Madrid Culture Nuances

Last Updated: 05-September-2019

I am spending this fall in Madrid working at the IMDEA Software Institute with Dario Fiore. This is my first time in Europe and I feel extremely lucky that it is for an extended period of time so I have a chance to shallowly experience daily life here.

This post is an on-going, incomplete, extremely biased look at the little and unique things I’ve noticed about the culture here compared to what I am used to.

Obviously there is no scientific rigour behind any of this. These are just things that stood out to me with my background of being raised in Utah and having fairly recently moved to the Washington D.C. area and what things I have happened to notice. What I’ve noticed may not actually true. Or maybe where I’m from is the same way and I have just been ignorant to that fact. This is all very subjective and is more a collection of anecdotes than a document meant to inform.

The personal space bubble is much smaller here. Whether sitting or standing, whether on the metro or in line or at a park, the standard bubble of personal space seems smaller here. Just enough smaller that you notice how often people end up there. It’s taken some getting used to that strangers are comfortable being that close even when they don’t necessarily have to be.

Madridians love to sit. If there is an open seat on the metro, it is immediately taken by the next passenger. Related to my previous point, it doesn’t matter if there are people in the seats beside it, you take the open seat. When someone gets up from a bus bench or a metro seat if there are people standing by they immediately fill the new opening. In my experience on metros in the US people are just as likely to stand as to sit directly next to a stranger. That is not a problem here.

There is much more smoking in public spaces. I have heard that the rates of smoking are very high here and that pretty much everyone smokes. I have had no experience to confirm or deny that. However, there is a definite increase in the number of people smoking in public areas. I am not sure if the concept of a designated smoking area is a thing here.

Dinner really is eaten very late. It’s definitely been an odd experience for me to find that when it’s warm it doesn’t matter if it’s 11pm on a Tuesday night, as you walk around the streets of Madrid you will find many people eating dinner and drinking wine at outdoor seating from restaurants and bars. You generally don’t have to walk more than 10-15 minutes to find a restaurant that is at least 80% full at that time.

There is no rush or promptness in day to day life. Everything moves somewhat slowly. Most meetings are held “around” a time instead of at a specific time. There is a common attitude of things will happen when they happen. Unless the next metro train is about to leave. Then you must full on sprint to take it because suddenly waiting 5 minutes for the next one would be too much.

There are very few fat people here. As an overweight person I have noticed that in fact, yes, obesity is a very American problem. I don’t see many other fat people and I certainly do not see any my age. I believe I have gotten more than a few stares for being a member of such a small group.

They refer to their metro lines by number. This may not be weird for other Americans who have lived in other cities, but both the public light rails in Salt Lake City and Washington D.C. are colloquially referred to by the line’s color. However, due to the size of the city and the resulting metro system, it becomes hard to refer to the “blue line” when there are several shades of blue. Instead you would ask whether someone had taken the 10 or the 5 to get there.

Written on September 5, 2019