I have been in Madrid for almost a month, though I cannot decide if it has seemed much longer or much shorter than that. Because of the nature of constant learning that is part of studying abroad, time has felt blurry. Each day, I learn new Spanish words, customs, and mannerisms, and because a couple classes I plan to take will not start until next week, I have yet to fully figure out my schedule. I still feel far from settled in to my life in Madrid. Though figuring out my schedule and how to navigate a new culture has left me a bit drained this month, I continue to be excited to be here for all I can see and learn.
In my last post, I wrote I would address Spanish culture in this post, so I will begin with that topic.
The most noticeable and delightful change I have noticed upon arriving in Spain is that people move about their days more conscientiously than in the states. This was especially true in Granada: a medium-sized, historically oriented city. In Madrid, the pace is fast as in many large cities, but when not commuting or working, Spaniards tend to move unhurriedly. This is most apparent in meal culture. Excluding breakfast, Spaniards tend to savor their meals for at least an hour, and use time during and after meals to catch up with friends or family. I have not seen one person eating while walking. (There are snack stores in metro stations, but it seems people must put the food away to eat after commuting.) As someone with the tendency to try to get as much done as possible during the day, I am glad for this opportunity to be more mindful about refueling and relaxing.
A more specific sort of culture: As with living with a roommate, living with a host family requires adjustment from both sides. I live solely with an elderly señora. The last month has had its ups and downs at home; I look forward to becoming more settled soon, and to getting more acquainted with my señora specifically and with Spanish culture as a whole.
She has been very accommodating regarding my food. I am semi-vegetarian and lactose intolerant, meaning I do not/cannot eat red meat and milk products, which are quite prevalent in Spanish food. My señora makes sure I get adequate nutrition each day, and after learning that I really like fruits and vegetables, she has given me a salad and a piece of fruit to have after the main part of dinner. As salads are not a mainstay part of diet in Spain, I really appreciate her thoughtfulness.
One noticeable difference from the states is that I am not allowed to do more than basic cleaning or my own laundry. After years of trying to do my part around my house or dorm, it feels funny to revert to required non-helpfulness. In Spain, more than in the US, señoras tend to do much of the housework, and many seem to claim this as part of their identity and role in the family. My señora is no exception. In my first weeks, she insisted on doing all housework outside of my room. However, in recent weeks, I have been allowed to do a little more (she has accepted my doing my dishes after meals). On one hand, I am hoping that as I become more integrated into her current household, she will feel comfortable with me helping to maintain the house. On the other hand, if she sees housekeeping as part of her identity, I don’t want to step on her toes.
In some ways, we have conflicting worldviews. She grew up during the early Franco regime, and I am sure her formal and informal education influenced how she views people outside her culture and ethnicity. We also have very different beliefs regarding animals as pets/family members or food. Although it has been uncomfortable at times, I look forward to getting to know each other more, so that we will be able to discuss our backgrounds and come to a deeper understanding of each other.
To conclude on an unrelated note, one highlight of the last month was a day-trip to Segovia with the program. We visited the Alcázar de Segovia, which is a beautiful castle on the outskirts of the town. Our tour guide mainly talked about the Catholic monarchs who resided here, but it was initially an Arab fort. The interior was somewhat interesting, complete with a frieze of life-sized dolls of former monarchs and a stained glass googly-eyed horse…
However, I found the view from the top most extraordinary. To quote a friend from the group, what you could see between the battlements of the tower was a “postcard-worthy view if there ever was one.”
In the foreground is Segovia’s cathedral. This is surrounded by the city, which is surrounded by the Guadarrama Mountains.
From the tower, I was lucky enough to see a few storks, including this pair. They were most beautiful in flight, but easier to photograph when in their nest!
A last note about the Alcázar de Segovia: this castle served as one of Walt Disney’s inspirations for his Cinderella Castle.
In my next post, I plan to write about favorite spots in and out of Madrid, food, and Spanish university life.
Feliz día de San Valentín (belatedly, once this post is up)!