Spain is a beautiful country with so much to offer. From the craggy mountains of Andalucía to the buzzing night life in Madrid, lush green spaces of the north and breath taking architecture of Barcelona. Kind people, cheap beer and long hot summers; Spain is a country that seemingly has it all.
However, all countries have their differences and after living in Madrid for the past 6 months I’m ready to share some of the things have been more shocking or uncomfortable to me in comparison with life in England.
1) Night life
Back home I’m the girl who peaks at 12, crashes at 2 and grabs a big plate of greasy chips to enjoy in bed by 2:30 MAX. My friends will be relieved to know that living in Spain has completely changed my body clock in terms of going out. We don’t head out til 2 or 3AM and stay in the club until at least 6AM. To be fair that’s partly because my housemates and I are too cheap to pay for a taxi and wait until we can use our travel cards on the metro, but the party doesn’t even get started until 3am here.
Beer and wine are both super cheap in most bars, though spirits are more expensive. You can grab a tin of Amstel at the shop for 25 cents and a bottle of prosecco is about 2 euros from the supermarket.
That being said, drinking in clubs is STEEP. You need to drink before or money will ooze out of you. It’s 12 euros for a vodka coke in most big clubs here, which compared to a 3 pound double at home is a bit of a shock. The Spanish don’t use measures for spirits and you get what you pay for, with a gin and tonic being 2/3rd of a glass of gin, it’s hard to get any tonic in the glass afterwards.
2) Gender Issues
I noticed a change in men’s attitudes towards women as soon as I got here.
Heckling and cat calling in the street is common and tolerated by society. Whether I’m on a run, popping to the grocery store or on my way for a night out men scream and whistle at me in the street. Sometimes they come close and obviously look me up and down and make comments like ‘oh girl’ and lick their lips and sometimes they walk beside rubbing my arm or back and me calling me over the top compliments like ‘reina’ (queen.)
All my female friends that have moved from abroad agree that heckling in the street is most more prominent here in Spain, and although of course it happens in England as well it is frowned upon in our society and considered a form of aggression, whereas when I’ve expressed my discomfort here people have told me I should relax and see it as a compliment and nothing more or less.
One night in a club I couldn’t bear the forwardness of the men on the dance floor, who were touching me and grinding against me without any consent and I grabbed a taxi home to get some personal space. I got chatting to the taxi driver on the way home who was a father to two daughters my age and smiled sympathetically. ‘The thing is love, no doesn’t really mean no in Spain, it means maybe try harder.’ I stared at him in shock. No always means no.
Lots of Spanish men are extremely respectful of women, but in general I feel like society here doesn’t view the objectification of women as a problem, but rather as a natural part of life which women shouldn’t complain about.
3) University is an extension of school
In England, going to university is a rite of passage where you learn about yourself, develop your independence and start transitioning into an adult. We try to get as far from home as possible and launch ourselves into the university community.
In Spain, people tend to live with their parents rather than moving away and go to the closest uni to home. I was surprised to see my house mate, one of the exceptions, gets regular deliveries of Tupperware boxes filled with meals his mum has cooked, even rice.
The university doesn’t have societies or clubs like back home, where you can do anything from boxing to quidditch and because of that you don’t tend to form close bonds with your class mates. In my experience they already have a group of friends that they go back home to hang out with as soon as class finishes.
Because of that the international students tend to stick together as we are all in the same boat, looking to make new friends and try new experiences. My best friends here are Irish, Hungarian, English, American, German… My class mates are all kind and warm but the few Spanish people that I hang out with are people I met out in Madrid rather than at uni.
4) Quick fire shockers
– Fully grown adults go around on little scooters and no one thinks it’s weird
– Sex shops seem as common as supermarkets, and are positioned on popular streets without any attempt at discretion. Sex vending machines are even positioned at seemingly random locations, where you can buy dildos, fake vaginas, sex dolls, lube, condoms… Conveniently placed next to the coffee machine.
– Tipping the waiters is considered unusual in the smaller independent bars. 3 times in the first couple of weeks I had a waiter smile at me in surprise and hand the tip back.
– Every single dog being walked wears clothes… pink hoodies and glittery hair grips galore.
– Homelessness is particularly prominent in Madrid, and beggars ask you for money several times a day. People will even approach you whilst you’re eating in a restaurant and it isn’t considered unusual for them to do so. Remember Spain was hit particularly hard by the financial crash and times are tough for a lot of people.