Nicole: Pass the Ham?
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Madrid, etc.
Well, my name is Nicole and I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia. I moved to Spain in 2006 and have been falling in love with the Iberian Peninsula ever since. I work as a freelance writer and translator during the week and, on the weekends, I put all my energy into attacking Madrid’s many restaurants and tapas bars.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started Pass the Ham at the end of 2011, so it’s still relatively new to the expat scene. I don’t know why I started blogging really. I had been in Madrid for almost 6 years before I even thought about putting a blog together. I have always been a writer, but I’ve mainly worked as a technical writer and translator, so I guess I felt it was time to try my hand at something more personal and creative.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Well, my blog tends to flip-flop between stories of my personal expat experiences and things to do in Madrid. One of my favorite blog posts was about the Spanish team’s victory at the Euro Cup. Since I’ve been in Spain, I have really come to love football and I’m always so proud of the Spanish team, so reading that post always makes me happy.
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?
Well, I really enjoyed my first year in Madrid. Although many things were different than what I was used to back home, it wasn’t like a massive culture shock or anything. I came to Madrid with open expectations, not knowing whether I would stay for six months or a year so there was no pressure for me to “make it” here. I learned early on that being flexible to new circumstances is the best way to enjoy being an expat. Just rolling with whatever life throws your way makes your life so much easier.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Madrid? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by much when I got to Madrid. Of course, there were times when I was frustrated at this or that, but I tend to get over things pretty quickly. I guess I would say that my first living situation wasn’t ideal. I was living with a family in exchange for giving their son English lessons. It turned out that the family really wanted an English teacher, a maid, a cook, and a therapist. I guess that if I had to do it over again, I would have put more energy into finding a better living situation when I arrived. But, then again, I have some pretty funny memories of living with that crazy family, so I don’t know if I would go back and do it any differently.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Well, I have often found myself in embarrassing moments and I have the tendency to make an idiot out of myself whenever the opportunity arises. Really, I can’t count the number of times I’ve put my foot in my mouth or done something completely ridiculous. One good example is when I ran away from a horrendous TEFL summer camp a few years ago.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Madrid?
- Make sure you have a hefty savings account before you move. Moving abroad can be expensive so come prepared. Your savings won’t go as far as you think when you’re spending in Euros. I’m not talking millions of dollars here; just make sure you have enough money to get settled and some emergency cash just in case.
- Be open to everything. Don’t waste your time complaining about the difficulties of being an expat; learn to enjoy it. Yes, being away from all you have ever known can be frustrating sometimes, but that is what expat life is all about so make sure to approach your new life with an open (and patient) attitude.
- In my humble opinion, Spaniards can be a tough bunch. Whether you’re talking about the massive bureaucracy here or just ordering a coffee, you’ll need to be tough too. Being shy can kill you here, so if you’re a natural introvert (like me), you just have to snap out of it. It’s best to be outgoing and sometimes, just plain demanding. Being shy and overly polite will get you nowhere in Spain.
How is the expat community in Madrid? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community in Spain is a lively, friendly bunch. As soon as I started Pass the Ham, I got a lot of supportive comments and feedback. There’s a strong expat community here in Madrid and I’ve found a lot of new friends through the blogging world. I tend to be somewhat of a loner, so it’s a nice change for me to be part of a community. There are some great writers here and it’s always inspiring to see Spain through different expat eyes.
How would you summarize your expat life in Madrid in a single, catchy sentence?
Expat life in Madrid is like running blindfolded with a pair of scissors through a labyrinth of ignited fire pits. (I couldn’t come up with something catchy, so I went with something bizarre.)