Tuesday, January 14, 2003

I think I´ve finally cracked the code of the madrid social scene. If not, I´m very close to it.

Of all the cities I´ve ever visited or worked in, Madrid has definitely been the most difficult for me to feel settled and at home in. Sometimes you are walking down the street and asking yourself how in Gods name did I end up here and what the hell am I still doing here .

It is difficult to feel at home in a place when you know so few and the locals seem uninterested in meeting people outside of their own closed group. This is in part due to the fact that in Madrid, according to my students, they always go out on the town in groups of at least ten. It is rare that they would ever go out in two´s or three´s. Therefore they´re naturally caught up in the simultaneous conversations of their own crowd. Unlike Ireland, sitting and drinking in one pub seems absurd. The norm is to have one or two drinks and then move on swiftly to the next. This is true to the extent that many of the tapas bars will remove all of the tables and chairs at around 11 o´clock, as the night begins to warm up and the people have less time to sit. Of course the more moderate level of alcahol consumption out here will also lessen the number of spontaneous conversations with strangers.

However that said, all it takes is for one person on the street to recognise you and stop for a chat and suddenly Madrid is the greatest place on earth again.In a city such as Prague you were so blown away by the cities beauty that you hardly wanted or needed to talk to other people. Madrid on the other hand is like Dublin. Of course it possesses some truly magnificent parts such as the old plazas, palaces and the Prado museum, but at the end of the day, as with Dublin, the real key to the city is its people. The spanish once you get to know them are an absolute laugh and the friendliest you can ever meet.

I go to a cafe that I really like. On the first and second visits the staff were indifferent and my face would obviously never register. Not so much the third but the fourth, fifth or sixth time they began to recognise me and I received a smile. From there on the relationship develops and slowly the chat lengthens with both staff and regulars. It is amazing the difference that being recognised and known in a cafe will make to your entire outlook of the city. Some of you at home are probably laughing at me but desperate situations call for desperate measures. I could have made it easier on myself by hanging out in Irish pubs but that´s not living abroad as far as I´m concerned.

Am I happy to be here ? Definitely. This week I´m certainly beginning to feel alot more settled. I suppose I knew it was never going to happen over night. My spanish is improving rapidly and during breaks between classes Spanish is now the chosen language when chatting with even my advanced students. I´ve made a few more acquaintances, none of whom are english speakers, whom I meet up with for a beer or a coffee. We have a full flat again with plenty of laughs. They have some very interesting stories about Spain. One of the pink team wants everybody to go out for his birthday at the end of january. God help me !!! I also found a street of really cool bars with a cool atmosphere at the weekends.

I´m working really long hours but enjoying it. I receved a new contract the day after my last entry. They have backdated it to the beginning of january which means a good pay packet at the month end. I think they new that I was willing to move to a different company and so acted quickly. The only bad thing about the new contract is that I have an entirely new bunch of classes.

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