March 2, 2011 - Posted by Erin in Culture, Food and wine, Madrid, Spain

Recently, I’ve met a slew of new American expats, both firmly and not so firmly planting their feet in Spain’s red soil. Like myself, many move here hoping for adventure, others arrive following romance, and, almost always, everyone dreams of speaking the Spanish language overnight. But then, reality hits, and suddenly you’re in a foreign country, adapting to an odd food schedule, bizarrely inefficient processes, and smoky bars (wait, no, NOT smoky bars as of January 2nd of this year! Just had to rejoice in declaring that news again). The first months and even years are full of growing pains. You often don’t feel you belong, you feel like you will quite simply never speak the language, and you begin to miss good sushi with every ounce of your being.

And then, you remember that you are in SPAIN. Every day, for the last three years, I kid you not, I remain grateful that I’m here. Through the blunders, kleenex and curses, I try to remind myself of my favorite things (and we’re not just talking raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens here). And, sure enough, with time my favorite things have begun to heavily outweigh my “unfavorite” things.

So, when the Spanish dog bites, and the madrileña bee stings, here is the list of fantastically Iberian things that keep me singing the country’s praises.

The food. Period.

Duh. Really, do we even need to go over this? If I weren’t married, and could marry a physical object, it would be the tortilla española. And not just any tortilla, but rather my mother-in-law’s tortilla. Yes, it’s that darn good. It transports me to food heaven – furniture starts to look like bars of chocolate, people look like gingerbread men, and my beloved tortilla is the center of my universe. Joining this food love affair, as I’m sure you all know, is manchego cheese, jamón, croquetas and even pulpo (octopus). Spain, dear Spain, my life wouldn’t be complete without these delicacies.

The people

While waiters may not be the warmest of folks (they don’t really get paid tips – you’d be bitter too, right?), rest assured that most any given stranger will go above and beyond to help you. Three years of living here and I’m still blown away by the fact that when I ask for directions, people often either walk with me to my destination or even drive me there (remember the fellow with the mystery zucchini?). I remain in awe of the over the top hospitality I receive when visiting an acquaintance’s home. And then I’m just plain comforted by the simple way a group of people I hardly know always makes me feel like I’m part of the club. In fact, when my father visited Spain for the first time last summer (for that trivial little event of ours), he felt so welcomed and embraced by the culture that it has literally taken him months to stop marveling over Spanish hospitality.

Rhythm of life

What rhythm? You don’t hear it? I hardly do either, and that’s because the rhythm is ever so faint. If the US were a fire hydrant, Spain would be a rusty faucet slowlllyyyy dripping water. At first, this drove me mad, MAD I tell you. Why doesn’t the line go faster? Why is EVERYTHING closed on Sunday? And why isn’t anything open between 2:00pm and 5:00pm!??? But then, my rhythm slowed too, and gradually, with the surprise of frustrating idiosyncrasies having worn off, I now no longer get fussy. Here, people live in the moment, and that’s OK – they take time (LOTS of time) to have the most basic of lunches, they walk slowly through the city streets, they always pick up their phones to chat with a friend. Sometimes it can be positively aggravating, but now, more than anything, it makes me a better person because I’m able to enjoy life more fully (that’s what I tell myself anyway).

Car lifestyle

Yes, I’m following the heartfelt bit about me being a better person, with my perspective on car lifestyle. Sounds shallow, but hear me out. In Spain, people pretty much don’t car about their cars. Bump, ding, scratch, scrape, dent – no pasa nada. Double-park for an hour? Sure, why not. Park over a crosswalk? Meh, go for it. This probably sounds like the makings of chaos, but for me, not so! For every time I’ve been blocked in a parking spot by a double-parked car, I’ve probably conveniently gotten 50 things done by being able to do the same myself. Meanwhile, when I get a scratch on my own car, I laugh and chalk it up as another fabulous battle scar. I guess I just never realized how liberating driving could be until experiencing the stress-free disorder of the Spanish roads. Again, it’s all about living in the moment. Who gives a flying tortilla about my silly car?

The Metro

Seriously, the Metro is Dios‘s gift to Madrid (just as the tortilla is to my food universe). What a magnificent system it is – and I can say this too as I’ve seen a metro/subway or two in my day. New York, London, Tokyo – all just child’s play, really. The Metro, in all its glorious efficiency, can take you virtually anywhere in Madrid for a euro (sometimes more if you leave the city limits). Everything is immaculate, clearly marked in Spanish and English, and bedecked in colors and numbers so that you never get confused. I love my car (to the extent that I don’t care at all what happens to it), but my life could easily go on without it given this city’s spectacular transportation.

There you have it. My favorite things about Spain. I would advise that you keep this list handy in case you too get blue, but I realize that might be counterproductive if you don’t actually live here. Instead, I prescribe a trip to the España ASAP! I’ll treat ya to some tortilla while driving you around wildly on the Spanish streets and talking on my cell phone with a friend. You’ll feel right at home, I promise.

37 Responses to “Dear Spain, I love you”

  1. Kristen Says:

    And one day I will profess my undying love too! 🙂

  2. Erin Says:

    It should be noted that my professions of undying love (such as this blog) are typically followed by rants over my dying love. Ahhh, the life of an expat. We know this all too well!

  3. Melinda Says:

    A treat Erin! Love the whimsy, the passion and your ability to make everyday life in Spain the center of heaven on earth. That tortilla has my name on it when I get there! Love you girl!

  4. Erin Says:

    You can be sure that tortilla and copious amounts of wine will be waiting for you when you make it here! xx

  5. Tano Says:

    “Car lifestyle”… Erin, you’ve been to so many places around the world! Except Europe and USA+Canada, it’s everywhere the same, hehe. I personally don’t like this style (I refer to double parking or doing it over a zebra cross, neither do I care about scratches!) because sometimes they want to be “SO” European, but they just show themselves how they actually are. I may not have been clear enough…
    I think this has to do from where we came from. I’m used to a lot more of disorder, so when I’m in here sometimes I get stressed by so much order.
    I 200% agree with food (we could literally write encyclopedias with the country’s food)and metro. I would also add to these points the public health service.
    People is good, yeah. But I think I’m used to being like that.

  6. Erin Says:

    You make good points, Tano – it’s all relative! Too much disorder to one person seems like too much order to another! Spending time in Vietnam last summer actually showed me what the other end of the car extreme can be like (and somehow I think I even grew to like the car lifestyle there – clearly I’m crazy). Alas, we can at least agree on the food, and that’s all that really matters right? And you make a good point about public health care – that SHOULD have been my sixth point (considering I don’t have health care to cover me in my own country when I return!).

  7. Tano Says:

    Don’t worry: there are plenty of countries with free health system where you can travel if in need 😛

  8. Erin Says:

    Ha! I’ll just mooch off of other countries for the rest of my life. A decent plan – and it even supports my travel ambitions ;)!

  9. Jen Says:

    I love reading your blog Erin. Always brings me back. I totally agree, especially about the Metro (I was in shock when I moved to DC and saw how crappy the public transportation in the US is…you easily forget.) I will say that I dont feel the same about the people comment. It may be different since you had a spanish boyfriend, but in my experience, my friends are great, but very closed when it comes to introducing you to their families, etc. Also, I find people in streets and stores etc to be border line rude on a daily basis. But overall, the pros definately outweigh the cons. Wish I was there right now!

  10. Sabrina Says:

    Very cool! You make me wish I could travel to Espana for a nice, long vacation 🙂 That rhythm of life sounds fantastic right about now… Are you planning on staying in Spain indefinitly or returning to the US? Just curious…

  11. Madrileño Says:

    Borbollon’s tortilla (Recoletos 7) will make you lose respect for your mother in law. Accept the challenge

  12. Erin Says:


    @Sabrina – Depends on who you ask. I plan to stay here indefinitely, but my husband would like to move to the States. Let’s just say I like to get my way :).

    @Jen – Oh how Spain misses you!!! Funny you mention the people part – I happen to know that Kristen (who also commented) doesn’t find the Spaniards to be super amable. I feel like my few bad experiences have been service-oriented, which makes sense because this country wouldn’t know customer service it it slapped it in the face. And then there are some cultural etiquette differences that can be hard to adjust to (on one hand, everyone alwaysss says “hola” and “hasta luego”, but on the other, they won’t say “gracias” if I hold the door open – go figure). I think in general, however, that the people themselves are beyond hospitable, warm and willing to give a helping hand. For example, just a few weeks ago, I went to Galicia and stayed in the family home of a friend of a friend and they treated me like royalty. Then, the next day, a lady I never met drove me all over the countryside giving me a tour. I’ve just never seen this kind of “friendly” back home…but, then again maybe Californians just suck like that…hehe. All I know is I’d rather spend my days thinking Spaniards are somehow super nice even if I’m all sorts of wrong. hehe.

  13. Erin Says:

    PS – I would like to note that the reason why I spelled “Madrileño” incorrectly above is because my husband just came home with some tortilla, which I consequently ate as I typed this. I was clearly distracted!

    Crap, my keyboard is all greasy now.

  14. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Says:

    I absolutely agree with you 100% on every single point, especially the food!!! I also feel the same way about Argentina. 🙂

  15. Erin Says:

    Cheers to that! I need to get my booty to Argentina – I need to try Argentinian food in Argentina (not in Spain)! YUM.

  16. Bocas Del Toro Surfer Says:

    If the cost of living isn’t too much for me, I would have retired in Spain 3 years ago when I experienced a week long adventure at Pontevedre, Santiago. Spain is a spectacular place to visit!

  17. An Says:

    Loved your post Erin! I wish the driving here could be as stress free. Am salivating here thinking about all the good spanish food! 🙂

  18. Cat Says:

    Agreed on all of these, except the Metro…we’re still a little slow in Andalucia!

  19. Erin Says:

    @Bocas it’s never too late to return. Spain will be waiting! @An – I would be remiss if I didn’t say that driving here can indeed be stressful – I know many people who won’t brave the chaotic Spanish roads. I guess after living/driving in San Francisco, however, I just don’t find it intimidating. For me the lack of stress is associated with the “who cares” attitude. I think it’s refreshing. @Cat you may not have the metro, but you have Andalucia! Of that I am jealous for sure!

  20. Sarah Bunch Says:

    Oh Erin, I love those things too. It’s not making me miss being there, but I always used to say that I wish I could combine Seattle and Spain!!

  21. Tumbit Says:

    I love how everybody’s experience of Spain, together with the specific things they enjoy, is totally different.

  22. HappyHomemakerUK Says:

    What a lovely post! It is so wonderful to be passionate about where you live – I know I feel the same way!

    I’d love you to add a post to my Expat Linky Party on March 19th. Hope to see you then, if not sooner 🙂

  23. Erin Says:

    Hi HappyHomemakerUK – what a great idea! I’m checking out your site as well speak, and, if I can, will join along on the 19th!

  24. Paul Says:

    Your food pics always make me hungry! *licks lips* 🙂

  25. Denise at Savor Spain Says:

    Erin — Just discovered your blog and about fell on the floor laughing when I read your riff about tortilla. I’m every bit as addicted to it as you are! How can anything so simple be so so SO incredible? Magic. There’s no other answer. Great stuff, thanks!

  26. xixerone Says:

    Nice to see you’re enjoying the country! judging by the way wou speak of the kindness of people on the street and how they are all oh-so-friendly-and-nice I am guessing you haven’t spent much time in Barcelona! Madrid is definitely another (friendlier) world!

    Keep up the good stuff!

  27. Erin Says:

    It’s true, I haven’t spent an excessive amount of time in Barcelona! I’ve definitely heard that they aren’t quite as warm and welcoming there….that’s ok though, whenever I return I will just sit by myself and eat crema catalana while drinking copious amounts of cava :).

  28. Gray Says:

    Oh, some of those waiters get tips from Americans like me who just can’t bring ourselves not to tip. 🙂 I agree, I was really impressed with the Metro system in Spain. Clean, easy to use, and so much less walking than in Paris!

  29. Linda Says:

    I cannot for the life me understand why I haven’t come across your blog before (and not even sure how I did this time, saw this post somewhere and bookmarked it “to read later” a few days back!). I just had to say I loved and and am now going to catch up with more of your blog.

    I have to say that I don’t agree with all of it, but then, living in what really is the country’s backwater (at least it is if you are Madrileño!) I suppose things are a wee bit different. Here the pace can be tooooo slow sometimes, and the car thing is just taken to extremes. We are, however, in total agreement on food, the Madrid Metro and the people (with just one small caveat on the the last – here people can sometimes be too helpful, i.e. they will make a guess as to where someone is and you end up walking in the wrong direction for five minutes, until you ask someone else, who then sends you in another wrong direction…the last time this happened to me (I was looking for the local ENDESA office) the third person I asked was Chinese – and she told me exactly where it was!).

  30. Erin Says:

    Haha – I love that you disagree because you are actually getting the extremes out in your pueblo: too slow, too nice. Indeed, I think people are sometimes too friendly and overly helpful – you ask for guidance and the person spends days giving you an answer, to the point that you almost have to interrupt just to escape. Admittedly, this usually happens to me in pueblos. Since it’s not my everyday, though, I usually just find it endearing. I can see it becoming frustrating on a regular basis, though!

    Glad you found my blog – and now I’m glad I found yours! I’m heading to Tenerife in two weeks!!!!!

  31. SAM Says:

    Reading this did not help me in my deep longing to be back in Spain:-( But, really, loved the article and so much rings true to me. The food piece made me a bit teary (along w/a growling stomach)-I could go on and on about all my favorites. I’ll add the good (& inexpensive) wine to the list! I’m working on your prescription as we speak…hopefully an even longer visit this time-yipee! Maybe permanent one day…

    The comments are interesting in terms of Barcelona/Catalans v. other areas. I think the different regions have a lot of distinctions–from food to language to culture and history. I’d rec. The New Spaniards by John Hooper for a good overview of today’s Spain and its people. Curious to see if anyone else has read it, has comments about its accuracy and viewpoints.

  32. Erin Says:

    I’m in the States for only a couple of weeks and I already long to return home to Spain – so I can image how you must feel!

    The book definitely looks intriguing – the overview very accurately describes what I’ve seen to be true of the country. I always marvel at how from just one generation to the next, the country and its culture changed so drastically. Such massive change took generations to occur in the US. I could go on for days about these things…

  33. robin Says:

    I hadn’t seen this post before – I’m just completing my first year here and agree with you on everything – well almost everything; I don’t drive and I live in a seaside town, so no metro.

    How Spanish food hasn’t conquered the world I will never know.

    I am making my own tortillas these days and although I wouldn’t like to go toe to toe with your mother-in-law, they’re getting good…

  34. Jaime Says:

    @Erin, I am very happy that you like both my country and my city. I read all the topics you’ve written about Madrid and I’m going to read the rest of topics about other cities you have visited because they are very interesting. Regarding people who don’t give thanks, when I do something for others and they don’t thanks me, sometimes I turn around and said DE NADA (the normal response for thank you) in a good level of voice. You must see the reaction and the shame that appear in the face of those people, especially if you said it to someone apparently educated and of upper class. Yes, I know I am a little bit malicious but sometimes you need to take revenge.

  35. Erin Says:

    Haha! I’m not going to lie – I’m totally guilty of the occasional “de nada” when people don’t say thank you. What can I say – I think it’s polite to hold open doors for others, and when they don’t so much as throw me a smile, I sometimes have to mutter something under my breath :).

  36. nancy todd Says:

    The food is my fav. Especially patatas bravas and a glass of cold white wine.

  37. Sean Says:

    Things have changed in Madrid since you wrote this article. Prices have gone up and the economic woes have increased but Madrid lifestyle and the bars and cafés with great food and company still continues. I love it here in Madrid. Certainly not a place to get bored when there is always somewhere to go and explore. like a new barrio or hop on a cercania and visit a close by village.

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