Madrid: Expect the Unexpected

Rachel Daley is a student at Soka University of America and an ISA Featured Blogger. Rachel is currently studying abroad in Madrid on an ISA Fall 1 program.

Before I came to Madrid I was bombarded with tips and advice from study abroad alumni, self-proclaimed travel experts, and random online searches by yours truly. “Don’t you dare wear sandals, they aren’t too fond of Americans”, “Guard your purse with your life at all times”, “At least they won’t expect you to speak Spanish…” just to name a few of the totally reassuring comments I received pre-departure.

Having never left the good old US of A in my life, I honestly had no clue what to expect from this foreign place across the Atlantic.  All I could go off of was what others were telling me, so as you can imagine, I pictured a packed city of only Spaniards pointing and laughing at the tourists while they got their fanny packs snatched.

Turns out that’s not the case.  Thank goodness.

From what I’ve experienced here in my first three weeks is that the Madrileños are really patient and you can even get by with some “Spanglish” at least while you are still learning.  Be prepared, you are going to have those days when you just get tongue-tied and can’t even remember how to say your name in English… but in such an international place as Madrid, Americans and foreigners aren’t anything new.  I wouldn’t say it is as diverse as some places in the US, but unless you have two heads I wouldn’t worry about sticking out too much.

Tourists and locals alike roam the streets at all hours of the day and night, especially here at Calle Gran Via.

As far as pick-pockets go, it’s the same here as in any other big city. Just use your common sense.  I imagined Madrid as a more dangerous and dirty place because of this false stereotype. It’s actually one of the cleanest cities I have ever been in, much more so than Los Angeles or parts of San Francisco.  Even when we are packed into the metro cars like sardines, nobody has tried to snatch my bag.  Not to say it couldn’t happen, but there’s no need to be paranoid.

Crowds like this at El Rastro (sunday street market) can be chaotic, but also really exciting.

So basically what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t let others’ misconceptions create your preconceptions of Madrid (or any other foreign place for that matter) because 1.They can be exaggerated and stereotypical and 2. The same city can represent and embody a totally different experience for each person.

Take advice with a grain of salt, and consider where it’s coming from.  I wasted valuable time when I first got here because the second I stepped off the plane my first thought was “DON’T LOOK LIKE A TOURIST, ACT LIKE A SPANIARD!” Now I have to say there were plenty of tourists here during the summer, and not once did I see them get spit on or get the stink eye from a local.  I mean if I were you I would leave the Hawaiian shirts and socks n’ sandals at home, but don’t waste time being worried about how the city is going to receive you because really, it’s all about how you receive it.

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