InterNations Featured Blog
Graham: Graham in Spain: A Blog
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Madrid, etc.
I’m Graham Cruise from Denver, CO. I’m 24 years old and have been living in Madrid now for almost two years. In 2008, during my undergraduate studies, I first came to Madrid to study Spanish for the semester. At the time, I was a Spanish minor, but after living in Madrid for a brief time, my life was changed in the most positive way. I returned to the United States, full of nostalgia and memories from the best period of my life, completely inspired with a new fervor to further my knowledge of the Spanish language. I declared double major in Spanish (and history) and graduated in May 2010 from the University of Colorado Denver. That following September, I moved to Madrid to be an English teacher at a bilingual elementary school. I spent my first year in Spain teaching first-grade children as a teaching assistant through a program hosted by the Spanish government. Currently, I teach social studies (and the occasional P.E. class) at a bilingual high school in the north of Madrid.
When I’m not teaching, I love traveling, listening to music (in particular punk and metal), reading books, skateboarding and going to concerts.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I knew I would make a blog before I went because I had kept one from my Study Abroad experience. Even before moving here, I had always been blogging and I knew it would be a good and easy way of letting my friends and family back home know what I am up to. Also, I’ll always have my blog to look back on in years to come so I’ll always be able to remember the little details from my incredible experience here.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
My favorite entries have to be the ones from the best trips or experiences. So a lot of my favorites are from trips I took out of Spain. But I write about all sorts of different topics from counter-culturism to food to politics to my daily routine. I think every entry is different but for me, these ones were my favorites to write.
- London – February 13, 2011
- Las Fallas – March 28, 2011
- Italy - April 6, 2011
- Spanish Politics – May 26, 2011
- Lyon – May 26, 2011
Tell us about the ways your new life in Madrid differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
My life honestly is completely different. At home, I have a really tight-knit group of friends who aren’t your average Americans: We’re all pierced, tattooed musicians who go to punk shows and center our lives around the counter culture. Here in Spain, I’m much more open to new things, new experiences, and new people. Back home, I had a pretty strict routine with my life-long friends: concerts, skateboarding, playing in bands, and more concerts. Here, everyday is new and I love waking up knowing that something unique is going to happen. Even if it’s just another day at the job, I know that it will still be completely different than something I’d be doing at home. Also, here in Spain I’m now bilingual and I love having a multi-lingual, multi-cultural lifestyle. I have lived with people from all over the world and it is so fun getting to know people that speak different languages have different cultures.
Some things were certainly difficult to get used to. For example, in Denver, my friends and I go to shows weekly. I am constantly seeing local bands or touring bands, sometimes three nights a week or more. Bands that I like don’t really come through Madrid and as far as I’ve been able to see, there isn’t much of a local music scene like the one I’m so used to. Last February, I flew to London just for a concert, because I was getting pent up not having my usual outlet of fast, loud music.
Another thing that is difficult for me is just the easy going lifestyle. I feel like I’m always waiting in line in this country. The instant gratification that we have back in the United States was certainly something that I took for granted and that I dearly miss now.
As far as culture shock goes, I’ve had minimal, but everyone has good days and bad days. Sometimes I just need to get out of my new Spanish life and just do something that the American me would do (like fly to another country for a hardcore show, for example).
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Madrid? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
I was prepared. I always knew I was going to move back to Madrid after my study abroad. Or at least I was going to do everything I could to get back here. When I first made the move, I stayed with a good friend that I had met when I studied here and that was a great help. So fortunately, I wasn’t in the dark when I first arrived.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Since coming to Spain, I have noticed many similarities and many obvious differences between the States and my new environment. One of my favorite topics of discussion that differs between the American way of life and the European is something that we all need: food. In the United States, I would say that we eat because we are hungry. In Europe, they eat because they like to.
I have lived with people from all over the world; from Venezuela to Mexico, to Germany, Ireland, France, Spain, and last but not least, Italy. The Italians. And their food. They are even more snotty about food than the French, I promise you.
One night last Spring, Carlo, my Italian roommate had all of his buddies in town for the weekend. You know that when all the veccios come into town, it’s going to be somewhat of a spectacle. The night began with the usual commotion in the kitchen when it came time to eat dinner. Beers and wine glasses were poured and then mass-cooking began. Carlo and his troops put themselves to prepare some gigantic pasta dish for everyone to eat. Some of our other friends came over to hang out and eat with us. That includes this petit, wide-eyed, dark haired little French girl name Ju Lie. She’s a good friend of ours but boy would she regret the next few mistakes that she was about to commit. The Italian boys served everyone a plate. Ju Lie said she had just eaten dinner but was still a little bit hungry so she graciously took a small plate of pasta. We all began to eat and drink and talk, the usual activities of a group dinner. Eventually, Ju Lie had stopped eating because she became full. That’s strike number one. All the Italians were in a huge uproar. “In Italy, you have to eat all the food you put on your plate! You don’t want to insult la mama italiana, do you?” They all shouted at her like she had ripped a Botticelli painting in half or something. Ju Lie had drink in her mouth and it took her every little effort to keep it in because she was laughing so hard. Her face turned bright red and that made all the eager-faced Italian guys even more animated to playfully harass this pitiable girl for having disgraced their food. I know that they really weren’t upset about her not being able to finish her meal, but apparently it’s some grave offense in Italy to put food on your plate and not eat all that you have taken. Then, Ju Lie lit up a cigarette to smoke. In the confusion of all the guys harping on her for not having finished her plate, she accidentally slips up and uses her half-eaten plate of pasta as an ashtray. You can just imagine, the ten or so Italian men we had in the room all jump out of their seats screaming. “WHOA! You can’t use la pasta as an ASHTRAY!” The boys start waving their arms and screaming frantically giving this poor tiny little French girl endless hell for having committed apparently what was the crime of the year.
Carlo puts his hand over his eyes to hide the shame he felt. The others start practically pulling out their hair. They all move in closer to attack little Ju Lie, each adding their own little twist about how their grandmother’s would be rolling in their graves if they had witnessed such mockery to the Italian feast.
Ju Lie, meanwhile, in her strongest efforts, was laughing uncontrollably making her even more vulnerable being completely unable to utter a word in self-defense. “That’s it!” one of the Italians yelled. Before any one knew it, Carlo began writing on a little piece of paper, grabbed some tape and stuck it to the kitchen wall. In bold black letters read:
Lista Negra: Black List.
That was the night Ju Lie was blacklisted from la cuccina. She was never to return to the kitchen.
Of course this was all in fun and is now a story we love to tell.
That list has remained on that wall ever since, but it has since grown considerably. There are now about ten names; in the number two slot: Kara, a friend of mine from Denver for having slabbed on an enormous glob of ketchup on the sacred tortilla española; Marta, Carlo’s girl friend for calling some yellow rice dish Carlo made her “paella,” when it clearly was not paella. The list goes on and on and I’m sure their stories have been long forgotten, but it just goes to show that Europeans are food lovers, and if you decide to offend the food, but you offend an entire country.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Madrid?
- Tip one: be patient. Despite Madrid being the capital city of Spain, things go slow. You will find yourself waiting in lines worse than those at the DMV back home. Sometimes that’s hard and aggravating, but just hang in there and eventually you may start to adapt to the slow-paced environment. Just go grab a caña (small beer) and enjoy the relaxing lifestyle we don’t experience much in the United States.
- Tip two: if you really want to integrate yourself, avoid the touristy places like Irish pubs and the bars in the middle of the city. There are a lot of great and fun places right in the middle of Madrid, but they are usually full of foreigners. If you feel homesick, sure, grab a pint down at one of the pubs because you’re sure to find other Americans, but take a step out there and find the places that the Spanish people go to. Plus, if you’re going to learn Castilian Spanish, you’ve got to find where the real Spanish people go.
- Tip three: Get involved in something. If it’s difficult to meet people, do an intercambio with someone (something I wish I had done at the start). Join one of the many local theatres. Be a volunteer somewhere (for starters, try the tabacalera, an old tobacco factory that has been gutted for concerts, organic gardens, art exhibitions, a café and even a mini-skate park). I took a photography course when I first moved to Madrid and I was able to make friends there. I even found someone looking for a private English instructor for their sister-in-law’s children. That led to me being able to find more private classes than I could possibly do.
How is the expat community in Madrid? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Madrid is pretty large. There are lots of students and even more English teachers, most of which are doing the same thing as me. There are lots of intercambios (language exchanges) where you’ll find tons of Americans. It’s very easy to find other Americans who are similar to you, but I couldn’t give you a good estimate as to how many Americans there are because I have made an effort to steer away from places where I know I’ll find English speakers. I have come here to learn Spanish and to immerse myself in their culture so I haven’t branched out too much in the expat community. But that’s not to say that I haven’t met fellow Americans along the way; the few that I have met are now some of my best friends.
How would you summarize your expat life in Madrid in a single, catchy sentence?
In Madrid, the best nights to go out are Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.