Annie: Gambas & Grits
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Madrid, etc.
I am Annie Garcia, a former banking and finance lawyer from Texas who moved to Madrid with my then-boyfriend (now husband) in spring of 2011, looking for an adventure. We quit our jobs, packed up our houses, and, with our dogs Max and Luke, came to Spain with no real plan. Now, nearly 2 years later, my husband has started his own website development and design company, JawDrop Design, and I have my own food-and-life blog and am in the process of manufacturing a food grater (The Gourmand's Grater).
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
We started writing piecemeal about our adventure before we left Texas but it wasn't until last summer (2012) that I started collecting and fine-tuning my recipes and taking pictures of the finished products. My husband Sergio built this awesome site for me, Gambas & Grits, and we “went live” in late 2012! While I do write about life experiences (being pregnant, my super-awesome standard poodle Max whom I occasionally dress in drag, Madrid restaurant reviews and the Spanish experience generally) I focus on recipes from our current home (Gambas) and the flavors from my Southern U.S. Upbringing (the Grits).
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
I put a lot thought into the “About Me” description, since it's the page I always gravitate to when I am checking out a new blog. Also, in terms of my favorite recipes, I have a handful:
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?
We decided to come to Spain in order to shake things up a bit. Our current lives look very different from the ones we left, not only because the backdrop has changed, but also because we made a conscious decision to live our lives differently. Career-wise, I was unfulfilled. While it definitely took some adjusting (I still cringe whenever I hear a Blackberry vibrate), I feel like I am now on the right path and know what makes me happy, professionally. And although I have lived in Germany and Ecuador, I can honestly say I have experienced more culture shock here in Spain than in either of my other adopted countries. Maybe it's because I'm older or because I am trying to make a living here (whereas I didn't in either Germany or Ecuador), but I am constantly reminded how American I really am.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Madrid? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Yes and no. I was prepared logistically but in no way was I expecting the cultural reception that I constantly encounter. But, no regrets. My goal is to live life to the fullest, and I feel like I am doing that every day.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
It's a common cliché that the Spanish bureaucracy is worse than most. While I have a cache of anecdotes illustrating this, there is one current situation that best underscores this. While I have yet to receive my permanent residency approval (over 1 ½ years in “tramite”), I already qualify for citizenship.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Madrid?
- Don't be afraid to contact other expats with specific questions and to get the real skinny of life on the ground here. You don't need to reinvent the wheel and chances are, someone else has surmounted the issue you are facing. I am always happy to help a fellow guiri.
- Don't be intimidated because you don't fit in (you won't, even if you speak perfect Castellano). Learn that “no” is the default response to everything, and the art is in asking the question in a way that gets you the right answer/answer that you want.
- In receiving packages from outside the EU, instruct senders to (1) declare as low a value as possible, (2) describe items for purposes of customs as “items left behind” and (3) avoid sending anything in November and December if at all possible.
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 really great. In fact, this has been the easiest part of acclimating. In addition to InterNations, I am a member of International Newcomers Club, Americanas in Madrid, and Guiripreneurs. There are tons of great ex-pat organizations that can be found on Meet-Up, Facebook and Google searches.
How would you summarize your expat life in Madrid in a single, catchy sentence?
Chorizo, manchego and aceitunas - what else do you need to be happy?