Making the Rural – Urban Jump

Before I moved to Madrid, I had lived most of my life in a very rural environment. We’re talking close-to-nature, mow-the-yard-and-weed-the-garden type of place. Heck, for most of my childhood the neighboring houses weren’t visible due to the surrounding trees. Now I hear neighbors all around me–above me, below me, and on two sides. I can see their laundry from my window and bump into them every day in the elevator. There are no trees to buffer the noise and lack of privacy.

So. Many. People.

Moving to Madrid presented changes, and two-fold; not only was I living in a new country, I also had to adapt to a place that was so much larger than I was used to. Although I love my new city life, I will admit that it was overwhelming in many ways and certainly took getting used to. This past week I’ve been reflecting on some of the ways I’ve changed in the 3+ years I’ve been in Madrid; below is a list of highlights detailing the rural-urban jump:

 

Gah, the traffic totally photo-bombed my Xmas card photo op!

1) I am less interactive with strangers

By this I mean that, even though there may be more physical proximity, there is more mental distance between strangers. On the metro, for example, I don’t usually make eye contact or close pay attention to individuals. There are so many people that I see on a daily basis, and it is mentally tiring to catalog each one. How is this different from a rural setting? Well, I can’t count how many times a stranger would strike up a conversation in a grocery store, at a restaurant, or in a waiting room. My commute by car would usually involve more clear-cut interactions with other drivers. There would be honks, friendly (or perhaps not-so-friendly) hand waves, and nods to both pedestrians and drivers. Not so for my urban metro commute.

Another example would be holding the door open for the next person. In my former, rural environment I would automatically hold the door open for the next person, and would think someone was rude if they were close by and didn’t bother to hold the door open for me. Here, in a city, I quickly learned that holding the door open for strangers—especially if it was for some time—usually made the other person feel uncomfortable. Now I don’t hold the door open unless the next person is right on my heels. Additionally, I’m no longer bothered if someone doesn’t hold the door for me.

Metro rules

2) I feel more materialistic  

I’ve never felt the need to blow big bucks just to get a specific brand, but I do feel that living in a city has made me more attuned to the tides of fashion. Now I am more bombarded with billboards, storefronts, and advertisements than I was in my rural environment. Living so close to Gran Vía, I used to talk walks along this store-lined street fairly frequently. All of these things made my brain go “WANT WANT WANT!!!” in a way I hadn’t noticed before.

REBAJAS

3) I walk more, and get more exercise carrying things

When my parents first came to visit me in Madrid, they made several jokes about how my sense of distance had changed. I would say, “Oh, that museum is really close, just another 15-minute walk!” However, to a pair of jet-lagged tourists (albeit very fit ones), this distance seemed like it should have been labeled “long.” In the States, I would have driven my car everywhere. Here I don’t have a car, so whenever I need to go, I walk. I walk to the metro that will give me the most direct line, even if it means adding an additional 10 minutes to the stroll. I walk to the post office, the pharmacy, the bank, and to the grocery store.

Especially the grocery store. Seriously, do you KNOW how heavy groceries can be when you don’t have a car to tote them around in? Liquids are the worst—laundry detergent, olive oil, milk, juice…my shoulder hurts just thinking about it. Because of this, I often find myself making multiple trips to the supermarket or frutería each week. This isn’t so bad if you plan like I do, and view every grocery-store trip as another opportunity to stock ye olde wine cabinet.

Quick, grab a cart

4) I have more appreciation for the country now

I appreciate the tranquility of rural life so much more now. Even as I write this entry I can hear the neighbors’ muffled voices traveling through the walls. But my appreciation goes beyond just the quiet. Without a car, it is difficult to get to a really secluded place and I have weeks when I crave solitude from the constant go-go-go of city life. Sure, there are plenty of great travel opportunities from Madrid’s well-connected airport, but these destinations will put you in another urban environment. I miss the quiet! I miss the fresh air! I miss being able to jog without seeing another soul! I miss trees and grass and the charm of a stranger holding open a door! Ahhh, country life, you spoiled me.

Hmm, I can see my neighbors laundry from here…

5) I go out more frequently (but I usually only spend a few Euros when I do)

Because it is so easy to walk or catch the metro to another part of town, I go out frequently with friends. Whereas the rural environment can mean driving long distances to meet up with pals, this is not so in Madrid. Adding to this is Spain’s flourishing bar and café culture. Catching up with friends and acquaintances often takes place over a café con leche, and bars don’t mind if you linger for an hour or two over your drink. Then there’s the aperitivo, the before-dinner drink + tapa that can start as a warm-up but stretch on for hours. Really, any excuse to head to the bar will do! It is not unusual for Andres and I to go out 2 or 3 times a week, but when we do, it’s usually for a coffee or a glass of wine.

 Café con leche anyone?

6) My dislike for city-dwelling dogs (and pet pigs) in now totally cemented

If I was on the fence before when it came to liking domesticated animals, living in an urban environment has been the figurative push over the edge. When I lived in a rural setting I wasn’t too concerned with animals—ni fu ni fa, as the Spanish would say. Most friends and family had pets, and these pets had plenty of space to roam.

In the city, however, I feel sorry for the large dogs (and a few random pigs [yes, pigs]) that I see people walking on the street. Keeping goldfish or gerbils or other small pets doesn’t bother me, but it seems cruel to keep dogs inside a tiny apartment. Also, there is the dog poop to contend with. Gross, gross, and GROSS. Why didn’t anyone warn me about this before I moved?!

Citizens are supposed to clean up after their pooches, but this law is often ignored. Once, running out the door on my way to work, I stepped in a pile of dog poop while wearing some old cloth boots. &%#@%! So please, please, please don’t ask if I want to get a dog. After living through the great trash strike of 2013 (when the streets weren’t cleaned for days), I can tell you the answer to that one right away.

Puppy: now there’s one inner-city dog I can get behind

I could go on and on with these observations, but these are the main differences that come to mind. If you’ve made the rural-urban jump, what things about big cities have changed the way you live?