Category:

Friend Dating

May 4th, 2024 by

This past week in the INC social whats app group we´ve been discussing the various ways we make friends as expats or returning Spaniards in Madrid. In a city where a lot of people are born and raised here, with extensive friends and family networks on tap, breaking into new friendship groups can pose a challenge to a 35+ year old from elsewhere. In London, I remember counting down the days to my son´s start at the local nursery so that I could scour the playground for other seemingly-fun and frazzled mothers.

Spanish conversation flows

Most UK primary school parents are subjected to a jam-packed calendar of coffee mornings, class dinners and fundraising activities for a new 3D auditorium for the Nativity play. These events are great hunting grounds for the shark parents looking to find fellow finned friends with which to share summer villas in Crete so that Johnny can splash about in the infinity pool with Richard from Class 1B while their parents polish off their second bottle of rosé before 11.30 am.  

Enjoying some Spanish equestrian culture

In Madrid Juan and Ricardo´s parents may well be having a weekly bottle of Rioja with their in laws on a Sunday followed by a few Estrella Galicia cervezas or three in their grandmother´s pueblo on a puente weekend or even a copita of fino in their holiday house in El Puerto de Santa María. So where does that leave the midlife expats or Spaniards looking for new friendships in this vibrant city? Well actually, in quite a good position …if you know what to look for and how to find it.

Ana, a native Spaniard from Area 2/3 points out that Madrid is teeming with diverse cultural options ranging from book clubs to dance groups and language classes in addition to the international clubs and societies. “Some examples are the Madrid Players theatrical group, St George’s Church, The Madrid International Choir, The James Joyce society and The Yeats Society. Many of the members of these international groups are Spanish people who value international social contact.” It´s fair to say that compared to when I first lived here in the 1980’s, Spaniards are far more mobile than ever and many are keen to enjoy a parallel social life with an international crowd.

However, as with any fast-paced capital city, lack of time seems to be a recurring barrier as Area 2/3’s Sinéad , who advises expat families on schools explains, “A common disappointment I encounter from clients is how difficult it is to make meaningful friendships beyond the playground chit chat.”  Apparently making Irish friends can be equally challenging for Spaniards in Dublin. “A lot of them only have foreign friends despite working with Irish colleagues,” according to Sinéad. A sentiment echoed by many Spanish friends who have lived in London as I recall.

So how can we go about successful friend dating? Holly from Area 2/3 seems to have had some success expanding her and Spanish husband´s social circle beyond his school and university network,  “I hosted a dinner party on Saturday for English speaking mums and their Spanish speaking partners, and I think the men were surprised how much fun it was and would probably do it again.” I agree, a bit of social engineering and creativity can go a long way. Why not turn the fact that you have been exposed to other ways of socialising to your (and everyone´s) advantage?

Ten years ago, when I arrived here I decided that an 11.30 am breakfast for flexi-workers represented the ideal opportunity to invite acquaintances to crumpets (good old Warburton´s frozen ones from Carrefour) and a pot of Earl Grey.  Whereas lunch is for more intimately acquainted people and dinner is more formal, a rolling breakfast is a bit of a free for all. People perch happily on sofas either indoors or on the porch and come and go as they wish or can. You can mix up lots of social groups, maintain one conversation with a group of 5-6 or enlarge it to several concurrent conversations by inviting 10. I maintain a list of attendees and rotate people so that their common interests are stretched just enough so that they feel they´ve learned something new without them feeling they´ve been beamed up to Mars for two hours. That way everyone leaves refreshed and invigorated for having stepped out of their ubiquitous bubble for a morning.

Amigas on my porch

Another winning formula is dressing up….whilst less common in Spanish circles, this provides the ideal ice-breaker. “Why exactly do you have an axe protruding out of your head?” can trigger an hour-long conversation at the bar area. I once organised a dinner party on a Wednesday (again, breaking with protocol) and 2 of the couples dropped out at the last moment. Faced with a mountain of marinading chicken curry, I managed to creatively fill both spots with 2 couples who had nothing in common with the other 2. So, I rang all 4 couples at 6 pm and explained that they had to come dressed up as someone from the country beginning with the same letter as their first name. Three hours later, a buxom barmaid in Oktoberfest garb rang the bell, at the same time as a flouncy Flamenco dancer and a man with well-worn lederhosen to name a few of the outfits. I finally chased them all out of my dining room at 3 am. Goodness knows if they would actually recognise each other today in a regular suit.

Various nationalities represented at our Leaving London party

Whilst you are coming up with ingenious ways of socialising it´s worth bearing in mind that you are living in a city where “el mundo es un pañuelo” or rather, everyone knows everyone or is even possibly related to everyone. The fact that people use two surnames narrows the potential anonymity further as both the maternal and paternal side of the Spanish family tree can be identified.

Shortly after my arrival here, I took my 18 month-old daughter to a Spanish friend´s house for our weekly informal playgroup. On my first day there, I met a Spanish girl from Andalucía who said she had Scottish cousins. As a Scot myself and having worked with quite a few Jerezanos with Scottish connections in the sherry industry I decided to inquire what their names were. To which she replied with the name of my brother´s best friend from Southampton University in the UK.

INC coffee at my house in 2016

That evening my husband went to a funeral and met up with one of his long-lost friends. His friend hadn´t seen him during my husband´s 11-year stint in London and asked whom he had ended up marrying. When my husband replied his wife was Scottish, his friend remarked that his wife had just met a Scot that morning at a playgroup. This “small world” scenario can be played to an outsider´s advantage, as you only need to scratch the surface before you come up with friends or acquaintances in common.

Huge coincidences or twists of fate also happen within INC. Years ago, after an enjoyable Museum Forum visit we trotted off to the museum café for a coffee. At the time I was on the look out for a Spanish INC member to interview for my next Spotlight blog so I deliberately sat next to a woman speaking Spanish. Whilst eavesdropping on her conversation I was bemused by her reference to Claudia and Andrés. Eventually I interrupted her and we discovered that Loreto and I are the exact mirror image of each other. She is married to a Brit and has a Claudia and Andrés whilst I am married to a Spaniard and have an Andrés and a Claudia. Not only that, both our Andreses have ADHD so Loreto has become an invaluable source of tips as I have struggled to navigate the ensuing parental challenges with Spanish psychiatrists. We are firm friends today.

INC Quiz time

INC is also a source of meaningful friendships for many members long after they´ve flown away from Madrid.  In fact, Loreto and several members of INC, both past and present are about to meet up in Scotland later this month with 2 Scots, 2 Spaniards, 1 Japanese, 1 Lebanese and two others flying over from Brazil and Saudi Arabia. This is testament to the bond that this club provides and also to those that take the trouble to cultivate and maintain the relationships formed within it despite busy diaries and the distance that separates them.

The Menina Race

For friendships are like plants, they need nurturing and tender loving care.  Madrid has many gems to offer, both new and long-term residents. Starting anew or returning home after years away gives us an opportunity to look within ourselves and see how we can enrich other people´s lives before we look to enriching our own. What´s your favourite way to make friends?

Breakfast Diversity

May 19th, 2023 by

I can and have eaten snake´s blood for lunch and worms for dinner but breakfast is sacred. On a weekend, ideally it would include lashings of Bovril drizzled over hot-buttered brown toast…I could push it to the Holy Grail of crispy crumpet at Christmas….or perhaps even a sneaky scone with a full height glacier of Rodda´s clotted cream on a whistle-stop trip over to the UK.

Bovril and crumpets – a winning duo

However, let´s face it, we´re less adaptable at this mealtime.

Felipe González, Spain´s Premier from 1986-1992, shrewdly observed at one heated European Summit he hosted in June 1989 that it wasn´t surprising the delegates couldn´t agree on the agenda, considering the diversity of breakfasts they had all undoubtedly consumed that morning. Whilst their heads locked horns over the EU monetary system, the attendees’ bellies were busy digesting anything from German Bircher Muesli to French Pain au Chocolat, Greek Spinach Pie, Irish sausages or even a British Triple Whammy of eggs, beans and black pudding on toast. “How can we settle on common policy at the end of the day when they start it so differently.” 

Mitterand and Thatcher – poles apart

According to Julio González de Buitrago, head chef at La Moncloa Felipe González, enjoyed taking over the kitchen to prepare bream baked in sea salt.  Although, “he loved a tuna-and-tomato sandwich when he was watching a soccer game”.

Felipe González at work

What happened to fried bread? I would like to start a Bring Back Fried Bread Movement. I could happily ditch those deep-fried mars bars; just bring me back those crispy caramel-brown triangles drenched in oil. Their sharp tip makes for the perfect weapon with which to go pricking those runny fried egg yokes.

Grease rules

Whereas every high street from Canterbury to Calcutta showcases global “To Go” brands such as Starbucks and Subway most nationalities tend to stick to home turf when it comes to breakfast in their own kitchen.

In the Middle East falafel and hummus bulge out of freshly-baked pita bread. Whereas in China and other Far Eastern countries a steaming bowl of rice porridge congee and pickled mustard stems is the preferred matutinal choice.

One of my most exotic daybreak meals was a spicy coconut noodle soup with fried beef lung at a roadside stall under a flyover in Kuala Lumpur. Just the ticket to tickle those sweat glands into action in the oppressive humidity.

Authentic porridge

Whilst lunch is the star culinary attraction, most Spaniards settle for biscuits and instant coffee dissolved into microwaved long-life milk of a morning. I am proud to divulge that I have managed to tempt my husband into following my Scottish ancestry by loading up on rolled porridge oats, or Scottish cement as he calls it with a dash of banana. I have fond memories of my grandmother stirring pinhead oats on the stove, spurtle in hand, until they congealed homogenously on our annual summer pilgrimage to her house near Dornoch. Once in a bowl, she would then sprinkle over some brown sugar, a pinch of salt to accentuate the natural earthiness of the oats before pouring a generous white moat of single cream round the edges.  All in all a tantalising tingle of contrasting flavours and textures that ensured we stayed out of the raspberry cage until lunch.

Poncho fashion on the Camino de Santiago

My family and I have embarked on a pledge to complete the Camino de Santiago with a group of Spanish friends by doing 3 sections or “etapas” a year. Having started in 2019 and been rudely interrupted by the pandemic we shall probably all be elderly grandparents by the time we stagger into Santiago de Compostela on zimmer crampons.  At times we have congregated together for breakfast and I have not found many takers for scrambled eggs at 7 am on a Sunday morning or for a bowl of mushy beige oats either. Instead, our friends favour a potato tortilla sandwiched into a white baguette and by 10.30 am they are sharing packets of almonds and Oreo biscuits or squeezing tubes of condensed milk down their children´s gullets in a bid to stave off those gastro grumblings.

Busy bodega workers

The other point to note about Spanish breakfast is that it´s often eaten nearer the British lunchtime. Office workers start on an empty stomach before congregating at the nearest bar for the three C´s (coffee, croissant and a cigarette) at about 11.30. When I worked in the sherry industry I used to watch enviously as the strapping bodega workers perched on the barrels while they devoured orange sobrasada slathered generously onto baguette, washed down with dry oloroso to cut through the porcine fat at 11.30 am while my stomach rumbled through the second tasting of the day of 30 sherries before 12 noon. As the Jerez saying goes, “If you haven´t had one by 12 you will have to have 12 by 1pm”.  Incidentally, farmworkers in the UK and Ireland were the initiators of the great Breakfast Fry up now equally ubiquitous in cafés in coastal Spain and the islands.

Unctuous sobrasada

Perhaps one of the main reasons Spaniards can´t eat a heavy meal early in the morning is because they´re still digesting their dinner that they may have only finished around midnight the night before. And that´s another story…..

Pools and Water Parks near Madrid…By Kirsty Leggatt

June 8th, 2016 by

 

poolLast July I posted about pools and water parks near Madrid and I thought as the warmer weather is upon us, I would re-visit this post.

Yes, it gets HOT in Madrid and it’s this time of year where I miss the lovely sea breeze and beaches of Sydney!

If you are like me and live in the city, you most likely won’t have easy access to a pool. Some of you, I know, have a pool attached to your apartment complex (or to your house in the suburbs) but as I live in an older, very central building, I don’t have this summer luxury. So I thought this week that I’d re-post my similar post of July last year and list some of the local pools and water parks where we can go to cool off and take some much-needed respite from the Madrid heat.

You can find information about all of these locations on the Internet but for ease of reference I’ve listed some of them here.

PUBLIC POOLS:

Centro Deportivo Municipal Casa de Campo

Located in Casa de Campo/Moncloa-Aravaca

Centro Deportivo Municipal Francos Rodríguez

Located in Ciudad Universitaria / Moncloa-Aravaca

Centro Deportivo Municipal Peñuelas

Located in Acacias/Arganzuela

Polideportivo Vicente Del Bosque http://www.barriodelpilar.com/pol_barriodelpilar.htm#Piscina_de_Verano

Located in Barrio Del Pilar – near Torre Espacio

Remember that these pools do get busy and don’t open until 1100.

 

NATURAL POOLS:

The natural pools, I’ve discovered are pools that use natural water from nearby springs or rivers. These are located outside the city in the mountains and are large, have extensive grassy areas and shade and would make an interesting day trip.

There are quite a few of these located all over Spain but I’m listing the three closest to Madrid.

Piscinas naturalas de Cercedilla

This is probably the closest to Madrid but apparently there is quite a walk from the train station.

Located in Cercedilla

Piscinas naturalas Buitrago del Lozoya

Located in Buitrago del Lozoya

Piscinas naturalas Rascafría (Las Presillas) 

Located in Rascafría

 

WATER PARKS:

Aquópolis San Fernando de Henares

This is the closest waterpark to Madrid.

Aquópolis de Villanueva de la Cañada

The above pools and parks are just to give you some ideas. Why not take a day trip this weekend and hit some of the lovely natural pools that the region has to offer!

Hace calor – Mucho! by Kirsty Leggatt

July 7th, 2015 by

You will hear the expression — “hace calor!” nearly everyday in summer. Your local shopkeeper will tell you this, a stranger standing at the lights with you will comment the same way and invariably your portero will utter this expression at least once a day. Your correct response should be — “mucho!” spoken with much enthusiasm and gusto!

Yes, it is HOT in Madrid at the moment and it’s this time of year where I miss the lovely sea breeze and beaches of Sydney!

If you are like me and live in the city, you most likely won’t have easy access to a pool. Some of you lucky people, I know, have a pool attached to your apartment complex but as I’m in an older, very central building, I don’t have this summer luxury. So I thought this week that I’d do a little investigation and list some of the local pools and water parks where we can go to cool off and take some much-needed respite from the Madrid heat. You can find information about all of these locations on the Internet but for ease of reference I’d thought I’d list some them here.

PUBLIC POOLS

Centro Deportivo Municpal Casa de Campo 

(Located in Casa de Campo/Moncloa-Aravaca)

Centro Deportivo Muncipal Francos Rodríguez

(Located in Ciudad Universitaria / Moncloa-Aravaca)

Centro Deportivo Municipal Peñuelas

(Located in Acacias/Arganzuela)

Remember that these pools do get busy and don’t open until 1100.

 

NATURAL POOLS

The natural pools, I’ve discovered are pools that use natural water from nearby springs or rivers. These are located outside the city in the mountains and are large, have extensive grassy areas and shade and would make an interesting day trip out of the city.

There are quite a few of these located all over Spain but I’m listing the three closest to Madrid.

Piscinas naturalas de Cercedilla

This is probably the closest to Madrid but apparently there is quite a walk from the train station.

(Located in Cercedilla)

Piscinas naturalas Buitrago del Lozoya

(Located in Buitrago del Lozoya)

Piscinas naturalas Rascafría (Las Presillas)

(Located in Rascafría)

 

WATERPARKS

Aquópolis San Fernando de Henares

This is the closest waterpark to Madrid.

Aquópolis de Villanueva de la Cañada

The above pools and parks are just to give you some ideas. Why not take a day trip this weekend and hit some of the lovely natural pools that the region has to offer!