Madrid quirks that I wish I knew before coming

Countdown: 17 days until the arrival of my first official visitor to my Madrid apartment. I am excited to welcome my sister for 2 whole weeks! The best part is that I have extra motivation to clean and make this humble pre-furnished, one-bedroom look like a cosy home.

While preparing for her visit, I began to wonder about what sort of things she may want or need to know in order to have a comfortable visit. There are the usual tips such as knowing how to say a few things in Spanish (hola, gracias, quiero un vino tinto, por favor etc.) or trying Spanish delicacies like tortillas and paella. But you can find those tips on any Madrid article on the web. So, I am listing a few things that I wish others had warned me about before I came to this lovely city. Over the last few months, there were several more that I thought of. However, for the sake of brevity and my aging memory, I will give you five:

1)  Lights automatically shut-off almost anywhere.

light

Electricity is an expensive commodity. To be more budget-conscious and eco-friendly, most public places – restaurant bathrooms, apartment lobbies and hallways – will have a switch to turn on the light. However, after a minute or so, it shuts off. Some lights may automatically turn on with motion-sensor. But the automatic shut-off is the thing to be watch out. It is NOT FUN if you are fumbling for keys to your apartment door and suddenly, you are in complete darkness. It is even worse if you are in a bathroom and the same thing happens. Personally, I try to immediately locate the light source upon entering the room and (in case it’s a motion-sensor) it helps to flail your arms so that the sensor knows you are there! It may seem silly, but this technique has helped me more than once.

2) If you can’t figure out how to open/close the door – it might be a sliding door.

Speaking of important bathroom info… before my move to Madrid, encounters with sliding doors were limited to ones that lead to a balcony or patio. Here in Madrid, where space can be at a premium, many cafes, bars and restaurants ditch the typical push and pull for its sliding relative. This tip may seem like a “no, duh”, but, I’ve had enough encounters where I stood like a dummy in front of one until some kind-hearted camarera took pity and enlightened me.

3) Don’t step on the dog poo!

pooMadrid is a city of dog-lovers, or so it seems to me. I see many adorable barking creatures coming out of apartment buildings, being walked around the block or tied on a bike rack in front of a store awaiting its human. Therefore, when wandering the lovely neighborhood barrios, it is likely that you will find these ubiquitous staples. Sometimes they are in an easy-to-spot pile. Other times, it looks like they were stepped on and stamped down a line on the sidewalks. Whatever it’s form, it would be wise to keep your eyes on the pavement to ensure that your next step remains pleasant and clean. (Can’t help much with the smell though.) Thankfully for most sightseers, it’s rarely seen in the crowded tourist areas. But, better safe than sorry.

4) Pedestrians make their own rules as they go.

Growing up near New York City has taught me certain rules to follow as a pedestrian: a) Walk fast. b) Follow the flow of the traffic by staying on the right side and don’t stop (unless absolutely impossible). c) Don’t make eye contact. However, these rules don’t exactly work on the streets of Madrid. If you try to walk straight and fast, you will likely run over grandma en route to buy bread or the dad picking up the kids from school. Instead you have to either a) slow your roll – you don’t have anywhere to be right? (Even if you do, it’s okay to be a few minutes late.) or b) learn to slalom – swerve around slow-moving pedestrians and ones that decide to abruptly stop to look inside a store. Do this as safely as possible on the narrow sidewalk without pushing those in the opposite direction onto incoming traffic. It doesn’t matter which side of the sidewalk you decide to walk on… really. As long as you don’t run into people, you’re fine. And, if a friendly passerby may want to say “hola”, it should be safe enough to make eye contact, share a quick smile and say “hola” as you walk past.

5) Doorknobs are perfectly acceptable in the middle of the door.

doorTo be honest, this isn’t a very useful tip. I wanted to add it to this because it’s something that fascinates and perplexes me. Hey, I like symmetry as much as the next gal! However, doorknobs that are dead center do not provide much leverage to open a door. You have to push a little more than if it were on the side furthest from the hinge. But, anyway. It is what it is.

Does anyone else have other tips or quirks to share with Madrid first-timers?

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