Expat Voices: Kejan Haynes on living in Madrid

Expat Voices: Kejan Haynes on living in Madrid

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“You eat when they eat or you don’t eat” – this Trinidadian may be used to the weird eating hours of Spaniards now but still finds it hard to explain to his visiting friends and family members.

Name: Kejan Haynes
Nationality: Trinidadian
City of residence: Madrid
Date of birth: 17/06/86
Occupation: Student
Reason for moving to Spain: Tertiary education
Lived in Spain since: January 2006

What was your first impression of Spain?
The culture was extremely laid back, exemplified by the extremely quick immigration process in the airport and the extremely slow service at restaurants. While this may be a little unsettling for people coming from the rigid, customer-oriented world of the US or UK, but coming from the Caribbean, it was almost like being at home.

What do you think of Spanish food?
Not the best. It’s all fried and they eat fries with everything. Spanish food definitely takes some getting used to. You’re out of luck if you like your food spicy and well seasoned.

What do you think of the shopping in Spain?
I’m not a huge shopper but the Rastro is always an option if you’re looking for things on the cheap side. The high-end stores are always around, teasing college students who really never can afford it. They’re always also easier to find than the cheaper places.

What do you appreciate most about living in Spain?
The public transportation is top notch. The Madrid Metro is probably one of the most efficient, safest and cleanest in the world. The metro or buses take you within metres of where you need to go and buses run throughout the night when the metro closes. You never feel unsafe roaming the city alone late at night.

What do you find most frustrating about living in Spain?
The weird eating hours. When I first came to Madrid, I was told: “You eat when they eat or you don’t eat.” I’ve gotten used to it, but it’s always stressful whenever family comes to visit and they’re looking for sit down restaurants at 6pm but nothing’s really open until much later. Even bars don’t always have their kitchens open until certain times. Also, finding food after hours is near to impossible. In such a nocturnal culture, it’s unfathomable that there aren’t more places that open late for a midnight snack.

What puzzles you about Spanish culture and what do you miss since you’ve moved here?
I’m usually very puzzled by their lack of customer service. It’s almost as though some businesses would rather not earn your money than to go out of their way to fulfill a simple request. Most often this happens in small bars and with taxi drivers.

Interestingly after living in Spain for 3.5 years, the thing I miss the most is food from home. The lack of spicy food and good pizza make me really nostalgic. But that’s easily solved with some searching for some good, hidden restaurants.

How does the quality of life in Spain compare to the quality of life in other countries that you’ve lived in?
The quality of life is really good, in the sense that basic needs are provided for, like healthcare. Maybe the salaries are not as good as in the US but people seem to be quite happy in their day to day lives.

If you could change anything about Spain, what would it be?
The indoors smoking policy. I’m not a giant anti-smoking campaigner, but it is difficult when friends come to visit to find non-smoking restaurants. All restaurants should at least have a smoking and non-smoking section.

What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Don’t take anything for granted. Don’t expect that just because something is a given where you’re from, that it’ll be the same in Spain. I’ve seen people smoking in restaurants under a no smoking sign.

9 June 2009

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