A woman in a red dress sits pillion on a noisy scooter looking glamorous with her hair flowing out the bottom of the open-faced helmet. A gay couple stands intimately on the corner professing their love and how they miss each other already. An old man eyes up a saucy prostitute in 6 inch heels and an animal print dress, and makes his approach for some bartering; and I sit eating my ice cream and observing the sexuality of the Spanish culture that I hadn’t before considered.
I am approaching my second week in Madrid now and the cultural differences and experiences I have encountered this far already have been both eye opening and life changing. They have definitely helped me to think critically about the world around me, and the ideals I hold, and I feel both alienated and excited by the prospect of four months here.
The main differences that come to mind right now are obviously open sexuality, and also cultural difference with respect for time. Punctuality for example, is one thing here that I am not fond of – because the Spanish are NOT punctual. Not that I’m complaining (much), but it does annoy me when I arrive at work at 8 [even ten minutes late myself sometimes] and I am always the first person in the office… which is fine except it’s always LOCKED. Punctuality has also been a drama for me when hoping to view apartments and flats, because they people are hardly ever there, or keep rescheduling thinking that you’re willing to wait around. Needless to say none of those flats I ended up viewing! I’ve ended up getting a fantastic place right in the heart of the city with a balcony to die for!!!
In addition to punctuality, while I adjusted to the time zone remarkably easily, the whole Spanish workday and meal times is a tough one to get used to. I work 8-3, which are the summer hours. Due to the shortened day this means no lunch break… So after work about 3:30 I have a huge lunch, or a leisurely afternoon drinking cañas and nibbling at tapas till around 5. Get home and do the siesta thing, and then everyone has dinner at around 9-9:30pm. This is hard to deal with since I normally have dinner around 6:30. When I tell people this they think it’s absurd – but probably because here the sun doesn’t set until ten, so it makes sense to eat later. I’m sure I’ll adjust though and then have the whole reverse shock when I go back to ‘normal’.
Another thing here that is surprisingly different is the inability to pay small amounts by debit card. This has caught me out on numerous occasions because I´m not accustomed to carrying cash. Minimum card amounts here are around €12-15
Super market shopping is also a drama here. Instead of trollies due to spacial limitations they have large baskets, but these still have wheels. So everyone drags their baskets around the floor like trollies except they´re harder to see. You walk around the supermarket on edge because they´re like these sneaky landmines waiting to catch you out. You have to dodge hordes of them just to get to the flippn´ cheese haha.
Anyway enough of this normal life stuff, Let me tell you more about the city (PS here´s a metro pick to back up my claims from last week).
I like to think Madrid is the ´Gay´ capital of the world. I´m not sure if this is an official title, however it certainly seems this way to the straight onlooker. Due to Spain´s very progressive laws surrounding gay marriage and anti-discrimination, Madrid hosts the European Pride Parade each year in July. This happens in the very center of Madrid and attracts more than a million participants and visitors. Besides the parade there is also 3 days of live music, street parties and events that make it the most colorful and ´loud´ event of the year apparently. I am definitely not one to disagree with this claim. I have never seen so many sparkly outfits, small hotpants, buff men with muscle t´s or no shirts (pants) at all, outrageous hairstyles, and high-heeled gowned men! Not to mention overweight women with shaved heads and rainbow flags. It was entertaining to say the least. Flags flew from the balconies all through Chueca which is the gay district, and condom balloons were `erected´ all through town!
Unfortunately I don´t have many pictures to accompany this as I was too short to see much, or too polite to take photos – although I´m sure they would´ve all been flattered.
Again with the sexual and provocative nature of this city, I am surprised by how openly affectionate people are in public here. I went for an evening stroll through Retiro Park last night, which is absolutely stunning. It was alive with people doing yoga, running, having dog meet-up groups (where everyone stands around and watched the dogs trying to mount each other and cheers), and multiple roller-skating fitness classes (which I can´t get my head around since it´s so uncool in NZ); but most off all the park is full of people practically fornicating. People young (and not so young), straddling each other on park benches, licking ice-cream off each other’s fingers, lying in the grass kissing and lying on top of each other, the park was FULL of this kind of activity and I just don´t understand. This is the biggest cultural difference of all. How unacceptable would this go down in sooooo many other countries? People even hug and kiss on escalators in the metro. CRAZY.
In other news, my lingual retardation has got the better of me, and even bought me to tears at one point. I have a hideous inability to communicate and this must be the least I´ve talked in years. As a result – I´ve signed up for night classes starting next Tuesday night. YAAAAAAAAY! Pretty excited.
I have also been making great use of my new balcony with new friends, and tonight – with old friends as some cheeky kiwi girls will be paying me a visit. Hold tight for the next installation.