study abroad, travel

What I Learned on Day 1 in Madrid

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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.

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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.

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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)

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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!

-Karen

 

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