This morning I got to thinking about the term Culture Shock. It’s something that everyone warned me about before I left the United States and now that I’ve been living in Madrid, Spain for 3 weeks, everyone asks me about the differences I note between American and Spanish culture and everyone wants to make sure that I’m adjusting well. I’ve been to Spain before so I’ve had more time than most to adjust to the Culture Shock, but there are definitely still things that catch me a little off guard and make me smile.
First would have to be how open everyone is here. I’ve been to more gay bars in the last two weeks than I’m sure exist in all of NYC. Gay marriage is legal in Spain and gay culture is definitely highly accepted and I have yet to run into someone homophobic or who has an problem with that culture.
Second is how late everything starts here. I meet up with my friends around 1 or 2am to go to a club that’s open until 6am, and so as not to go back home and sleep on an empty stomach we hit up the Chocolatería San Ginés for churroschocolate at 7am (fried dough sticks and thick hot chocolate dipping sauce.)
Third is definitely the fashion. There really is no place to go to when you want to buy something simple. There’s no GAP and no Banana Republic. Every store has items that are very particular and the style of the younger crowd while being extremely varied, could be tied together by the common theme of bold and eclectic. Anything and everything goes, and everyone is very expressive with their wardrobe.
Fourth is the unreliability of people and stores. The only things you can count on being on time are buses and trains. I went to the local grocery store around 3pm during my first week here, only to find out that it’s closed every day from 2pm-5pm (siesta time) and closed on Sundays. This unpredictability is a little contagious and has successfully rubbed off on almost all of my friends to the point where if a friend tells me, “I’ll see you in 20 minutes,” I wait 45 and then leave my house to go meet them.
Fifth is the Spanish pride. While at the Prado, Madrid’s most famous museum, the other day, I listened in on a guided tour in Spanish where the tour guide proceeded to describe Velázquez as “the greatest painter in the world,” and his masterpiece Las Meninas as, “the best painting in the world.” Since then I’ve heard that Spanish coffee is the best, Spanish wine is the best, Spanish olive oil and olives are the best, Spanish food is the best, I could go on forever!
Sixth is the very relaxed attitude about alcohol. While on a tour of my new campus in Getafe, a pueblo (or small town) 20 minutes by train outside of Madrid, my tour guide was sure to point out the cafeteria where we could purchase a very cheap lunch or some beer. When all of my friends looked a little shocked and confused, our tour guide reassured us that they don’t sell that much alcohol on campus, only beer!
Seventh is that everything is dubbed and every word is Spanish-a-fied. I particularly like to watch Los Simpsons and Buffy Cazavampiros (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). But my favorite Spanification of a word so far has been the spelling and pronunciation of the French word Croissant… Cruasán. (Cru-ah-sahn with the emphasis on the last syllable)
Eighth is without a doubt LAS REBAJAS (sales)! Twice a year everything and I mean everything goes on sale as Spain enters the season of Rebajas. For a month in January and a month in July you can find things for up to 70% off the original price! It’s a godsend to all broke college students!
Ninth is how energy efficient and clean Madrid is. Most lights are on timers and are motion sensitive so they’re only used when necessary, supermarkets charge for plastic bags, everywhere around the city you see street cleaners donning their bright green jumpsuits sweeping and cleaning the sidewalks of Madrid day and night, there are very few elevators in buildings, toilets all have energy saving modes and there is no such thing as a dryer for your clothes, they hang dry out the window.
Tenth and probably my favorite part of my personal culture shock, is that I’m in the land of flamenco. As a flamenco dancer I feel a very intimate connection with Spain and I love that it’s part of the everyday culture here. The other day walking down the street, instead of a guy shouting out something offensive and degrading to women like I normally hear in my neighborhood back in NYC, someone said to me, “Olé, guapa, olé!” (guapa = gorgeous) Which made me smile since it’s something frequently shouted out at flamenco dancers while they’re performing to kind of cheer them on. A club I went to the other night advertises that it plays flamenco music on one of its floors, and just this morning walking home from the supermarket I heard flamenco music blasting from a garbage truck and the driver was singing along at the top of his voice. This made me smile again because it was a song that I know and love so I continued my journey home singing it.
While there are inevitably what my good friend refers to as, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in every place that you visit, my personal culture shock experience has only been filled with The Good and ¡ojalá siga siendo así! Hopefully it will continue to be so).