Who are you?
My name is Anne Pinder, originally from central Iowa (USA), but after more than half my life in Madrid at least partly Spanish. I love hiking, cycling, reading and discovering new places.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
My first trip to Spain was a study abroad program. I came back in 1978, never knowing I’d stay for more than thirty years!
What challenges did you face during the move? It wasn’t difficult at that time; young, single and with a three-month job offer I came with a one-way ticket, two suitcases, and no plans for after the temporary job.
How did you find somewhere to live?
For the first few months I lived with friends from my previous stay then rented an apartment next door. I’ve moved twice since then, both times finding apartments through the newspaper (now would use Internet). Both times I made a list of what I did not want as well as what I wanted. In both moves the neighborhood and the feel of the specific streets were important in the decision – I’ve lived just south of the Plaza Mayor for many years, it’s my favorite neighborhood in the center of Madrid.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes, lots in Madrid city though not a huge number in my neighborhood, and the expats in my neighborhood are mostly long-time and so integrated they aren’t noticeable.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Very good. I have lots of Spanish friends and am fluent Spanish so no language or cultural communication issues. Sometimes when I meet someone new they don’t know quite what to make of me – a foreigner who is almost Spanish but not quite – but with a bit of humor on both sides it all works out
What do you like about life where you are?
Almost everything: weather, food, lifestyle, people. I’m not really a city girl, but Madrid is quite livable and my neighborhood is quiet. Madrid has great public transportation, a huge advantage for people who like hiking or off-track travel. I also really like the feeling of history, seeing buildings hundreds of years old, and in some towns, walking streets where people walked thousands of years ago.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Spain’s bureaucracy is huge and frustrating, though it has improved immensely since my first years. Aside from that, sometimes I get grumpy about small things: less than optimal service industry, smoking, Spaniards’ use of space, foods I miss. But the good things outweigh the not-so-good things.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
When I first came Spain was very different, after almost forty years of Franco’s totalitarian regime. Everything was gray, and there was still some fear that democracy wouldn’t work out. Since then they have made truly amazing progress, and now there aren’t too many noticeable differences. Looking a bit deeper, I’d say that Spain is somewhat less flexible socially and professionally. But even those things are changing quite rapidly.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Store hours are different – many stores still close for a few hours during part of the afternoon, and most small shops do not open Saturday afternoon or Sunday (big stores usually do open). For food and household items, now there are lots of big supermarkets where you can get everything at one place, but lots of people still shop for food and household items at markets and small neighborhood shops. My biggest shopping issue is clothes, most affordable things seem to be very classic or teenage fashion (and I’m not very picky!). Sizing and cut are also different from the USA, I have a really hard time finding trousers that fit properly, they’re either too tight in the leg, or too big in the waist, and sometimes both.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Love the food! Well, maybe not tripe, but almost everything else. Traditional cuisine does good things with simple ingredients, and they use lots of fish, olive oil, lots of legumes and lots of vegetables. Some people might find it boring because there aren’t lots of spices or sauces, but I really like it.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Do lots of research, but if you really want to come, know when to stop researching and just come: if you think too much it might not ever happen! That said, it is a lot harder to do everything legally nowadays, especially for people who are not European citizens. Vital things like banking, cell phone, rental and more are usually if not always tied to documents that prove legal residence, and to get legal residence you must be either a European citizen, have a stack of money in the bank, or a job, and to get a work permit for that job you must enter Spain with a work visa instead of tourist visa. It’s not impossible, but it does take time, planning and perseverance.
What are your plans for the future?
No plans to leave Spain, after so many years it would be hard for me to adjust again to life in the USA, and I cannot imagine moving to another country. I sometimes dream of moving to a small village, but right not that isn’t an option. Professionally I’ll continue to grow my walking tours business, and would like to do more writing.
Anne shares more information about life in Spain through her blog Bridge to Spain.