Jason Porath

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Europe trip pt. 3: Madrid

Yeah, I’m not exactly writing these things in detail, I know. I don’t want this blog to be a 5th grader “How I spent my summer vacation” essay, with a list of events in chronological order, punctuated with the occasional “and then.”

So, Madrid.

Madrid, unfortunately, has been kind of a bust so far. It’s rained pretty much every day, and Amanda (the high school friend I’m staying with) is sick — as are all of her friends. That, combined with the fact that the little Spanish I know was picked up from Taco Bell commercials, has led to an unfortunate situation:

Culture shock.

Amanda and friends

Amanda and friends

When I first went to Japan, hidden in the reams of literature thrust upon us was a very well-written essay on culture shock, which I’d only discover about  a month after I’d gone through it. Culture shock, it reasoned, is a several step process that everyone goes through, and few people realize:

  • The honeymoon phase — This country is great! (2-8 weeks, usually)
  • The angry phase — Why can’t the people just do X or Y?! (6-18 weeks, usually)
  • The bargaining phase — I guess it isn’t so bad, if I just allow for this and that. (the rest of the time, with occasional loops back to honeymoon, then anger, then bargaining)

Unfortunately, the angry phase usually coincided with winter and the holidays, i.e. when people would go back to their home countries. Many people would go back, angry at at Japan, and not want to return. When they did, they’d really start enjoying themselves, and by the end of their time, they wouldn’t want to go back to their home countries.

I’m getting a bit of that here. A short list of complaints (more observations, really; to be taken with a brick of salt):

  • Madrid (and possibly all of Spain) is on a 3-4 hour delay. People get up really late, have dinner really late (like 10 pm), and go to bed really late (4 am or so).
  • Spanish people never leave restaurants. Ever. They spend easily 2-3 hours at a time at restaurants. Not only does it make life difficult when trying to find a place to eat (because your average restaurant can only seat 30 or so people), but it must make survival difficult for the restaurant itself, because of the small number of customers (and no tips!).
  • “Service with a smile” is unheard of. I’m usually held in vague contempt, and I don’t think it’s because I don’t speak the language. People wouldn’t even let me finish my sentence before snatching the menu out of my hand and walking off. They don’t look me in the eye either. It’s a bit odd. People on the street are really friendly, though. It’s like the polar opposite of London in that way.
  • The entire city is covered in graffiti. Almost every flat surface I’ve seen has had something spraypainted over it. It feels kind of dirty, although the streets aren’t any dirtier than London or Edinburgh (cleaner than LA, even!)
  • People make out in public here all the time. Which isn’t so bad, except the way they make out is like that of a 13-year-old virgin with bad eyesight. I have never seen so many guys with their tongues out, trying to lick various parts of girls’ faces. I really can’t tell whether the girls dig it or not — half the time they just look bored.
  • (and this is a purely anecdotal thing) Some Polish dude at a house party we went to decided it would be funny to introduce me to what he called a “traditional Madrid greeting,” by giving me what we in elementary school used to call a “titty twister.” I about slugged him. Suffice to say, said greeting is neither traditional nor a greeting.

Alright, off to Toledo for the day. Excelsior!


  1. People wouldn’t even let me finish my sentence before snatching the menu out of my hand and walking off.

    That happened to me in England a fair amount, too.

  2. Sorry to hear that your friend and her friends were out of commission, that kind of takes a lot of the focus/fun out of visiting.

    What you experienced was the true tenor of Spanish lifestyle. They like to take things easy: Slower-paced and lingering. I don’t quite remember that Madrid was covered in graffiti, but things probably have changed since I was there in 2000. Likewise the people, since I found that most of the people were rude as heck, even though I was speaking Castellano to them. I figured it was because they knew I was a foreigner.

    How did you like Toledo? That was my favourite ciudad, mostly because of the swordcrafting, armorcrafting and jewelrycrafting that was concentrated there. Hope that the rest of your Spanish stay is more favourable towards your visit!

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