The things I miss most about teaching in Madrid

Kate Boyle spent two and a half years in Madrid teaching business and conversational English to adults. Now back in London, she reflects on what she misses most about her time there.

The things I miss most about teaching in Madrid
Kate Boyle in 2014 when she was living in Madrid.


This has to be the best thing about Madrid – not just the sun, but the warm and wonderful light that brightens even the greyest day.  It put a spring in my step and added positivity to every day I spent under the expansive blue sky and magical sunsets.


On arrival, I was horrified by some of their questions: why are you so white? Why can’t you speak Spanish?  But after I toughened up a little I realised it’s much more straightforward than the enigmatic chat of the Brits.

READ ALSO: Where is home? A Londoner-turned-Madrileña reflects


It took me months to stop flinching as strangers, friends and students clasped my arms, legs or in fact any part of my body at random during conversations.  Spaniards’ ability to invade your personal space is unreal but strangely comforting when you’re living in a foreign city.

Poker face

The challenge of keeping a straight face at some of the mistakes my students used to say.  Spending the weekend on the bitch by the sea is a classic, but when your someone tells you they ate lots of octopussy last night so they are struggling to f**ckus on their work, keeping that smirk under control is a real struggle.

Enthusiasm for all things English

Photo: photocreo/Depositphotos

Englishness seems so in vogue in Madrid that at times I felt like a celebrity, which is definitely not the case back in London.  Even those who can’t put together a sentence in English love to drop in words like hipster or trendy into their Spanish chats and their enthusiasm to learn the language is humbling.


Their boundless pride in their home town, their mother’s cooking and their looks.  As a naturally self-deprecating Brit this was a revelation, and as a naturally scruffy Brit it kicked me into gear and my wardrobe never contained as many nice clothes as it did in Madrid.  When it comes to fashion, whatever style they choose, be it goth, pijo or punk, the Spanish give it 150%.


Don’t get me wrong, the Spanish complain and they do it loudly, but they don’t waste hours whingeing and moaning like the British.  They let out their gripes and get on with being positive about life.  I love their verb for retirement, jubilacion, which is so much more positive and attractive than the English alternative associated with giving up or dropping out.

The visual nature of some Spanish phrases

The visions that many new phrases conjured up provided me with endless entertainment.  Who knew that to compare someone to a cheese (estar como un queso), or a train (estar como un tren), was to flatter them on their looks?  That to ride or mount a chicken (montar un pollo) is to make a scene, while to duck out of a kiss is to do the cobra (hacer la cobra)?  My personal favourite is of course, happy as a partridge (feliz como una perdiz) which I chose as the title for my book.  I think it’s going to take a while for that one to catch on in London, but I’m working on it…

Kate Boyle publishes her first novel, Happy as a Partridge, on April 26th.  The tale centres on an English girl who moves to Madrid where she unintentionally ends up teaching English in an institute for aeromechanics, and it follows her entertaining misunderstandings with her students, her romantic entanglements with a number of Spanish men and her struggles to get to grips with a new language and culture.  

Find it on Amazon here and follow Kate on Twitter, Instagram and on her website





Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.


Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 


Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.


Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.


The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.