The unexpected side of Madrid

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Soft afternoon light and the slightly muffled sound of an occasional motorbike or passing Spanish conversation on the street below fill the living room – my new living room in Madrid, to be exact.

In my first few weeks as a language assistant I’ve done so much. To be honest, a lot of time has been spent doing very little too; old streets in Madrid districts like Malasaña and La Latina all look distressingly similar, so I must have wasted the better part of about three days getting lost and asking old, Spanish men with dogs for directions.

But at least half of the adventure (or annoyance, depending on my mood) is exploring a totally alien environment. When I first applied to be a British Council teaching assistant, I had little idea of how different everyday life in Spain might be.

Yes, the usual generalisations of Spanish omelette, siestas and cobbled streets, to some extent, ring true. But, from grocery shopping to using public transport, it tends to be the mundane which surprises me. For example, at some point in the next three months (and ideally much sooner), I need to register as a citizen in the metropolitan area of Madrid, in a process called Empadronamiento. This is the necessary final step to obtaining a national identity number, which entitles me to things like long-term residency and a bank account in Spain. I imagine it will involve lots of queueing and garbled, partially correct Spanish on my part: all very boring, but sadly entirely obligatory.

And then there’s actually finding a place to live. Before arriving in Madrid, I was vaguely aware that the Spanish rental market was somewhat different to that of the UK. Having heard that everything would potentially be a little more informal and spontaneous, I booked a temporary room via www.airbnb.com for the first week.

Even with forewarning, I was astounded at how quickly viewings were arranged and leases signed. Most young people in Spain never seem to consider using a letting agency. As well as social media like Facebook, there are a whole host of websites including www.idealista.com and www.easypiso.com, where potential landlords or flatmates simply list their phone numbers for any serial killer to call. Some flats even hang posters from their windows containing contact details.

Having braved this totally new rental experience, complete with customary abrupt Spanish telephone mannerisms (a conversation usually begins with the half-barked phrase “Tell me”), I moved into my shared flat on Sunday afternoon.

My final free days before the teaching placement truly began were dedicated to trying to make sense of my guide book as I navigated the city’s typical tourist traps. I should, at this point, mention that Spain’s capital city is thoroughly worth a visit – from the royal palace and renaissance plazas to the student nightlife and beautiful, expansive green spaces, Madrid is undoubtedly one of the most diverse places I’ve ever lived.

Though I still feel rather lost wading through crowds on the metro, at least I’m no longer homeless.

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