The heat hits me as soon as I step off the plane. It surrounds me in a thick suffocating embrace and welcomes me to this strange new land. I’m an ‘extránjero’, a foreigner, and no matter how I try to sink into the background it is impossible because I simply don’t look or act Spanish. I don’t think I could if I tried. I clamber into the taxi and immediately try the whole ‘hablas ingles’?? The taxi driver wouldn’t have bar of it for a second, and so it began. Once he understood that I truly was lingually retarded we proceeded to have a mish-mash SpanGlish conversation that was rather pleasant but challenging for both. This is how it seems to be in Madrid. The locals are unwilling to speak English unless a serious attempt is first made to communicate in Spanish, which I like; although it’s nearly bought me to tears a few times in the past week as I truly haven’t been able to ask for or get what I’ve needed.
Needless to say my first 5 days of integration into the life of an extránjero has been a journey. Upon arriving at the hotel after my long-haul a young (ish) Madrileño rushed to grab my bags from the boot of the taxi and proceeded to take them inside for me while babbling on in the foreign lingo. Following my check-in he insisted that he help me to my room with the bags and crammed into what I swear was a single person lift and proceeded to make me feel very very awkward. At the door of my room he then asked me (from what I managed to translate) if I wanted to ‘jugar – play’. My face burned red and in blundering mime I tried to display a long-haul flight and wanting to sleep. He didn’t really get the picture and came back knocking a few hours later. Since then I have learned a few rather forward terms for ‘piss-off’.
Following this I crashed for the night to a sound and peaceful sleep. When I woke up I thought the time difference had thrown me, and forgetting to change my watch from Singapore time in transit, I took a sleeping pill to help me back to sleep not realizing it was 7am. It all made the transit and first day very eventful and a colourful start to the expat experience.
My first observation of Spanish life is that everybody seems to NEED noise. The people almost thrive on it. Horns are tooting, old women are shouting from their balconies, dogs are barking, televisions are blaring, radios are trying to drown out the sound of the televisions, people are talking loudly to drown out the radio, and other people are trying to talk over their friends. It’s exhaustive, but also lively – and I think it’s what makes Spain what it is. I did read on the plane that there is some debates that the noise is so bad almost half of all 14-30 year olds suffer irreversible hearing damage, but I doubt it’s that severe. Maybe mental damage would be a more appropriate topic of debate.
This is the same even in the business district where today there was a protest on god knows what. The screaming mob in fluro orange were throwing some kind of explosive into the street that boomed and echoed off the surrounding buildings and had me jumping. Similar to the crack of display fireworks when you’re right under them, my heart leapt out of my chest about every minute for over 2 hours. Natives just shrugged and went about their days even with the Polizia arriving and sirens blaring. It’s a usual occurrence in Madrid according to my colleague.
Business life in Madrid is not what I had expected for myself upon graduating from University. While the armed guards, security checks, metal detectors, and national flags in the entrance of my company provided a very astute and diplomatic appearance, life within the organisation so far has seemed very relaxed, and I’m sure my integration will be a smooth one. As a multination organization that is part of the United Nations it displays the most impressive arrangement of gender, race and religious equality of any organization I’ve ever been in contact with and it is an honour to be involved with. My colleagues are from every corner of the world, and in my department alone we are Kiwi, Brazilian, Moroccan and Spanish. Also the friends I’ve made so far are German and Jordanian. (My building is below with the shiny windows…)
The heat is proving a challenge for me here also and it’s soaring well above 30 degrees, even during the night. It radiates off the concrete and the white-washed statues and surroundings. It’s bright, and positively blinding. Sunday is forecasting a high of 39, right in time for the Annual Gay Pride Parade, which is said to be the best in the world. No doubt my next blog will be very colourful. This heat has made the work commute on the metro a real intrepid experience also. During commuter hours (especially on the way home around 3pm [yeah summer hours are 8-3 cause it’s too hot]) you literally end up spooning the person in front of you cause it’s so crowded; all while looking the other way and trying to act nonchalant about the whole situation, while rubbing up to a slippery sweaty stranger. It really is an eye opener for a little kiwi girl. It was reminding me of images of Asian public transport where the guards literally push people into the doors so more will fit. I saw a lady almost taking a running leap into the crowd today in order to not have to wait for the next train.
While this blog is relatively mundane, it’s been a week of getting settled and finding a place to live (which has been a drama in its own right). Next week I’ll report on all the boobs I’ve seen in the local parks, how it’s so hot that all the chewing gum on the pavements melts and sticks to the bottom of your shoes, and how mums let their little boys wee on pot plants in the central city.
Until then, adios y un abrazo.