Author Archives: Michelle

About Michelle

Originally from Boston, I've been living and working in Spain for 14 years. In August 2006 I decided to leave behind my life in Boston and take a chance over in sunny Spain with nothing more than determination, a sense of adventure and two big suitcases. 14 years later I like to think I'm pretty established: I have a Spanish husband, full time job that's 50/50 Spanish/English, two Spanglish kids, home (apartment) owner, and I apparently talk in Spanish sometimes in my sleep which is as good of a sign as any of cultural immersion. Currently I work as a Program Director in Executive Education at IESE Business School (where I also did my MBA back in 2010). Prior to that I've had experience in FMCG Brand Marketing and Customer/User Experience Research and Design. These days I keep quite busy as a full-time working mother to two young kids. Although I don't have as much free time as before, I still enjoying meeting new people and sharing experiences and enjoy reflecting upon the differences between life in the US and Spain. Customer Experience as well remains an interest of mine and shows up in a number of my posts. Hope you enjoy my blog!

Covid-19 Madrid – heading for another big lockdown?

I feel like I’m living in a bubble these days. If you watch the news, from the outside, it looks like everything is completely going downhill here in Spain and that we’re headed for another lockdown. Just the other day they announced new restrictions in Madrid, not allowing people to enter or leave 37 most-affected areas in the city. And we’re back to more than 10,000 cases a day…

If you don’t see the news and look at my daily activities, though, it almost feels like nothing is really happening: On one hand my kids started back in school a week ago with some restrictions like mandatory face masks for the older one and shortened schedules, but overall it doesn’t feel so strange. We can go play in the parks, play in the pool (until it closed a few days ago), etc. On another hand with work, my company has made it mandatory for everyone to be back in the office, as if nothing is going on… of course there are a lot of safety measures and we already have some people in quarantine from being Covid-positive or with others that are positive I understand wanting to get back to normal and transmit normalcy, but it just seems odd. A lot of companies like my husband’s for example already have all employees working from home until January 2021. I don’t think it should be so black and white at this stage. Things are changing by the day.

From a social perspective, although you can’t have meetings in groups of more than 10 people (now will be 6 as of Monday), restaurants are still packed every day, terraces are full, and groups bigger than 10 really just translates to more than one table. Maybe this will change with the new restrictions.

To be honest I don’t see how temporarily closing down certain parts of the city with the highest virus concentrations (mainly those that are most impoverished as well which will just be more of a problem for people who can’t work) is really the answer. I understand that the last thing the country wants or needs is a lockdown as this would destroy the economy, and I agree. So, what is the answer? Good question. Hopefully I’m wrong and we’ll see in a few weeks that things are more under control. As I’ve said in previous posts I think there’s such a strong, underlying social component here in Spain that it will be hard to curb social gatherings, especially amongst younger people. However, a government measure to have bars close now at 10pm instead of 1am (1am was a restriction from a while back), for example… Maybe the problem is more the bar itself than the 3 hour shortened window. Last night I went out for dinner at a restaurant that fully complied with the distancing and hygiene measures, etc. Then, taking a walk afterwards we passed by a number of smaller bars that were packed with people on top of each other. As I’ve said in other posts, time will tell.

Still waiting for the “nueva normalidad”. And what is going on with schools? … Post-summer, but not post-covid in Spain.

The last time I wrote here was a few months ago. To be honest I thought by the time September rolled around everything with Covid would already seem like a semi-nightmare of the past and we would be wading through the consequences. Unfortunately, however, we’re still pretty much in the same boat as June and still with high levels of uncertainty. The only “positive” side is that we seem to be somewhat better prepared (in the sense that we are aware of the potential risk and results and have more access to personal protection materials) and there do not seem to be as many casualties, as of now.

What’s amazing to me is how quickly Spain has landslided as a country, in comparison to other European countries. Now that vacation is over (yes, vacation definitely still happened here in August, including for the government) everyone is scrambling to figure out how to contain the growing virus, how to make school work for kids (rules are changing by the day) and how to get back to some level of normalcy without resulting in a 2nd lockdown.

Personally, we spent the summer at the beach in Cadiz. I can’t complain as this is a great vacation spot, and it wasn’t a bad Plan B since my trip to Boston with the kids had been cancelled. Here are a few thoughts after my month in Cadiz:

  • You can get used to wearing masks, even to the beach. Months ago I couldn’t even imagine wearing a mask at all, let alone in the heat or to the beach. Whether I wanted to or not, in August it just became part of the routine, not to say that it’s comfortable though – mask on to leave the house, mask on until you get to your spot on the beach, mask on if you’re going to walk anywhere on the beach, and mask on to go back home. At the beach there were “beach mask police” constantly patrolling the shores to make sure people were complying with covid rules. Apart from getting in trouble for not wearing masks, I also saw people who had to put away games or toys like paddle ball since was not complying with rules.
  • Spain’s culture and social scene won’t change over night. Asking people in Spain to stop going out and gathering together is like…well, it’s not even comparable to anything else; it won’t change overnight. I was surprised to see large gatherings of people in small spaces in some pueblos in the south of Spain, like in Chipiona and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. People were wearing masks (in general) as this is the law, but social distancing was sometimes negative. Don’t get me wrong – one of the things I’ve always loved about Spain is the friendly, open culture and intense social scene. But I was a bit surprised to see such large crowds of people with everything going on. Actually I just read an article now saying that one of the reasons people believe things have gone downhill so quickly is that people just “relaxed” after the lockdown, and quickly.

Now it’s September and we’re trying to get back to reality and trying to figure out what is going on with schools. My children go to a public school in Majadahonda. In the last few days the schools have been scrambling to try to establish protocols, arrange classes, teachers, etc. For parents it’s creating a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. And for the schools, from what I gather, it’s also creating a lot of stress. What amazes me is that this pandemic is nothing new, but now everything is last minute as the government has come back from vacation and now are setting guidelines for the schools a few days before opening… at this point it seems to me that schools generally have similar protocols, but there are still a lot of fine points to work out. For example, in our school they’ve just announced that we will have a “jornada intensiva” with classes straight from 9-14h (instead of the usual from 9.30-13:30 and then class after lunch in the afternoon until 16:30h), but in another semi-private school right down the street they won’t have this intense schedule and will have class until 17h as usual. The kids in our classes won’t have any furniture in the classrooms, just tables and chairs, and they won’t be able to even bring school books home at the end of the day.

Will these protocols work? I guess time will tell. What I wonder is really how all of these protocols will work when the same kids who are kept in “bubble classrooms” and separated so tightly at school come home and then mix and run around in the parks outside…

It seems this is the “new normality” for now!

Yes, I had the coronavirus – the serological test and WIM

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about taking the quick Covid finger prick test only to find out, to my surprise, that I had never had the virus (see post here). Last week I had the serological test (where you have blood taken) and found out that not only had I had Covid and passed it a while back, but that I also now have a high level of antibodies. Go figure. More than anything I had been surprised with the quick test as I was convinced that the symptoms I had back in mid-March were related. I had completely lost my sense of smell/taste and also had a really bad cough for a full week (click here for more about my covid experience).

I’ve learned quite a bit more about the different types of tests and also about the low reliability of the quick tests since then. My recommendation would be to either take the serological test or the PCR if you’re in doubt. In my case my work paid for the test and provided it on-site since it will be a requirement for anyone to go back to the office.

I consider myself a pretty intelligent person, but when I received the test results, it wasn’t very intuitive, and I was surprised that the report didn’t come with any sort of “instructions” to interpret it. Finally I found a guide to understand my IgM (-) and IgG (+) results. So, in case this is helpful, here’s a guide that I used:

 

Click to access Pruebas_disponibles_COVID-19.pdf

 

WIM –  to be honest I’m not exactly sure what my results mean since it’s not at all clear that having antibodies really is an indicator of immunity, but I guess it’s better to have them than not. Also, I’d love to know whether my results mean that I could help others by donating blood. Surprisingly there’s no indicator of this either or any easy way to find out if I could help others. All I know is that being positive for antibodies is a score of 1 or more, and I had 105…

Screenshot 2020-06-16 at 22.39.36

If anyone knows more about this I’d love to hear!

 

 

 

Cancelling summer flights to the US with Iberia

Last week I called Iberia to formally cancel my upcoming direct flights from Madrid to Boston, scheduled for the end of July. It was with a heavy heart that I decided to cancel my trip, but after giving it a lot of thought I decided that the overall stress and risk of the trip just didn’t make sense to be back home for two weeks.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as you never know with customer service around here, but it was actually pretty smooth. I had purchased three tickets – one for me that I paid for with avios, and one for each of my children. The one that I paid for with avios was refunded very quickly (the cash paid for the taxes and the avios).  As for the tickets that I bought for my children I had two options – cancel right now and receive a voucher for the total amount of the tickets that could be used for up to a year (for anyone, not just for another ticket for them) or wait until closer to the flight date to see if Iberia cancels the flight. In the latter case that would mean that I would automatically be refunded the full ticket price. I was told that I had this option up until right before the actual flight given the Covid situation. Since there’s no real rush I’ve decided to wait closer to the date and see if Iberia cancels the flight, in which case I’d get a full refund.

We’ll see what happens. Hopefully by Christmas things will be better and I can make the trip!

Coronavirus – my antibody test experience

Yesterday I took the coronavirus serological test with a surprise result – negative, meaning that either (a) I haven’t had the virus or (b) I don’t have antibodies. I was quite surprised after my experience in mid-March (see: My COVID-19 experience: complete loss of smell and taste). I had been completely convinced that I had had the virus, and to be honest, I’m still sure that what I experienced was 100% related to COVID. It doesn’t make any sense otherwise as it was such a strange experience and completely aligned with all the stories coming out in the news. Apparently from what I’ve heard some people who had only symptoms like this also didn’t develop antibodies. In any case it seems like I’ve been walking around with a false sense of security for some time now!

The test itself was simple, just a quick finger prick and then waiting for up to 20 minutes for the results. It looked just like a pregnancy test:

The only difference was that yesterday I was hoping for and expecting a positive result.

I’ve also heard that these tests aren’t completely reliable, but I also don’t see the need to go running around town looking to repeat. In the end all it will really tell me is if I had the virus or not, but the question of immunity is still uncertain. In any case all very interesting. Also, forgot to mention that the tests are manufactured in China.

Coronavirus Madrid lockdown Day 65: Masks will now be mandatory. Now??…

We’ve been living an a State of Emergency since March 14th, only being able to go out to the supermarket and the pharmacy for the first six weeks. Now, more than two months later we can go out to exercise and to take our kids out for an hour a day. While we’re still in the preliminary phases of recovery (currently Madrid is in Phase 0.5, whatever that exactly means…), it seems that things are moving along positively. In fact, it was announced that there were “only” 59 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, so the situation seems to be getting better. As things are finally starting to seem to improve, the government is now making it mandatory to wear masks in closed spaces and when it can’t be guaranteed that there will be 2 meters of space between yourself and another person. It’s true that the country is slowing starting to open up, but …hmmm… this now, why not before?

Screenshot 2020-05-18 at 22.32.17

Here’s a recent article: https://elpais.com/sociedad/2020-05-18/el-uso-de-mascarilla-sera-obligatorio-en-espacios-cerrados-y-en-la-via-publica-si-no-se-puede-garantizar-la-distancia.html

Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this being mandatory if this is a way to keep the virus under control and to prevent a second phase, but I’d just like someone to explain why this hasn’t been mandatory all along. I can only think of two reasons: 1. The government was incapable of having enough supplies for everyone, which is why they didn’t make this a requirement even if they thought it should be one. or 2. Really, no one knew what was going on or had any idea what to do.

From talking with my family back in Boston I found it interesting that they have not ever been under lockdown to the point where they could get a fine for being outside, yet it has been mandatory to wear face masks for some time now.

Honestly, the government’s advice related to the use of face masks here has been anything but not confusing. We’ve gone through a few phases since the start of the pandemic:  first, face masks were discouraged for asymptomatic people. Then their use was made “recommended”. Next face masks were made required for people using public transportation. And now, over 2 months later face masks will be mandatory in general for the uses/situations I’ve already mentioned. To add to the confusion there’s even doubt over the efficacy of the free masks being handed out in pharmacies by the Community of Madrid (see my recent post: COVID-19 in Madrid: Lockdown Day 63 (possibly to be continued another month)

Given the confusion with the requirements I’m also expecting some confusion with the details about their use, which should be communicated soon. Logically, this poses some questions: how long will this be mandatory and how will it be enforced? What kind of face mask should I wear? (if you’re like me you probably know there are different types but not all the details) Should I be expecting to see officers patrolling the mountain where I go out for my runs?

Just another chapter in the pandemic here in Madrid. Thank goodness Mercadona now sells 10 packs of masks for 6€…

 

COVID-19 in Madrid: Lockdown Day 63 (possibly to be continued another month)

Pedro Sanchez, the President of the government here in Spain, just announced today that they’re planning to ask for an extension of “about a month” to the current state of emergency that’s been underway in Spain for over two months now. (https://www.elmundo.es/espana/2020/05/16/5ebfd22ffc6c83c8318b45d8.html). To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this. On one hand I think we need to do whatever is necessary to make sure this pandemic gets under control and does not result in a second wave. On the other hand I’m completely anxious, as are a lot of people, to get back to “normal” as soon as possible. Also I’m starting to wonder if this sort of lockdown will really bring about this “normalcy” that we’re seeking.

It’s actually starting to not feel so strange anymore to be living most of our lives from home. Some other things that are feeling normal which would have seemed a bit crazy a few months ago:

  • Wearing face masks everywhere. I can’t imagine these days going to the supermarket or the pharmacy (can’t go anywhere else) without a mask and gloves. This seemed like out of a movie a couple months ago.
  • IMG_6813

Now what seems stranger than this is actually NOT having a mask. When I’m out running I would say about half of the people are wearing masks.

I remember at the beginning of all of this how there was such panic and no one could even find face masks (or gloves, hand gel – or toilet paper for that matter) to purchase. Now less than two months later the largest retailer here, Mercadona, is selling 10 packs of masks for 6€:

IMG_6811

Also, along this same line, just last week the Community of Madrid started distributing free face masks for all citizens (starting at 4 years old) to be picked up at pharmacies. This is the new norm. I picked up my masks the other day (below), only to then go home and read an article saying that the quality of the masks wasn’t clear… So many questions… (See article for more info/doubts: https://www.elconfidencial.com/espana/2020-05-13/mascarillas-gratuitas-comunidad-madrid-certificado-no-valido_2590463/)

  • “Homeschooling” or lack thereof. Or whatever you want to call it, it’s gotten normal to wake up every morning with my two little kids without trying to rush through breakfast, out of the house and to school, to not arrive late to work. Now it’s trying to get them to do a couple home work sheets a day at most. And with the ipad, which used to be something we used once every couple weeks or so, as the daily prize for doing so.
  • Time tables to go outside. If I want to go out and run I know that the latest I can leave is 9am in order to get back by the 10am “curfew”. And when I’m out during this time I feel so thankful to have the time to be outside and do so (after 6 weeks of previously  not being able to leave the house). Stockholm syndrome resemblance? And once noon rolls around I know it’s time that the kids can go out, but only for an hour of course.
  •  Remote work. All the time. While I think overall this is very positive for Spain and a big push forward that this country needed in this area, it’s still a shock to go from 0 to 180. It’s challenging a lot of companies to work in these ways, but it’s also helping companies realize what I already saw back in the US 15 years ago – yes, you can trust employees to work remotely and be responsible! Work by objectives is much more valuable than work by hours. It’s great that we’ve had this push forward, although it will also be nice to get back to the office for a mix. 24 hour sweatpants can get a bit old.
  • Awkward interactions with people. I remember one of the first times I was in a supermarket with my full gear on (face mask, gloves), and I sneezed. It was like a moment out of a movie – everything seemed to go in slow motion as everyone around me looked over in horror, then quickly spread out. As the days go by it’s hard to think how things will be in a few months or even a year’s time. Will we go back to the casual two-cheeked kisses to great people as is so normal and customary here in Spain? Will people be afraid to meet up casually or go to bars and restaurants to meet with people? For now I can definitely say it’s awkward to run into people and not know how to greet them, but I hope this will ease in a few months.

I’ve already succumbed to the reality that my kids won’t go back to school until September and that things will definitely not go back to any sort of normalcy over night. For now we’re just taking it a day at a time and trying to go with the flow.

Flights to the US with Iberia – COVID-19

Not too long ago I called Iberia to ask about their position on flights to the US. Technically at the end of July I have a direct flight to Boston with my two young kids to see family for a few weeks. As of now I still have our tickets and haven’t yet cancelled anything; however, as the days go by I’m starting to think that, unfortunately, this is less and less likely.

Iberia informed me that all flights to the US had been cancelled for May, but as of now June and July flights are still on the calendar. The “good” news is that if I want to cancel the tickets I can either get a refund or voucher for a flight in the future. I have a feeling each airlines is handling flight availability and cancellation policies differently, but at least it’s reassuring to know that it wouldn’t be a total loss if we had to postpone this trip.

Just looking now on the Iberia web site, https://www.iberia.com, it seems that this is the case for flights through June 30th, but no news yet about flights for July. Hmmm.

On one hand I still have a glimmer of hope that by end of July things may be more “normal” and we could fly back home to see family (I have the feeling this is what Iberia is banking on as well). But on the other hand a part of me wonders if it would really be feasible to fly back to the US, for several reasons:

  • What would the actual plane trip be like? With security distance regulations, would it even be possible for us to maintain the same flight if they can only have a third of passengers on the flight? Would I have to maintain a distance of several seats between myself and my children (impossible)? If everyone who purchased tickets still wants to fly how will Iberia handle this?
  • Would it really be safe for us to be in a small, enclosed space for 8 hours where germs circulate around like crazy? There’s no way I see my little kids wearing a mask for 5 minutes, let alone 8 hours…
  • Would the overall trip experience be doable? I recently read an article in the Economist talking about a possible (albeit pessimistic) scenario about travel in the future – https://www.economist.com/business/2020/05/02/imagine-the-post-pandemic-misery-of-business-travel?fbclid=IwAR1Ua7QxmhVJ_pl7jNuAqIj5SSfqY9tqHmDAZtmri-NuhS-0CRntMF_InHI   If we’re talking about even longer delays in the airports, security, immigration, etc. on top of the current norm there’s no way I could handle that with two little hyper, jetlagged kids…

So, as with everything these days I have more doubts than answers. Also, as with everything there’s nothing I can do to get an answer faster or have a solution, so I just need to wait for time to go back and see how things progress before making a decision. Seeing the rate at which virtual learning and online life in general is exponentially increasing these days, and to a degree which I think many of us didn’t ever think would be possible, I’m just waiting for the news to come out that we’ll be able to virtually transport ourselves across the ocean without having to take a flight. Well, one can dream… who would have thought a few months ago that we would be where we are now?

COVID Madrid lockdown Day 50 – exercise outside! (with some limits)

50 days after being quarantined inside our houses we were allowed to go outside today for “Fase 0” of the de-escalation plan. Starting at 6am people started hitting the streets to get back to running, biking, anything really – outside. Freedom! Of course this didn’t come without some rules and guidelines. To be honest, the guidelines are a bit complicated. However, the country definitely needs to have some rules in place to avoid total chaos; my question is to what extent people are going to follow the rules. And judging from what we’ve seen during the day I think there’s going to need to be some order to keep things under control and prevent a second phase of the virus.

The rules:

6-10 am People 14 years and older can exercise outside, individually or people can go for walks, max of 2 people and not more than a Km. But the exercise can be for more than a km, as long as you don’t cross your town line.

10am-12pm People older than 70 years old can go out for a wlk

12-7pm Kids can go outside, accompanied by one adult (for up to 3 kids) and for an hour max, within a radius of 1km (same rule we’ve had since last week for the kids, but now there’s a time range)

7-8pm People older than 70 can hit the streets again

8-11pm Sports time again.

 

And… I’m done. Not exactly simple.

De-escalada fases

I wasn’t out at 6am, but a bit before 9 I headed out for a long run in the nearby forest/mountain area that I hadn’t been to in a while. It was great (despite the fact that I probably won’t be able to walk tomorrow), and more or less people were respectful and following the rules. In just that small space and amount of time I did see quite a few people exercising with more than one person (not allowed) and some not totally maintaining distances. My husband went out with his bike at 8pm and more or less the same thing during the evening round. I guess time will tell.

Actually I really shouldn’t be one to talk. It turns out I broke the rules as well. I didn’t realize that the mountain area where I went for a run crossed a town line – oops. Fortunately the police weren’t monitoring the mountain…