The realisation fully hit me last month, it was Madrid Pride weekend and I had a pre-parade house party in full swing in my piso. There were some 35 or so of my friends, and friends of friends, laughing, drinking, dancing and enjoying the sunshine on the terrace when a friend, who was visiting from London, turned to me and asked, “so where are all the Spaniards?” At that moment I realised that, among the partygoers, we had representatives from England, Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Finland, the USA, France, Poland, Switzerland, Israel, Nicaragua, Sudan and Brazil, but there was not one Spaniard in sight! How was this possible? I have lived in Madrid for almost 4 years, I speak fluent castellano and I’m a sociable fellow. So how have I successfully avoided making close Spanish friends?
Now I’m not saying I don’t have any Spanish friends at all — the Spanish contingent of the party did turn up later on — however, the Spaniards that I do know tend to be friends of friends that I say hi to, hang out with in groups or party with. Sadly, they’re generally not the friends that I call up randomly for a catch up, nor friends who I Whatsapp at the last minute to meet for a drink or sit in a café with and gossip.
It has certainly not been a conscious decision of mine to only hang out with fellow international folk and not Spaniards. In fact, on multiple occasions over the past years I’ve commented to friends saying quite the opposite: “I need more Spanish friends!” So why am I still missing these amigos?!
I could blame a language barrier for the lack of españoles in my social circle, but me and the vast majority of my friends have a high level of Spanish so conversing is not really a problem. Maybe it could have something to do with the level of detail of a language that we need to truly bond with friends to get close? There’s also a lot to be said for a shared heritage, being able to bond over the TV shows you watched as a kid or your favourite food from ‘back home’, which brings people together and forges friendships. But then, if that were true, how is it that we international friends, for most of whom English is their second language (or sometimes third or fourth) and with whom I share very little home culture, manage to bond with one another?
Could it be the opportunity of getting to know Spaniards that has left me short-changed in the amigo department? Well, I have worked in a number of Spanish or bilingual offices, as have many of my friends, so we have had the chance to work with many native Spanish colleagues. The majority of my friends are also sociable people like my good self and we’re often out and about at bars, on terraces, at parties or at the gym — places that are rife with opportunities to make Spanish friends. Furthermore, we do so here in central Madrid, not on the Costa del Sol, so we’re surrounded by an abundance of native Spanish people all the time. But alas, the drought continues.
I could understand my current predicament if I were an expat who only socialised in Irish bars with other anglos and taught English, and so being immersed in the English teacher social circle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that social world, but it would explain an obvious lack of integration — but, again, that’s not me! Ironically though, I think English teachers could actually end up with more Spanish friends than me as they come into regular contact with so many natives in the form of their students.
The one thing that I have noticed with the Spanish friends that I do know is that many of them have the most incredible history with their friends. They’ve been friends since high school or earlier, their whole group has grown up together, holidaying together, moving cities together, spending fiestas together and so on. From a British point of view, this can happen but I don’t think to the extent that it does here in Spain. I think it’s absolutely fantastic that these friends know each other inside out and are like a really close family, but is it possible that this close-knit social behaviour makes it hard for us ‘outsiders’ to come in and mix with these solidly formed circles of friends?
These factors may have all played a minor part, at one stage or another, in making it a little harder to make friends in Madrid than back home in England, but having sat back and pondered this topic, I’ve come to my own conclusion. I love Spain, and Mads in particular, I love the passion and rich culture of Spanish people and I love the language but, at the end of the day, I’m a foreigner on Spanish soil, as are the majority of my friends. We may have chosen to live here and we may speak the lingo but I think we’ve come together, whether consciously or subconsciously, as outsiders living life away from home. We’ve found people going through the same (or similar) experience and forged friendships. We may not have the temporal history of a Spanish group of friends, but these friends have become my Madrid family nonetheless.
Now I count myself incredibly lucky to have the friends I do, but I just can’t help but still crave that integration -– like a battle I am determined not to lose. So now that I’m conscious of the various factors against me, and the degree of how poco español my social circle is, I’ll keep trying and let’s see if this is the last year that I’ll be saying, “I need more Spanish friends!”
Have you been more successful at integrating socially here in Mads? I’d love to know how you’ve done it.
Hi, I’m Tom! A British boy who’s been living in Madrid since 2009 with a passion for cakes, acrobatics, all things madrileño and enjoying the sunshine and roof terraces!
Image Credits: Miguel Jimenez
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