Becoming more accustomed to Madrid, interestingly enough, has involved a lot more of people watching than I thought it would. Yes, I visited Madrid in 2013 with my high school class, and so I thought I knew Madrid a little bit, but I am experiencing so much more. I am taking the metro consistently, I have more freedom, and now I am seeing the city and people in a new light.
Madrileños— as they call themselves have interesting habits, that are not technically bad…but very different culturally. The people in the city don’t walk with as much speed as I would wish and everyone seems to be obsessed with barbecue sauce and mayonnaise— both of which I don’t particularly care for. I have been stared at and talked (audibly) about on the metro too many times to count and am finding it hard not to yell at everyone who brushes past me in the subway without pardoning themselves or asking me to move. That is the Spanish way. People are more frank, walk slowly, and think that saying “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me,” are a waste of time and unnecessary. I am finding it a bit harder this time to adjust as I notice more behaviors that are very culturally different from what I am used to seeing in Philadelphia.
Thankfully, I was able to find some familiarity in my friends who I met during my high school exchange program in 2013. When we met up in Madrid, I don’t think I had ever smiled so hard. We had so much to catch up on and tell each other. We would just randomly look into each others eyes and hug time and time again, laughing about nothing and how we remember each other a few years ago. The blood flushed to our cheeks as we ran across intersections to get tapas and tinto de verano. And this time when we went our separate ways on the metro it was an hasta pronto instead of an adios!
The weekend was a never ending loop of walking around Plaza de España at 11 pm, tapas, friends, and hours on the metro. School began this week and as the last drops of summer vacation vanished as I pushed myself into the crowded metro at 8 am on Monday. I faintly remembered what it felt like to start Fall Semester with grass stains and tan lines, but this time it was different and those regular faces I would see on the first week of becoming accustomed to beginning classes weren’t there. I was relieved, but also anxious that those faces wouldn’t be there to assure me that this was real and not a dream. I still feel like I’m floating a little bit and have yet to find a grounding point that makes me believe that where I am is real and not fiction.
Little things are becoming more real to me, but every night when I go to sleep, I feel like I am going to wake up to the sound of the neighbors having a block party and reminding me about being safe at night. Those familiarities stick to my mind like syrup as I watch strangers pass me and bump into me in the metro station. But through the bustle, I slightly smile at my feet— feeling more and more every day like I’m finding my footing.