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.
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.
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
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.