I embarked on my journey to Madrid in mid-January and, although leaving my friends and family was a little bittersweet, that feeling was soon overtaken by the excitement of what the next few days had to offer.
Right away I could tell I was in a foreign, yet familiar place when I got into the city and saw the vibrant life that filled the streets. There are these towering modern buildings right next to historic older establishments coexisting along with the masses of people walking up and down the streets off to their various destinations. People are chatting along and filling up the shops and cafes as they go about their day.
Although Madrid is starting to feel like home, there are some stark differences that are taking me a little while to get used to.
One thing is being able to get around town without having to use a car. Having grown up in San Diego, the urban city life was not something I had really experienced before. I had never truly lived in that kind of environment. Being in walking distance to all the things I need is a pretty foreign concept to most Southern Californians (and maybe America as a whole). And even when walking somewhere is considered “too far” (i.e. more than 25 minutes via Google maps), the public transportation system here in Madrid, is the efficient alternative that is actually really reasonable. Getting around the city is a piece of cake.
Another thing I’ve had to adjust to is that Spaniards do things at their own time. What I mean by this is that they don’t really do things at the same time as most other people from western cultures. For example, breakfast can be had up until the afternoon at most places – and not because people love breakfast food that much, but because people just wake up later.
On top of that, dinner is a meal that usually does not start until 10 pm. As a college student, that is fine by me but I also see people who are my grandparents’ age sitting at the same restaurant as me during those times! My respect to them and their ability to stay up that late!
And if that’s not enough, going out for a night on the town usually doesn’t start until after midnight and since many places stay open till 7 am, people come home just in time for breakfast. I had to go to a class around 9 am once, and walked by some people who were just finishing their night out. Drastically different timeframes.
The last difference – and probably my favorite so far – is the siesta. The wonderful cultural norm known as a siesta is a mid-day nap for the country of Spain to take when people hit that afternoon lull of drowsiness. Traditionally, the siesta served as a down time when people could go home to have lunch and take a nap (usually between the hours of 12-2 pm), especially during summer when the temperatures can reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in many parts in Spain. Now days, taking a siesta in the middle of the day is not as common as it used to but plenty of places still close during the early afternoon hours. People also resort to taking their siestas a little later in the day. Either way, I will be taking full advantage of this opportunity.
I feel like I have been in Madrid for much longer, but it is a nice to feel at home when in reality you are far from it. I look forward to exploring more of my new home in the coming weeks.
Sergio Cedillo is earning a bachelor’s degree in International Business at San Diego State University. He is blogging from Madrid, Spain during spring semester 2016.