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Moving to a new city, especially when it’s abroad, comes with a bit of a learning curve, culture shocks, and what feels like a whole different life from what you lived before.
As someone who has experienced moving to Madrid, Spain to be an English teacher, I have my own experience, and in today’s post, I want to share specific details about my move to Madrid as a Mexican-American woman.
I know when I was looking up information on what it was like to move to Madrid, Spain, I was searching and hoping to find someone who looked like me to learn from, but unfortunately never did. I hope that if you identify as Latina, Mexican-American, this post will help you out in knowing a bit of what it was like to move to Madrid, Spain as a Mexican-American woman.
This is kind of part 2 of a similar post I did on this topic not too long ago called the 7 Specific Things I Wish I Knew About Moving To Madrid, Spain. In that post, I share some of the most notable things such as how challenging it can be to open up a bank account as an American, how incredible the public transportation in Madrid is, the culture shock when making friends with locals, and how you can easily pick up a SIM card at so many places within the city. So if you haven’t read that one, don’t forget to check it out!
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If this is the first post you read from the blog, you may not know about my background which I can share quickly before we jump onto the post! My name is Maritza, and I identify as a Mexican-American woman. My parents are from Mexico (Michoacán) and my siblings and I were born in California and that is where we grew up. I am first-generation, and I have studied abroad, taught English abroad, and traveled around and now I write about it on this blog.
I wanted to mention all of this so you understand sort of where I am coming from, and you can see for yourself if this post is something that you can relate to.
So without further ado, here are more culture shocks that I had when I moved to Madrid, Spain.
The culture shock
Even if you grew up in a household where Spanish was spoken, and it was your first language, and you were brought up in a Mexican household – you will experience culture shock.
I think that this is just something that needs to be said because *sometimes* (not all the time, but sometimes) it can be easy to think that if you speak the language, and come from a Mexican background – adapting to life in Spain will completely be easy.
And it’s not to say that it won’t, I am just saying that there is more to adapting to a new country than just knowing how to speak the language.
When I moved to Madrid, I thought this but had a rude awakening when I started conversing with my co-workers and host family, and I couldn’t understand them 😳😳 – the accent, the rate at which they speak, their own slang terms and abbreviations, along with the culture that is SO different from my Mexican upbringing was so different.
I know it may seem super clear and obvious to others than it was for me at the time, but I just wanted to make this a point, just in case there may be others who thought the same way I did.
Of course, knowing Spanish DEFINITELY gives you an advantage, but just know there as there may be similarities between Spanish culture and Mexican or Mexican-American culture, there will be grand differences as well to learn and adapt to.
You’ll make mistakes but it will be fine – it’s part of the experience!
Spanish people are very direct
Now, you can argue or wonder are Spaniards too direct, or are Mexicans and Mexican-Americans just overly polite?
If you’re Mexican-American, or you come from a Latin American background, you’ll notice particularly how blunt Spaniards can come off as, and I know this because almost all Mexican-Americans and other Latinos have mentioned this.
In Latin American countries, people are taught to speak nicely, respectfully towards others, and in Mexico specifically, It sometimes comes to the point where Mexican people specifically are extra careful about the words they choose to say something, in order to not offend someone. Spending extra time figuring out how to say something without offending, just to be respectful
I do want to make it clear that I don’t mean this as a blanket statement, not all Mexicans are like this, but many can be in different situations, especially with people they’re just meeting.
Hi, yes this is me from time to time. And maybe this is you too.
The more I think about it, the more I think it may be something that came from colonial/conquest times (more on this later) and it’s something that has stuck since then. I’m taking a guess here.
So, for us Mexican-Americans in Spain, it can come off as a shock to us when Spaniards flat out tell us no for something, or they don’t feel like doing something just because, with no additional explanation.
For those of us who grew up being careful with the words we choose to speak with others, trying not to offend, and just being respectful in our own way – the bluntness can come off as a bit of a shock.
It doesn’t mean that Spanish people are rude, or don’t like you – that’s just the way they are. They don’t spend more time choosing the right words to tell you something, they just come out with it.
At the end of the day, it’s not something to take offense to. Just something to be aware of.
Traveling on the weekends
Coming from the States, we know that a $40 ticket won’t always take you to the state next to you, but in Europe – it can take you on a 2-hour flight to a whole other country.
When you move to Madrid, make sure that you allocate some money to travel on the weekends and long bank holidays because the temptation will be there, and you will want to take advantage of the close proximity you will have to different countries.
- 5 Motivating Ways to Start Saving Money for Travel
- How I Easily Saved An Extra $1,000 For Travel Using The Acorns App
This is the time to make the most of your move to Madrid, and travel and explore. Even within Spain, because there is so much cultural diversity, dialect differences, different regional foods and so much more within the country as well!
Befriend co-workers and local Spaniards, and get to know their country through their eyes. It’s such an amazing opportunity to learn from a native what they think of their country, and any other tips and insight they can give you. Plus, making friends is awesome!
If you fear that you may not know how to make friends with locals in Madrid, make sure to download my FREE conversation starter to make friends abroad! Leave me your name and email down below and I’ll send it right to you!
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Madrid’s City Center
There is so much to do and see in the Spanish capital, that you cannot possibly get bored.
From free things to do to amazing restaurants to experience, world-class shopping on calle Serrano and calle Preciados, and a well-connected public transportation system to take you all over the city – you’re going to need time to really explore the depth of this magnificent city center.
Madrid is home to world-class museums like the Prado Museum, Reina Sofia Museum, flamenco shows, tours and sightseeing, and other cultural events! Not to mention amazing opportunities to go on quick day trips from Madrid city center, using a Tourist Travel Pass, which you can buy for 1 day or more, and it will give you access to all metro stations, entrance to the cercanias (commuter train) from the airport station, and all metro ligero (light rail) (subway) stations. It’s truly a great opportunity, and it beats having to constantly buy little paper tickets for each way if you plan to spend a few days in Madrid city center.
You can read more about the Tourist Travel Pass here!
With access to the city’s public transport, and a list of things to see/do in Madrid, you will fall in love with the city, its sights, and all that it has to offer.
- A Beginners Guide to Getting Around Madrid on Public Transportation
- The Top 10 Things To Do In Madrid For Free
Madrid’s shopping scene is amazing
You’ve been warned because Madrid’s shopping scene is actually pretty amazing.
European street style is a whole different vibe, and I think it’s because of one simple thing: Europeans are out in public more than us in the U.S. for the most part. They walk/take public transportation, and are generally living life more socially than we do in the States where we usually travel by car, alone.
Because of this, I think that Spanish style in specific is so fun and interesting to look at and try yourself. In Spain, you will be able to find stores and brands that you don’t have in your home country most likely (I am looking at you, United States). Brands such as Bershka, Parfois, Stradivarius, Sfera, and other more local and boutique shops.
The styles, colors, cuts are just different – I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s something you’ll see for yourself, but I personally prefer some of the brands I’ve purchased in Spain than in the U.S. and maybe you will too, or maybe you won’t. You’ll see that for yourself, but I definitely want to bring this up as something that I didn’t know I would love when moving to Madrid.
I am not trying to open up old wounds here, but this is definitely a topic that may feel like the elephant in the room for some Mexican-Americans and Spain.
It’s not like this is something that Spaniards or Mexicans today are fighting about widely or something that is still causing a divide between Mexico and Spain. In fact, Mexico and Spain have become great allies and support for each other since the Spaniards left Mexico in 1821, in many ways. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, they recorded in 2010 that there were 21,107 Mexicans living in Spain, making Spain one of the top three countries with the highest Mexican migration along with the U.S. and Canada, and housing the biggest Mexican community in Europe, while it was recorded in 2019 that there were approximately 140,199 Spaniards living in Mexico alone.
It’s definitely a different story from what happened before 1821 and today in 2021 – exactly 200 years.
But still, what do the Spaniards think? And how did I feel as a Mexican-American not only living in Spain but living with Spaniards?
Not a huge shocker, but I felt totally fine and welcomed!
I would get certain reactions from my accent, apparently, some of my host family’s extended family had never met someone with a different accent who spoke Spanish – but it was never rude and I never felt attacked. It was actually kind of funny. They reminded me of me when I first heard the Spanish accent.
The topic of the conquest did come up with my host family from time to time, but each time I was just interested in what their version of the story was, and what their overall feelings about it were.
For example, I remember helping my host dad cook on a couple of occasions, and I would tell him how amazing a vegetable tasted here in comparison to what I had in the U.S. and he would say, that’s because it’s probably from Mexico. We brought it back from when we were there – referring to the conquest I assumed.
But it felt more like a compliment? Because he said that about different ingredients and he attributed their high quality to the fact that it was a product that originated in Mexico that Spain now had.
Anyways, I never took offense to it, but it was just interesting to be having this conversation with a Spaniard.
But I will say that figures like Colombus and Cortes are definitely shown differently in museums in Spain, for obvious reasons. For example, I visited the Museum Of The Americas in Madrid, where they showed examples of what some of the conquerers wrote in their journals, and their descriptions of the “visit” painted an “idealistic” story of trade and interest for the Native Mexicans. Kind of the way the U.S. teaches school kids about Thanksgiving. Like nothing bad had actually happened.
So – that was interesting – along with a statue of Columbus chilling right outside the Metro stop Colon (Columbus in Spanish), and other relics of conquest varieties around the city and country.
But I think that this was a literal example, for me at the time, of how history is perceived so differently depending on who you are.
I just remember feeling very surprised. As a Mexican-American woman, I knew that people like Columbus and Cortes caused a lot of hurt, destruction, injustice, and other really negative things. But in Spain, they are viewed as important historical figures that were simply exploring the world.
We don’t have to agree, but we can definitely just observe and learn to disagree while standing in what we believe in.
Other than that, the Spaniards I met were always really nice to me, treated me very well, asking me about my family and about my experience in Spain thus far. I have nothing bad to say overall.
They cool 🙂 we cool.
Concluding thoughts on the 5 culture shocks I experienced moving to Madrid, Spain as a Mexican-American
Have you moved to Madrid before? What did you like the most about the city? I would love to know more about your time in the Spanish capital, and what life was like for you abroad. Whether you taught English abroad like me, or you studied abroad or were an Au Pair or anything – how did you like Madrid, and what do you like most about it?
Let me know in the comments!
If you identify as Mexican-American, and you’re planning a move to Madrid, or you simply want to visit but have curiosity as to what it may be like because, well, history – I got you! I was there, and I am still learning about the history, and how we can grow from it.
I hope this post helped you clarify your plans to visit Spain and see it for yourself – it’s truly a beautiful country.
And remember, it’s all a learning experience, and the best way to grasp it all is to see it yourself.
To more travel moments like these,