Why don’t we have any Spanish friends?

Spanish friends in a bar

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?!

Culprit #1: Language barrier

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?

Culprit #2: Few chances to meet Spaniards

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.

Culprit #3: The Irish bars/English-teaching trap

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.

Culprit #4: Tight Spanish groups of friends

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?

The real reason

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.

Tom Burgess

About Tom Burgess

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

21 Comments

  1. Nora

    August 14, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    I’m from Argentina, living here for 12 years, no problem with language but still looking for Spanish friends… So take it easy! I think the main reason is #4.

    • Tom Burgess

      Tom Burgess

      August 14, 2013 at 4:48 pm

      It’s good to know I’m not the only one! Fingers crossed I pick up one or two good Spanish friends on my way though… :)

  2. Daniel

    August 14, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    I’ve wondered about this also, and come to some of the same conclusions… In the end, think it’s just the fact that we have more in common with other expats than we do with Spaniards. Like two parallel universes in the same city. In any case, I can’t say I was friends with any foreign people when I was back in the USA.

    • Tom Burgess

      Tom Burgess

      August 15, 2013 at 9:30 pm

      It is indeed a funny phenomenon, two worlds indeed.

      • Alcy

        September 14, 2013 at 5:02 am

        Quite interesting, here a madrileña living in the US (over 3 yr now). I have the same problem that you have, my closest friends are foreigners, my social circle is quite international. Someone on Social Sciences should study this…

  3. Jessica of HolaYessica

    August 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Interesting piece, and you’re so right about their tight circles of friends! I’m often quite jealous of those groups.

    I live in Barcelona and have a pretty good mix of Spanish (slash Catalan) friends, though it can be much easier to hit it off with other expats. I have noticed that my closest Spanish friends tend to also have lived in different countries for a while, or they’re from other regions of Spain and came to Barcelona for similar reasons I did. Trying to meet people who are interested in travel might help find those friends who “click”.

    • Tom Burgess

      Tom Burgess

      August 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

      I was discussing that this week, that it’s normally the Spaniards who have travelled the world that tend to befriend the international people here, I guess because it’s having something in common with the living abroad.

  4. Romano Endrighi

    August 14, 2013 at 7:42 pm

    Nice prologue Tom, very insightful. Romano

    • Tom Burgess

      Tom Burgess

      August 15, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks Romano!

  5. personally marked out

    August 31, 2013 at 5:01 pm

    I’ve lived in Madrid before and made great Spanish friends, a part of it was that I really wanted to learn the language, and I put myself out there to go and immerse myself. I had great roommates, both Spanish who I am still pretty close with. They invited me out, and in turn I met and made many other Spanish friends. I realize it’s not always that easy, but it’s totally possible.

  6. lekkerbusy2011

    September 5, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    nice piece indeed, your conclusion I agree with. as a dutch girl back ‘home’ from abroad, I felt foreign and enjoy an international network around me. all is great yet I do notice some foreigners can be realy keen to befriend me, because I, m dutch I feel, that doesnt really work.

  7. hicsvntleones

    September 19, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I liked the article a lot. -it’s hard to make foreigner friends too! ;)

  8. Ricardo

    October 1, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Nice article…. when I was living abroad, I had that same problem.. quite an international group of friends and no locals. I think that it has a lot to do with the expectations of the different groups (expats vs locals)… Locals tend to expect to stay at one place,and favor those that will be staying, (Other Locals),. Also, their networks are much bigger and they feel less pressure to make friends (we’re not talking about adolescents, or university students anymore… adults, simply just don’t look for friends anymore) All this puts the expats in a sort of “second class looking for friendship” zone, that will only be covered by other expats. My recommendation is look for Spaniards from outside of Madrid. They need the friends too and are looking for them.

    By the way, nowadays, I have the opposite problem, I’d be willing to befriend some expats (If only to be able to speak English more often), but never seem to meet any. :D

  9. Manuel

    October 8, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Also, Northern Spaniards tend to be less open than Southern Spaniards. It is almost impossible for a non catalan to have catalan friends. While on the other side, people from Andalucia (or Murcia, where I am from) will accept you more easily. In my group we have some expats that we shared an apartment with a friend. Now they are part of the group.

    • Ricardo

      October 9, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      I can’t agree with Manuel. My opinion is that such stereotypes are very exaggerated. you can meet and have catalan friends, or from anywhere in the north… they are not more or less open. One of the things that actually surprises me the most when I go to Barcelona and visit my catalan friends is that they adapt their use of the language to the people that are around. If someone does not speak catalan, they will just switch to castellano straight away (Not the stereotype at all). I understand that you can always find a dogmatist or a bigot, (In Barecelona, Sevilla, or London) but who would want to befriend someone like that anyhow?

  10. Emil

    October 18, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    I still don’t live here in Madrid, unfortunately, the job opportunities are just better in Denmark. But I see it as my second home, and spend as much time as possible in this city. This year it will sum to about 3 months. I have some spanish friends here, native Madrilleños, but not any foreign friends. I think in my situation, I’m too much an outsider? However, the problem many spanish people suffer is that they can’t effort to go out, so they simply choose not to do so much. That’s my experience. When time allows it we meet in public parks or such, but never in a nice bar in the centre, I’m afraid.
    How you catch foreign friends is interesting to me though?

  11. Carly Somers

    November 23, 2013 at 5:59 am

    Hi! I found this article after googling “how to make friends in Madrid” and now I’m nervous! I’m moving to Madrid in February 2014! This gave me a lot to think about. :)

    • Daniel

      November 23, 2013 at 10:11 am

      I think we all have quite a few friends… They’re just not Spanish! It’ll bring you into contact with people from all over the world, certainly.

    • Tom Burgess

      Tom Burgess

      November 23, 2013 at 10:38 am

      Hi Carly, don’t let this article worry you, Madrid is one of the greatest cities in the world. And you will definitely make friends easily, you may even be fortunate enough to get in with a Spanish crowd. Certainly don’t let this article put you off, I have some incredible friends that I’ve met here – be excited, Mads is waiting! :) x

  12. Ron

    January 30, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Im an American living in Madrid 11 years now. I think it depends on the conditions of your arrival. I really never had any foreign friends until having lived here several years. I arrived dating someone who knew only Spaniards so it came easy to me. I do think having close Spanish friends is also a matter working at nurturing those friendships beyond the superficial. If it is truly what we want we make it happen… thanks…great article!

    • Tom Burgess

      Tom Burgess

      March 7, 2014 at 3:24 pm

      Hi Ron, very true and it really depends on the nature of how/when/why you came to Madrid and sometimes pure luck. I am a firm believer it what’s meant to be is meant to be – whether Spanish, British, etc :) Am glad you liked the article.

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