study abroad, travel

What I Learned on Day 1 in Madrid


I landed in Madrid-Barajas just a little over 9 hours ago, armed with a slightly over-the-limit luggage and a huge duffle bag with a couple of popped stitches. Climbing into a cab at the front of the line outside baggage claim, I had just as little knowledge of Madrid (and Spain in general) as the amount of energy in my body after flying all night.

Strolling around my hostel for a day didn’t magically transform me into a Madrileña, of course. But it did teach me a few little things I was not expecting to learn. They’re really nothing earth-shattering– just some mental notes I took during the day while I walked from Moratalaz to Salamanca and back.

Pro tip: Don’t tip.

When we arrived at the hostel, my cab driver swiftly unloaded my luggage, gave me exact change, and zoomed away before I even got a chance to tip him. I thought it was weird, but shrugged it off.

Afterward, at the restaurant where I ate breakfast, I was observing the table in front of me to see how much I should tip. To my dismay, the only thing the three diners left was an empty table.

I learned later through some quick Googling that tipping culture is not the same in Spain as in the States. The standard 17-20% tip is not expected here, whether it is transportation service or dining. This post on Totally Spain suggests around a single euro coin for simple services and maybe a 5-10% tip for more elaborate situations.


Discover Card was lying when they said they’re accepted “pretty much everywhere.”

Before leaving the U.S., I made sure to call all my card companies 1) to let them know that I will be leaving the country, and 2) to ask about their rules abroad. Some companies charge a foreign withdrawal fee and/or transaction fee (cough, cough, Chase) that can pile up quickly if you take out money or use your card frequently, and I was not about to watch my money disappear in front of my own eyes.

I was thrilled when Discover told me their credit card “should be accepted pretty much everywhere nowadays,” because there is no fee with Discover. I was really counting on it as my only credit card.

¡¡ H O W E V E R !! Literally none of the places I went to today would accept Discover Card. It was quite tragic watching my debit card balance wither away in a matter of hours, knowing external transfers back into the checking account takes at least a couple days.

I’m a big fan of “you live and you learn” but man, that one ached. I’ll just have to go easy until that transfer hits my checking account.


When you order café, you don’t actually get coffee.

Okay, I saved the best for last. When I dragged my jet-lagged self to breakfast, I asked for a “café,” which translates to “coffee” according to every Spanish class I ever took since the 9th grade.

The man behind the counter asked, “¿Café con leche?” I’m more of a black coffee gal, so I said no. “¿Café solo?” he asked. Sure, I guess that’s what it is. I was picturing a tall dark roast from Starbucks, as one does. “¿Solo?” he asked again, and I said “Sí,” wondering why it was so hard for him to believe I like black coffee.

A few moments later, the friendly waiter –the same one from above that wasn’t expecting a tip– brought over a little glass with a shot of espresso. He handed me an enormous packet of sugar, concerned that I didn’t get milk with the shot. Ohhhhhhh. Everything made a lot more sense then. I mean, I happened to like espresso, so I still drank it happily.

This Devour Madrid post summarizes how to order coffee in Spain really well. It might be worth a read if you like to get coffee with your meals like I do.

On a different note, I demand an explanation from every Spanish teacher I ever had for leading me down this incorrect path for so many years. (just kidding)


As Kylie Jenner once so eloquently put it, today for me was really a day of realizing things. I’m sure I’ll realize more things tomorrow and every day after that, but this is enough realizing for today. I look forward to a semester of realizing things in Madrid and anywhere else I may end up in. Bye for now!




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