Having lived in Spain for a year now, I think it’s a good time to look back at what I’ve learnt during my move from London to Madrid. The things that have been a surprise to me and some of the things I have struggled with.
I promise to be honest about how I’ve found adjusting to life in Spain and will share some tips on how to survive when expat life feels like a struggle.
On the whole it’s been amazing and I’m very happy living here but with a big life change comes lots of little changes. In reality, things that you don’t always think about before moving overseas to live in a new country.
*RELATED: If you want to move to Spain read our article Practical tips for moving to Spain
Things that have helped me adjust to life in Spain
Learning the language
Learning the local language is one of the most important things you can do when moving to another country. Even if it’s just a few basic phrases to begin with. I would not have been able to open a bank account, converse with people at work or get my apartment wifi fixed without some knowledge of Spanish. I also think its important to keep learning Spanish, practicing and improving while living in Spain.
Getting familiar with the area
A little research is really helpful when you move anywhere. Doing some pre-move research about Madrid certainly helped me to feel like I knew where I was going. Then, once you are all moved in, go out and explore. Its exciting to explore the streets of new place and it will really help you to relax once your surroundings feel more familiar.
Brushing up on some Spanish history
I found it really useful to learn a little bit about the history of Spain. Ok, it’s complex and I don’t know everything but reading a few books and keeping an eye on the news really helps.
Change of clock and meal times
This didn’t take as long to adjust to as I first thought. I just made a conscious effort to eat lunch and dinner later and kept an eye on any places that might close for siesta. Yes, there were a few times that I walked to the bank or supermarket to find it was closed but soon enough I got used to it.
I was not ready for things to take ages and I mean EVERYTHING. From the walking pace on the street, the queue in the bank, the lady packing her bags in front of you at the supermarket, the service in every restaurant, the postal delivery that arrived in Spain last week. But now, I honestly walk at a much slower pace and don’t feel as annoyed as I used to. I think I might even be starting to enjoy the slower pace.
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Things I have been surprised by since moving to Spain
Invasion of personal space
This was probably one of the hardest things for me. I like my personal space and I really don’t think anyone in Spain feels the same. The two main things that I’ve noticed are that, firstly Spanish people are very open, happy to touch, kiss and hug people they hardly know. So, they don’t mind sitting right next to you on the bus when other seats are free, or standing really closely to you when asking you a question.
Secondly, Spanish people love a short-cut and will always take the quickest, most direct route. While, they do things at a slower pace, they will not go around an obstacle if it means an extra few steps (whether it’s dangerous or not). If they want to walk where you are standing or walking they will brush past you as closely as possible and often even knock into you.
In England I’m used to very polite exchange of “after you”… “no you first”… “no please, I insist”. Always taking a wide berth to avoid colliding with strangers in public places. Moving out of the way to let other people past and heaven forbid you do bump into each other, then well, a minute of “I’m sorry”… “sorry”… “no my fault”… “I’m sorry” will ensue.
This does not happen in Spain.
Not much please and thank you
When we first moved here the girl who worked in our local supermarket used to laugh at us. Ok, yes, our Spanish was bad but it was mainly because we said por favor (please) and gracias (thank you) soooooo much. In Spain it’s just not expected.
I still pull Brad up on it every now and then but we are starting to get used to this. If we don’t tone down our please and thank you, I’m a little scared that locals will think we are either crazy or just being sarcastic!
Dogs are head of the family
Spanish people take their dogs everywhere! Dogs are not just a family pet, they are the head of the family. It may be worse in Madrid because to be honest I think I see more dogs here than elsewhere in Spain. But there are dogs on the train, in the airport, in restaurants, in the bank. All pretty much just behaving how they want to.
I am a dog lover, don’t get me wrong but I believe in dog training and the control of your dog being your responsibility. With that comes a responsibility to stop your dog from causing a nuisance barking or harassing people and picking up its mess.
My tips for when expat life becomes a bit of a struggle
Acknowledge the differences
I think it’s best to acknowledge the differences between your old home and new Spanish home and make a few small steps to adjust slowly. Then just go with the flow and don’t fight it.
Talk to someone
It helps if you have a partner or friend to share your experience with or someone to vent about your struggles to. If you’ve moved overseas alone I promise there are others out there in the same boat. Join local groups, expat forums, start a club, you will be talking your problems away and having fun in no time.
There is a great community for women who live all across Spain called Costa Women run by the lovely Ali Meehan. They organise events and local group meetings, have a forum for questions and business recommendations. You can find out more and join here.
Find a happy place
I also try to find a few things that make the tough days a little easier. A “happy place” is somewhere to go that will help if you are feeling down or stressed. In Madrid I like to have a picnic in one of the parks or walk around the streets of La Latina and enjoy a beer & tapas. Just soak up the atmosphere and remember why you moved here in the first place.
We all have days when we just feel a bit homesick or wonder why we moved to this strange new place. Treating yourself to a home comfort or a little “me time” is a great way to cheer yourself up. Maybe go for a shopping spree in H&M, book a massage or get your nails done. My absolute favourite treat is getting English snacks from Dealz and watching an old movie. Dealz is basically Poundland (I know I’m a classy chick, right) but the sight of a big bar of Cadbury chocolate or a bag of Frazzles for €1.50 will always put a smile on my face.
Have you moved to Spain and found it hard to adjust? What are your tips for anyone moving to Spain soon? Share your stories in the comments box 🙂
If you are an expat living in Spain, who’s found yourself becoming accustomed to some the Spanish ways of living, you might enjoy this guest article I wrote for 203 Challenges travel blog – 20 signs that you have lived in Spain for too long.
Some other Seeking the Spanish Sun articles that you might find useful…
If you are moving to Spain check out our FREE Moving to Spain to do list…