places that lack the ocean at its doorstep, which is unfortunately inconvenient. Sorry, Madrid. It’s not you, it’s me.
Despite its downsides, Madrid is a great city to live in, with so much to explore and truly appreciate. I’ve never been to a place like Madrid before, and think of myself as blessed to experience it. I suggest that anyone with a slight inkling to visit the city to do so, and even consider living here if possible!