Week one in Madrid: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Let me begin with: so far, so good. I’m here now, it’s real, and I’m figuring things out as I go!

But, my sister left on Monday, and reality is setting in. The caveat here is that these are my personal observations. In my last few posts, people who know more about certain things have commented to correct me, which I appreciate. So, if you have more experience or insights into certain things I write about, please comment to set me straight ūüôā

Overall observations about Madrid

Overall, this city is absolutely amazing. The weather is nice, the people are friendly, and you’ll never run out of things to do. Here are the main things that have made an impression on me so far, both good and bad.

Language

Going into this, language was my last concern. Now, it’s priority has skyrocketed to the top of my list.

My mistake was that I made the assumption that many people would have a basic understanding of English. Why? Because anywhere else I’ve traveled in Europe, with the exception of France, most people had at least a basic understanding. Here… I have noticed that the vast majority of the people of Madrid, or Madrile√Īos, do not speak English… at least not well. I get by with a lot of hand motions! If I do find English speakers, they want to improve their English by speaking only in English. So instead of learning Spanish, I end up teaching English. Aye!

What I’ve learned? Never assume anything, and find a good Spanish teaching academy.

Getting around

Madrid is incredibly easy to navigate. The bus and metro are clean, reliable, and fast. I also just started using Citymapper, the app which is similar to Waze, but for public transit. Download it if you ever go to a big city and need to understand which bus to take or which metro to use.

The people

Spanish people are incredible. Everyone is super friendly and helpful! What I have noticed during my travels so far (Segovia, San Sebastian/Bilbao, and Madrid) – is¬†how incredibly¬†proud people are of where they’re from. The people of Madrid love Madrid, and only Madrid. Sure, many people will pay compliments to the north and south, to visit, but no one I’ve met so far would ever say they prefer to live in another area but their own. I’ve never seen a sense of non-egotistical pride like this before.

As for the people of the north (Basque country,) I’ve heard people from Madrid call them “cold.” The Basque couldn’t be more far from being cold! These were¬†some of the friendliest, most fun people I’ve ever met. And what do the Basque say about Madrile√Īos? That they’re flaky. In the Basque country, if you ask someone for a favor, regardless of whether you know them or not, you can guarantee that they’ll be there, rain or shine.¬†They say that’s not the case for the people of Madrid. Personally, I haven’t met enough people in Madrid to verify this statement,¬†although I have had a few experiences of flakiness with people here. But, such is the nature of a huge city, right? You’ll meet all kinds of people.

What I’ve learned? If you’re outgoing and have the desire to meet new people, you’ll be in good company no matter where you go,

Safety

This is, by far, the safest I’ve ever felt in a big city. The main warnings I get from people is to be aware of pick pockets. But in terms of general safety… I could, if I wanted, walk down the street at 4am, by myself, without fear. Why? There are police patrolling the streets constantly, and many have said that “the police are on your side.” People have a deep respect for the police, and the police are truly there to protect. People don’t have any fear of the police. I also think that culturally, people are VERY trusting. One example: in the Basque country, you get charged for your pinxtos (like tapas)¬†by the toothpick. You could easily drop two or three toothpicks on the ground and not pay for all of your food. This sense of mutual respect and trust makes this city feel very safe.

Nightlife

Madrid lives up to it’s name. If you want a party, you’ll get a party. I have no idea, still, how these people can function. They work all day, party all night, and repeat.¬†You’ll see the streets packed mostly on the weekends, but you can find a party any night of the week. The other thing is that places stay open until about 6:00am. And a lot of people don’t even go out until 2:00am. They will either hang out at their friends’ apartments, or go to a bar and chill for awhile, then go out partying at 2:00am. It’s insanity.

Prices

Of course, you could find the expensive areas of town, but generally speaking, it is really affordable here (for me, personally.) The average salary is 1,500 euros a month. Making that much, you would be able to get by just fine. In fact, better than fine. Rent usually starts at 300 euros (for a room) but you can find apartments starting at 550. Not bad. And rent is probably the highest expense people have. You can get a good meal for 5 euros or less at times, but typically you can expect to spend about 8 euros per meal. Coffees are about 1.50 or less, and drinks are 2.50, 3.00. Again, all depends on where you go. Overall, cost of living is reasonable.

Food

OMG the food. I have nothing left to say.

Documents & Legal…

This falls into the “ugly” category. Definitely not as cut and dry as I expected.

If I entered as a US citizen, it’s much more clear. You have three months on your travel visa. The easiest way to stay in Spain is to enroll in an academy to learn Spanish, and you can easily get a student visa (this is what I’ve heard.) Or, you can search for a job and get sponsored by your work. That’s the more difficult route because the company would have to prove why you’re more qualified than someone from the EU.

But, as a dual citizen of the US and Bulgaria, it wasn’t clear which passport was best to use when entering the country. I used my Bulgarian passport, thinking that because Bulgaria is part of the EU, I would have no problem staying in Spain indefinitely. As it turns out, I am getting mixed information from different authorities. The Bulgarian embassy claims that I can only stay for three months, then would have to leave, and wait another three months before I come back into the country (if I don’t have a student visa or have found a job.) Yet, passport/border control says that as an EU citizen, I have the right to stay in Spain as long as I want, without working or getting¬†a student visa, but I still have to register to get an NIE, which will allow me to do things like purchase a phone card, get an apartment, etc.

What I don’t know, is if this NIE means I get a taxpayer ID. What I don’t want to do is pay taxes in the US and in Spain, if my freelance clients are all from the US. It’s my understanding though, that no matter where in the world your income comes from, you still have to pay taxes in your country of residency. AND in the US. I’ve heard that there is a clause that lets you waive your taxes in Spain if you’re already paying in the US to avoid double payment. But does that mean that I have to register asa ¬†freelancer in Spain (autonomo)? And if yes, then I have to pay anywhere from 150-250 Euros a month for health insurance? It’s complicated, and clear answers do NOT exist. I’m digging daily and finding new information. The upside is that I have at least two months to figure it out. Phew.

Here are some pics for your viewing pleasure.

There ya go. If you have any advice, comment.

Buenas dias!

Cheers,

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3 comments

  1. You are right, very few people, not only in Madrid, but in Spain, can speak proper English. Blame it on dubbed movies and tv series which, unlike the rest of the world, are the norm instead of the exception. Because of it, Spanish people is hardly exposed to the english language.

    As for the people, though I agree with the fact that people is very proud of their homeland, this is not so much the case in Madrid. Many people that live in Madrid was not born in the city (I reckon at least a 30% of outsiders), and of those people who are born and raised in Madrid, very few can say that both of their parents and all of their grandfathers were born here. Many, many, many people have come to Madrid looking for a job that was hard to find in the place where the were born. It’s very hard to find a 3rd generation madrile√Īo. So, as much as one can love Madrid, it’s not a feeling as strong as in some other places where people can feel truly rooted.

    By the way, I don’t think we are cold people, but Madrid is such a huge place (compared to other locations in Spain) that even if you go to the same places over and over again, you’ll keep seing new faces every time, so it takes longer to establish bonds.

    Enjoy Madrid!

  2. Your thoughts make me feel like I’m there…Spanish by (almost) immersion….what an experience….it’s your “Brave New World”?