Eight ways Madrid will change you for life

Just a run-of-the-mill gorgeous afternoon in Retiro Park

Last week I was mentioning how it’s inevitable that your new culture will influence your lifestyle and here in Spain, mealtimes are first on the list. But it doesn’t end there. Though it’s hard to wrap your mind around a 9:00 dinner time, the other ways Madrid (and Spain) will shape you are pleasant surprises.

I pride myself on being happy wherever I settle but I’m getting the feeling that Madrid is spoiling me. Keep reading for a few ways I think Madrid has ruined me for life.


There’s cheap (and delicious) wine everywhere 

In my first weeks in Madrid, I popped into a corner market to grab a bottle of wine to bring to a dinner. Not yet knowing much about Spanish wine, I figured I’d grab something midrange and maybe spend about €25. The most expensive bottle in the store was €13! Of course, there are specialty wine shops were you can buy pricey vino but after many bottles of average priced Spanish wine, there’s no need. I’m not lying, it’s all good. Even the cheap €3 bottles of Crianza. Now that I’m used to paying €14 for a delicious bottle in a restaurant (!!!), I’ll never be able to pay $10 for a glass of Merlot again.


ways Madrid will change you for life


And that wine should come with free snacks

Tapas, for the uninformed, are not the same thing as a sticky-looking basket of sad peanuts that have been groped by everyone at the bar. When you order a drink in Madrid, it comes with a little snack and I mean a good one. A dish of brilliant green olives with your white wine, a few slices of chorizo and crunchy breadsticks with red, or a mound of gummy candies with your beer. It depends on where you go but I’ve been served small open-faced sandwiches, meatballs, chicken wings, Spanish tortilla, roasted vegetables, gazpacho. Peanuts? Puh-lease. No place in the world will ever compare to Spain when it comes to making a free meal out of a couple of drinks.



A slower pace of life

Spain (and Southern Europe in general) never rushes anything. People walk slowly, appointments never start on time, bank tellers and clerks and waiters don’t seem to do anything with haste. This will likely drive you nuts. Either you’ll dig in your heels and fume for the rest of your Spanish existence or you’ll let that slower pace relax your tense muscles as you realize life goes on and everything somehow gets done. I’ve mentioned that my pathological punctuality started breaking down while living in Colombia but it’s really nearing the point of no return here in Spain.



To go? Major no-no

True, take-away coffee exists and I’m happy to stroll through Retiro Park or El Rastro with a café con leche. However—as evidenced by the sad state of disposable cups—it’s not the norm. People savor everything they’re doing at the moment, whether it’s strolling or eating or coffee. I don’t know one person who has lived in Spain for a couple of years and not been completely sucked in by the whole savoring thing. I used to eat while walking or driving all the time but now it seems totally weird. Of course, it does help that finishing a meal is a perfectly reasonable excuse for being late.



Bread. Full stop. 

When I go back to San Diego, everyone is all about low-carbs and lettuce wraps. I used to ride the carbs-are-evil bus too but then I moved to Madrid. Spaniards eat crazy ridiculous amounts of bread. Toast in the morning, mid-morning sandwiches, little slices served alongside cheese, crunchy sticks served with your drink—it comes with everything. And oh my goodness is it so crusty and soft and good. Resistance is futile so just dip your toe in the carb pool again. You’ll see that if you eat like the Spanish, you won’t blow up like blueberry girl Violet Beauregarde.



It feels like everything is 45-minutes away

Compared to traveling from the United States, living in Europe puts everything at your fingertips. Madrid is an incredible jumping off point to visit most European cities, Mediterranean islands, and Northern Africa. And because Madrid is in the center of Spain (and so well-connected), you’re only a couple of hours train, plane, or car ride from any major city in the country. The weekend getaway options are endless and nowhere else will ever compare with the ease and low-cost of travel from this city.



Your productivity in August will plummet 

Though tourism remains in full swing, the rest of Madrid shuts down in August. Most workers—even those with entry-level jobs—are given a few weeks of vacation time per year. And unlike in the states, vacation time is get used! Even if you don’t take advantage of summertime holiday, it’s impossible not to notice how everything else follows suit and slows down. Are you getting all the “good life” vibes from this post yet?




The American philosophy on tipping never bothered me, but oh how my inner cheapskate has the hardest time going back to the U.S. Back home everyone gets a tip whether it’s someone you see once (like a mover) or often (the person who cuts your hair). In restaurants, 20% of the total bill is the norm. In Spain, however, tipping is not a thing—not for beauty services, ordering drinks, and believe it or not, not even at restaurants! Sometimes people will leave the change after paying the dinner check, but even that doesn’t always happen. Just to be honest, I do still tip though not to the American standard.


Do you no longer hug people hello or automatically take your shoes off when entering a home? What has become your “normal” as you’ve lived abroad? Please share your stories in the comments below!


6 thoughts on “Eight ways Madrid will change you for life

  1. Hey Danielle!! Lots of your new normals compare to mine even though I’m in France. Tipping, the wine, later dinners, slower pace, the bread!! I’ve adapted for the most part and nothing makes me too crazy anymore. My husband and I always have the dinner hour struggle, so we usually compromise. On nights I don’t get home from the gym until 7:45, we of course eat later, but on Sundays? I’m so ready to start cooking at 6!!

    1. Yes, I feel like there are some things that are quite similar throughout France, Italy, and Spain. It’s a good life :-) Funnily, my husband and I also struggle with the dinner hour! Although he’s an American too and just really likes late dining. When he’s out of town for business and I’m cooking for one, I LOVE having dinner eaten and the dishes done before 8:00 pm.

  2. I live in Madrid too and this is so true!! I love my 2 euro bottle of cava and taking advantage of the short travel time to visit awesome places when I have time off work. I’m trying to cut down on bread because I’ve definitely put on weight since moving here (I refuse to blame the cava) and I feel weird not tipping so I still tip :)

    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who struggles with the tipping situation. I’ve read a couple of different philosophies on tipping and have settled on an opinion I read from Anthony Bourdain—basically, I’m American and if it’s not culturally offensive, I’m going to tip. It’s catching on in Spain too because I talked to someone who said that tip jars etc. are for foreigners. It isn’t the norm for Spaniards to tip so it’s not expected, but if other people feel inclined, go for it. That was a lot about tipping, lol. Anyway, I’m glad to know this resonated and thank you for commenting!

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