Friday, 25 April 2008

Five Things I Adore About Madrid

1) Sociability
The Spanish are very sociable people. I think they are trained this way in school, and I like it. Whenever you enter a lift, or a bar or restaurant, somebody will say 'Hola' or 'Buenas dias' or whatever is appropriate. When you leave, they'll say some variant of 'hasta luogo' (until later), unless they hate you or never expect to see you again, in which case they'll say 'adios'. I also like it when bar staff refer to me as 'caballero' - it just means 'gentleman', like the sign on the bogs, but it makes me feel good.

2) The Metro

Madrid's Metro system is extraordinarily good. And they keep on growing it. Recently-completed extensions make it the second-largest in Europe (the London Underground is 415 km long, Madrid is now 284 km with 282 stations, for less than half the population of London). Madrid's Metro is also the densest in the world - in the centre you are never more than 500 metres from a Metro station. I was on the platform at Gran Via the other day, and looking down the tunnel, I could see the next station (Sol). Amazing. And also very cheap: if you buy a 10-trip ticket, each trip is 6.7 centimos [correction: 67 centimos!].

The recent expansion cost a few billion Euros. But in terms of reducing car use and preserving the environment, it's a bargain.

3) Liveability

I love European (as opposed to British) town/city centres because they are designed and built for people to live in. In any European city, you will find that the centre comprises mostly apartment blocks of 5 or 6 storeys. The ground floor will be shops or bars or restaurants, and the upper floors will be apartments. It's a wonderful arrangement, and I believe it makes European city centres safer than those in Britain because people actually own (or rent) inner city space and are not going to stand for any shenanigans. I actually wrote my college thesis on this topic, so I know a bit about what I'm talking about.

And we are able to rent our tiny flat for 800 Euros a month: it overlooks Plaza de Chueca, a five-minute walk to Gran Via, ten minutes to Puerta del Sol. The equivalent in London might be Picadilly Circus: if there were actually any flats to rent there, what would you have to pay?

4) Reality
Possibly the wrong title for this section. What I mean is that your bus driver, your postman or your waiter will most likely be Spanish. In many of the restaurants that I frequent, the waiters are in their fifties, possibly more. They are doing the job that they have always done. What I have in my head here is that in England (say), you will never find a waitperson of that age. In Dubai (say) you will never find an Emirati working as a waiter. Never. It just doesn't happen.

5) Liberality
Having lived in the Middle East for thirteen years before coming here, I'm still coming to terms with the idea that people can do pretty much what they like, and it's not the end of the world.

People snog each other at bus stops. Nobody is forced to wear black clothes or white clothes according to their gender. You don't need to get a licence to be able to buy booze.

In Dubai, as a blogger, I always tried to hide my identity, and I always censored myself. Now I don't have to. But, oddly enough, I'm not finding a whole lot to criticise here in Spain. The bureaucracy is horrible, unhelpful and whatever, but I'm more relaxed about it than I was in the UAE. Probably because I feel like I belong here, and I don't have the threat of deportation hanging over my head the whole time.

When I left Dubai last summer, a few of my fans were expecting a massive diatribe about all the shit we endured while we were there. Well, there's certainly a book in there. But if I write it, it'll be for posthumous publication; there's nothing to be gained from slagging the place off. The UAE Community Blog is doing a pretty good job of that, anyway.


Anonymous said...

Yup these are all great things about Madrid. It's things you get used to, and then miss when you aren't here!

Btw, I know its not said like it but it's spelt "luego". And it's 67 centimos, or .67 euros. 6.7 centimos would be awfully nice though!!!!

Keefieboy said...

Anon: ¡muchas gracias!

dubaibilly said...

I don't particularly like city living and I'm not sure I would choose to live in Madrid, but that is such a positive post, anyone who reads it who is thinking of going there must be tempted to give it a go! I wonder why it is, though, that Europeans choose to live in the centre of their cities but Brits don't? Don't really care, I'm just looking forward to going to live in the centre of my village!

Cheers mate


leftbanker said...

I´m a city dweller all the way. Valencia has a decent metro although I don´t use it much these days as I ride my bike everywhere, all the time. I don´t think that Madrid is nearly as bike freindly as Barcelona or Valencia.

I don´t know how anyone could dislike living in Spain.

P.S. The word verification thingie can be a real coñazo at times. It´s like trying to read a secret code. "Is that a Z of an I?"

Jayne said...

Keefie, as expats, we're not made to feel a 'part' of the community & one word out of place & you're on yer bike. I lived through 20 odd years of apartheid, which was just as restrictive in so many instances, especially when it came to freedom of speech. I fell in love with Spain last year & the positive atmosphere left a big imprint on my mind. We're seriously considering retiring there.

Cairogal said...

"It's a wonderful arrangement, and I believe it makes European city centres safer than those in Britain because people actually own (or rent) inner city space and are not going to stand for any shenanigans."

So true!! My elderly neighbour let nothing escape her notice. Any time someone knocked on my door she would part her kitchen curtains to get a good look. My theory is that this is why serial killers are rarely reported in cities like Madrid. No neighbours saying, "Ah...he was such a quiet man-kept to himself."

the real nick said...


being European and having lived in city centres until the age of 27 I had a bit of trouble adjusting to the concept of the British 'High Street' and 'burbs, and for that matter, the vomit on the West End sidewalks.
And having to drive everywhere now in Dubai is really getting up
my nose.

How do you say 'Lucky you' in spanish?

Keefieboy said...

Real Nick: 'luck' had nothing to do with it. As the well-known astronaut Tom Hanks in 'Apollo 13' said: 'we just decided to go.'

It actually meant more or less abandoning a business that I'd built up over six years and that was really beginning to work, to start all over again in a place where you have to pay tax and social security, and where having feeble Spanish is a serious disadvantage.

But we did it anyway, 'cos we really would have gone insane in Dubai.