First impressions of Madrid

Okay. I´ve just bought 30 minutes of time at the locutorio (Internet cafe) for $1. It won´t give me enough time to edit everything so that it sounds smooth, but that´s my life here in Madrid. I needed to write -something-.

First of all, I´m in good health; I haven´t gotten robbed; everything´s gone according to plan so far. The fresh start I´m getting here is just what I needed. I have time to sleep 8 hours a night, and I´ve even woken up early to run, 15 days in a row. So, I feel healthier than I have in a while.

How well am I speaking Spanish? I´m doing better than I ever have – I could function as a citizen of this country – but I still feel like I´m 8 years old. If it´s conversation, any sort of accent trips me up. If it´s reading, I have to consult my dictionary multiple times per page. It´s a good thing I´m studying here in the fall, as well, because 6 weeks isn´t nearly enough time to develop fluency.

My host family consists of these members: Lili Garcia, in her 60s, who runs the house and is a very good cook. If I weren´t running every day, I´d be exploding from the massive quantities I eat here. Pepe, her husband of 44 years. He is a farmer, and he spends the majority of his time tending the family´s land in Azturias (the colony to the North). They are Bush fans. Jorge, 39 years old, a chauffer. Maria Josefa, 33 years, a secretary. I don´t know their political positions, and they aren´t married yet…an interesting case which will become a column later. And Gabriel, Boston University senior, a Cuban whose Spanish is very easy to understand, thank God.

Now, I´ll address some common Spanish stereotypes with my early verdict on them:

1. Spanish people are lazy: False. Yes, there is a 3-hour siesta from 2-5 PM each day, but everyone still works 8 hours. The usual rhythm is 9-2, 5-8. In my opinion, this is more efficient than the American system because we usually start dragging between 3 and 4 o´clock. Madrid could pass for an American city.

The lazy stereotype does apply to two groups of people: bankers and government workers. Bankers work 8:30-2 and then go home. As for the latter, it´s the dream occupation in Spain. Bureaucrats work only 4 hours a day, with the usual vacation time or more, and get paid the same salary as everyone else. I worry sometimes because so many enterprising, bright young Americans go to Washington to disappear among the papers instead of making a contribution in business or the arts. Here, the problem is even worse.

2. Only old people go to church: Probably True. Old people are the majority of the attendants at my Mass, but there are a LOT of them. There are Catholic churches on every street corner, and none of them are in danger of going out of business. I do see some young people around the pews, however, and the University I attend has perpetual adoration of the Holy Eucharist in the Economics department every Thursday. Can you imagine that happening at Duke?

3. Everyone here has STDs: Many of them do. 2.6% of the people in this country (1 out of 40) are addicted to cocaine. Drugs are cheaper, better, and more popular here than in most other countries. Condoms are expensive. The night clubs are always pumping. So, we know the lifestyle is a little wild. Also, there´s TNA (ie public displays of affection) going on everywhere. Every single time I walk somewhere, I pass two people making out. They certainly do know how to have fun. I have not, however, read any numbers about the STD problem, so this is only my guess.

4. Duke students come to Madrid to drink and speak English: Half-True. 50% are going out every night, though none of them are particularly boorish. I am the only person who´s speaking Spanish on a consistent basis. So, every day I have to make a series of choices between getting to know my fellow Dukies better and immersing myself into the language and culture. I think I´ve done a decent job of balancing them so far, but I wish I didn´t have to do so.

The biggest lesson I´ve learned so far: human beings are generally the same. Yes, they speak another language and live across the ocean from us, but deep down inside, we´re all the same. It´s inspiring to see that it´s true.

OK, I´m out of time. Adios, and Dios le bendiga.

Explore posts in the same categories: Interesting Places, Spain

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