There is only so much useful research you can do before moving to a new country. Still, I am one of those people who spends days and days trying to find forums addressing every single little detail just because I’m so excited about my upcoming plans.
Case in point: Before I arrived in Madrid I had already calculated exactly how long it would take me to get from various metro stops around the center to my school. These were all calculated down to the minute. It was a bit neurotic.
After being here for almost 6 months now, let me tell you this– Madrid is a fantastic city to live in. It’s walk-able, it’s international, it’s modern, and it also holds onto traditional Spanish values. There are so many positives about living in Madrid, and luckily they drastically outweigh the negatives. Regardless, there are a few things that aren’t really addressed online.
You will probably get pickpocketed
This sounds harsh, but with the amount of friends I know who have been pickpocketed (almost everyone) or have had their phones stolen in general (including myself), it’s likely the same may happen to you. Phones are usually the first to go and it’s just something you have to be extremely cautious about. If you are absent minded or oblivious, especially after putting back a few ¨tintos de verano,¨ kiss your smart-phone goodbye. Prime example: Don’t walk through the crowded, main dance floor in Kaptial, Madrid’s 7 story club, without a hand over your purse and expect your phone to be there later. I would know.
Another thing you shouldn’t do? Be overly cautious. Remember that time I freaked out and thought I had my wallet stolen when I really had just left it at home? Yeah, having to get all new credit cards because I had cancelled them all for no reason wasn’t fun.
The big problem with pickpocketing in Madrid shouldn’t scare you, though. Although the people doing the pickpocketing are smart, as long as you create good habits, you will probably avoid most problems. These days, I always carry my purse on my shoulder with the zipper facing the front. Unattended zippers are too easy to get into. I also never leave my phone unattended on a counter or restaurant table. It is too often that someone will walk by, especially on an outside table, grab the phone and run.
If you do happen to get your wallet stolen, make sure to look in any trash bins or under cars around the area. It sounds ridiculous, but it is useful. When someone steals a wallet, they usually take the cash and maybe a few cards. Nothing else serves them so they just throw the wallet. One friend did this and she actually found her wallet under a car with her driver’s license and other cards still in tact.
Start good habits as soon as you arrive and if you are still worried, leave your valuables at home, or better yet, get phone insurance.
There will be something you don’t like about your apartment
For some reason, most young expats have pretty high expectations for their living arrangements when coming to Madrid. Unfortunately, just like most big cities, it is almost impossible to find that perfect apartment for an affordable price.
Right now, I live in a very central location for a decent price, but our apartment is small. We also have noisy upstairs neighbors and due to the old and thin floors, we can hear every time someone walks around. It’s far from perfect, but it works.
The most common problems with apartments in the city center are thin walls, street noise or cramped space. Many expats come to Spain alone and move into apartments with random roommates. To cover the rent of a flat some of these apartments are converted into 5-7 bedrooms. It’s kind of like college all over again!
My point here: don’t expect to find that affordable, central apartment with a beautiful balcony, large rooms, new furnishings which is also quiet at night with respectful neighbors. It doesn’t exist. What does exist are affordable, centrally located but smaller or shared apartments which come with a few inconveniences here or there.
You might not like Spanish food
Spanish food isn’t as easy to fall in love with as other cuisines. It also doesn’t have a big international reputation, so many people don’t have a correct idea of what to expect. In Spain, you have to dig a little deeper to find out what makes the food special.
Spanish food is more about the parts, rather than the whole. It is about doing simple ingredients well. Spanish food is about frying a tiny pepper to perfection, with a drizzle of high-quality olive oil and sea salt and leaving it at that. Spanish food isn’t about dressing something up if it doesn’t need to be. Spanish food is about eating slices of jamón ibérico with your hands, because it is buttery and delicious in its simplicity. It’s about having one bite of various small dishes, rather than just having a large portion of one.
Spanish food is also very regional, and doesn’t export very well. A prime example would be that awful paella you might have ordered in Madrid. What you should do: order what is fresh, local and traditional in each location and you can’t go wrong.
It really doesn’t get that cold
There is a phrase in Madrid that the weather is, ¨9 months of winter and 3 months of hell.¨ Who ever said this first is delusional, and why have they gone and spread such a rumor? Now every resource about Madrid’s weather quotes this nonsense, all which I consider to be pretty far from the truth .
There are in fact 4 seasons here, and the winter is mild. Sure, some days are cold, but I’m never miserable. Most days I forget my gloves or a scarf and I don’t even miss them. Other days I forget to wear tights with my flats and my feet get cold for about 20 minutes. (This perspective is considering that last year I was in Korea where it gets very cold, but remember I’m still a warm-blooded Californian at heart!)
So here I am to assure you the winter isn’t that bad. Also, most days are still sunny. It’s not perfect, but there are far worse places in Europe to live considering weather!
Free tapas are hard to come by
While bars in Granada are still giving out free tapas like it’s 1999, the bars in Madrid aren’t as generous. Getting a free snack with your drink is usually more of a pleasant surprise than an expectation. The one place where you can find this in Madrid is El Tigre, my definition of food desperation. You would have to have really low expectations and be dealing with a very tight budget for this to be your first choice of food. While the beers are large, and decently priced, the large portions of free tapas are not of good quality. I even question if they just re-plate the uneaten tapas and pass them onto the next customer. Ew.
At most local bars, you can get a caña or a glass of wine for €1.50-3 and will probably get an aperitvo, like some olives or potato chips, on the side. Then you will be given a menu and for about €5-8 you can order something to share with your table. Compared to the rest of Europe, this can still end up being a cheap way to have some drinks and food with friends.
Other times, if you order a drink and food, you might find that the waiter brings you an extra snack on the house. The local spots tend to do this most often, but it isn’t something expected.
All in all, these are far from qualities that should deter anyone from living in Madrid. If you are looking for a European cosmopolitain city, which at the same time isn’t overwhelmingly large, Madrid just might be the place for you.
Are you moving to Madrid soon? Where in Spain would you like to live?