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Culture & Customs

Students shopping at local market

Students shopping at local market

Ten things to keep in mind about Madrid

  1. Madrileños know how to relax, but it's not in bunny slippers. If you just want to "hang out" do it at the park, a coffee shop, or a tapas place, and voilà! You're Spanish.
  2. The rhythm of daily life is the opposite of the New York Minute. Businesses close in the early afternoon for a long lunch break, and people eat dinner around 10pm. If you want to eat out before 8 your options will be limited.
  3. Spaniards are opinionated and not afraid to speak their minds. Be aware that the concept of political correctness doesn’t apply here in the same way it does in the U.S.
  4. American culture is super-trendy in Madrid. Madrileños will have tons of questions for you! Realize you are not only speaking for yourself, but also for your fellow students and country.
  5. People are very conscious of pedestrian traffic flow. On escalators always stand on the right, and walk on the left.
  6. Don't be surprised if you need your passport for certain purchases, like cell phones, or for hotel reservations. Also, credit cards are not as widely accepted as in the States. Always keep emergency cash on hand.
  7. The night must end with a late-night breakfast of chocolate con churros, but if you want bonus points for not sounding like a tourist, ask for porras instead of churros.
  8. PDAs are visible and encouraged all over the city, especially in parks.
  9. Spaniards tend to be very warm; when introduced to someone new, even if it's a friend of a friend you'll never meet again, kisses on the cheek (one each side) are the norm.
  10. There is no "bubble" in Spain. You may notice people stand much closer together when they speak, and you will be no exception!

Language

When you are formally introduced to a Spaniard, you should say 'good day' (buenos días señor/señora/señorita) or 'good afternoon/evening' (buenas tardes) and shake hands. Spanish men shake hands on meeting and again on departing, whether it's a casual meeting in the street or a formal occasion. Mature women should be addressed as señora.

'Good afternoon' (buenas tardes) is used instead of 'good day' (buenos días) after lunch, which can start as late as 3 p.m. until 9 or 10 p.m. Good night (buenas noches) is usually used when going to bed or leaving a house late at night.


Tipping

Another cultural contrast to the U.S. is found in tipping: In Europe, the service charge is included in your bill. As a result, Spaniards only leave propina (tip) if they wish to reward particularly extraordinary service, usually not more than a few coins. Tips are not given for drinks in bars or nightclubs.

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Spanish Slang

  • Dame un toque means "to give me a ring/call"; Madrileños also use the toque to communicate, as in "Come pick me up around eight; call me when you get here [but I won't pick up, I'll just come outside to meet you]: dame un toque cuando lleges."
  • Buenas - We've all learned "Hola, buenos días" in spanish one, but if you don't know whether it's evening yet or still morning, a simple "Buenas" as a greeting when entering a shop, etc works wonders.
  • A salir - For those commuting in Madrid's spotless metro, you'll be hearing this chorused all around you. In crowded trains, people ask the person next to them, "¿(Vas) a salir? [Are you going to get off here?]" so those whose stop is next can move closer to the doors.
  • A ti - literally "to you," this is a nice way of saying "no problem/my pleasure."
  • Dime ("tell me") - if someone calls to you, this response is like the English, "Yah?/What's up?"
  • Hombre - as an interjection, "hombre" means not "man" but "Hey/Look/Listen/Wow." So yes, it can basically be used to start any sentence containing information.
  • Hasta luego - See you later. It is pronounced VERY funny in Madrid. It is pretty much one single sound: "TALUEGO!" This word is pretty much the appropriate response to everything. Even if you will not literally "see them later."
  • Vale (pronounced "ba-lay") – Okay. It is another catchall phrase and a great space filler, conversation closer, transition word, etc. Embrace the vale.
  • Tió – Essentially the equivalent of "buddy" or "bro" in English.
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