Friday, 3 September 2010

Hasta luego Madrid

After almost a year of living the expat life in Madrid, I received an offer that seemed too good to refuse in London and decided to go for it, putting career above lifestyle, better weather, good coffee and cheap tapas (err... remind me again why I thought this was a good idea?). Leaving behind the life and friends I made was difficult, but I hadn't quite bargained on feeling like a stranger in my own nation.

It's now been a month since I left Spain's capital for my home country's and, while there are no regrets at present, I'm certainly very aware of what the experience taught me. I learned how to conceal half an enormous holdall behind my back to outwit EasyJet staff and not have to pay to check it in. I learned that you can in fact find good curry in Spain. I learned that despite the fact that some people expected me to come home for Christmas with a tan, winter in Madrid is bloody freezing and saw the deepest snow I've ever seen in the nearby sierra.

Accustomed to the more stereotypically Spanish way of life in Andalucia after my previous experiences of living in Seville, I also saw a more fast-paced, businesslike side to Spain in the hustle and bustle of Madrid. That said, bureaucracy remains as maddeningly inefficient in the capital as in provincial outposts: my most memorable brush with the authorities involved the funcionaria at Social Security putting me down on the database as a Dominican citizen, and my new place of work frantically calling me to tell me I couldn't work legally in Spain. After a few days as la dominicana, I managed to convince the mistake-maker's more efficient (or even just more awake) colleague that I did not in fact need to be deported and got my nationality back. 

I also witnessed the paralysing effects of la crisis, as Spain struggles with one of Europe's highest unemployment rates. Friends found it hard to get jobs; beggars on the street with placards claiming 'I'm hungry and unemployed' were commonplace. Yet despite the obvious economic slump, most Spaniards seemed just as keen to have a good time as ever, with nightlife still as hedonistic (and late) as before.

On a more personal level, I was reminded that voluntary exile brings together expats who might not be friends other under circumstances, but who happily reminisce together about the joys of Marks & Spencers over cups of the Yorkshire Tea that every visitor from England is obliged to bring as a 'thank you' present. When in Spain I feel incredibly English with my blonde guiri looks and different dress sense (yes, I think bare legs are OK before July, I'm from Preston). I was unfathomably proud of the kettle M and I scouted several chinos for, and was known for being polite and punctual (and for leading the office tea consumption stakes). But whenever I returned to England I felt like a foreigner, moaning about the weather and so confused by the London tube map I had to ask an attendant if the complicated route I had planned was in fact the only way of reaching my destination (it wasn't).

Returning to England on a more permanent basis was a shock, not least because the tube is ten times more crowded than the lovely air-conditioned metro in Madrid and most coffee tastes like dishwater compared to the smooth cafĂ© con leche prepared by office favourite Gerardo at the downstairs Haagen Dazs. London is more expensive, more modern, less traditional, trendier, more frantic. After the initial struggle to adjust  and the odd attempt to pay in Euros, I'm now reacclimatising and attempting to make sure I remember that I found life in Madrid hard at first too. Getting used to the stares on the metro (especially when wearing open toed shoes), being treated like a criminal every time I entered Banco Santander (gotta love internet banking) and coping as a non-meat eater all took some time, but the perseverance paid off and I became accustomed to big city life and grew to love Madrid. It was one hell of a year: I started a new job in a new country, made some wonderful new friends, my blog was born, I saw my first Easter parades and had my first swim in a natural mountain pool, Spain won the World Cup and I proposed marriage to Sergio Ramos. Apart from Ramos's lack of response and the near-brawl in the bank, I wouldn't change one second of it.

If you're interested, you can read about my London adventures on my new blog This Reluctant Londoner. Now that I'm no longer a Brit Abriad (sniff, sniff), I'll be handing the reins over to a series of expat guest bloggers until my inevitable next move. Watch out for the first post from the new Brits Abroad, coming next week.

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