6/1/10 – 6/3/10: Madrid, Spain
I never thought I’d say this, but Spain feels a lot like home. Perhaps it’s because we’ve been in South America for the past three months and after too long in one-of-a-kind countries like Bolivia, just about anything would feel like home. Perhaps it’s because we can once again drink the tap water, order ice in our beverages and throw toilet paper in the toilet. Perhaps it’s symbolic: we just left our vacation with our families, so it’s as if we are moving away to college and then work, just like we did a few years ago in the States.
My gut feeling though is that it’s the people. Madrid is Bizarro America. In Bolivia and Peru, I could usually take one look at someone and decide if they were a local or a tourist. (Keep in mind, I’m generalizing here – I probably didn’t correctly spot 100% of the locals there, but there was usually a common look amongst most local men and women.) Many women, for example, wore very colorful and ornate outfits. It seemed like almost every Bolivian woman had on a bowler hat and carried a brightly-colored blanket full of stuff on her back.
Upon arriving in Madrid though, I was amazed at how – for lack of a better term – not Spanish people looked. The darker skin of South America? Gone. The flamboyant clothing? Gone. Instead I saw thousands of people who looked exactly like people I know. If I weren’t in Madrid, I probably would have gone up to many of them to say hi. Instead, I looked on from my safe distance, whispering to Zhou:
“It’s the guy I worked with at Wachovia!”
“Look, there’s Nick Nolte!”
“Hey, there goes my friend’s girlfriend! What’s she doing with that guy?”
“I’m pretty sure that was my next-door neighbor growing up!”
I didn’t write down a full list, but I’m also positive I saw Roger Ebert, my old boss and two other co-workers, Jon Lovitz, the local weatherman and even Minnie Mouse.
If I had wanted to, I probably could have got a poker game going with just old acquaintances from high school. (Unfortunately I didn’t know how to say “poker” in Spanish.) Although it is a bit weird seeing so many people I know, it’s also kind of nice.
My other subtle, ingenious observation here has been regarding restaurant service. I had heard that waiters in France were rude, but never did I expect the same out of classy, awesome Madrid! Before I make my next comment, let me preface with a short story.
Zhou enjoys eating out at a nice restaurant occasionally, so back when we had jobs I would take her to the Melting Pot every year on our anniversary. For those of you who’ve never been: don’t go. It costs a fortune, but the food is so good that it sucks you into returning again, and again. (Remember, this is coming from a guy whose favorite restaurants are Skyline Chili and BW3.) And to top it all off, we’ve had excellent service every time we’ve gone. One waiter was so good that I tipped over 25% on a $100 meal.
Story’s over. Here in Madrid, for the first and second times that I can remember, I left a restaurant without giving a tip. (Zhou has been leaving me in charge of the money lately.) At one restaurant every single waiter ignored us for about 20 minutes, and when one finally took our order he wouldn’t clear our table of the previous customers’ dinner remains. In fact, he later brought us our dishes and squeezed them into the small gaps between the leftover trash, plates, cigarettes and spilled food. At another restaurant the waitress refused to put anything down in front of us. Instead, she put everything, one-by-one into the far corner (closest to her) of the table behind the salt shakers and olive oil. Only after we reached over and got it for ourselves would she bring another dish. And not once did either of the servers say a word to us. Maybe that’s just how it is here in Europe. It really makes me miss the over-friendly service workers that we encountered throughout South America.
That being said, I really like Madrid.
Puzzles for Postcards
The Truth Behind This Famed Man Anagram
Pictures of the Day: Zhou The Photographer doing a compare and contrast of the Royal Palace and Plaza Mayor.