Category Archives: Life in Spain

Madrid COVID-19 quarantine – Day 7

Spain just announced that the official lockdown has been extended until April 12th. So, in the best-case scenario we’re looking at another 3 full weeks inside until things can potentially get back to “normal”. This isn’t surprising – they announced last night that we can only expect the overall situation to get worse in the coming weeks. Hey, if this is what it takes for things to get better and finally get back to “normal” then it’s what we need to do.

Just to clarify, when I say official lockdown I don’t mean the kind where there are recommendations for social distancing and staying at home to flatten the curve. I’m talking about not being allowed to leave our houses. You can get fined by the police if you’re out on the street without a justifiable reason. No complaints here – while we stay healthy and safe I can’t complain.

And on a positive note my sense of smell/taste is finally starting to come back, slowy but surely!

On another positive note there are so many different entertainment options available online these days it seems the real problem is not having enough free time with the kids around to be able to take advantage. Some cool ones I’ve seen so far have been live concerts that artists are putting on from their homes, like Alejandro Sanz, Chris Martin, Bob Sinclair. Not sure about David Guetta but I’d love to see him. For the kids our house has converted into a 24 hour arts and crafts gallery/lego making station. Hey, whatever works.

At night we’re still continuing with our solidarity applauses and cheers at 8pm from our balcony. For the kids its the moment when they get excited to put on their jackets and shoes and go outside to see all the neighbors and lights. I hope this will continue and keep everyone’s spirits up. I just spoke to some friends in Italy who told me that this has kind of died out over there where they are at least (now they’re already on 2 weeks of quarantine),; hopefully we can keep it up here, at least for the kids’ sake, and as a bit of motivation for all.

I’ll leave with this image, drawings my son put up on our terrace this morning to share with the neighbors. #wecanbeatthis:

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COVID-19 Lockdown in Madrid – Day 4

Another day – check! T- ???

Two important things I learned today:

  1. Cardboard boxes (especially if they’re big) are the solution to everything. Next time we have a birthday or occasion for gifts I’m definitely going to think twice about buying anything

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2. 8pm is now one of our favorite times of the day. It started as a spontaneous moment the first day of the official quarantine at 10pm where everyone went out on their terraces to clap in appreciation of the medical staff and support who are working around the clock to fight this. Now this has turned into a nightly 8pm clapping ritual with kids. After the first day it was announced that the following day at 8pm we would repeat so that kids could join. Now it’s a routine, jackets, shoes and all, to go out on the terrace and join our neighbors in clapping. The kids love it. Today someone in an apartment not too far away started playing what sounded like the drums. I’m looking forward to tomorrow!

COVID-19 lockdown in Madrid – 5 thoughts

We’re now officially on Day 3 of the government-enforced quarantine here in Madrid. I never would have imagined something like this happening a few years ago. Actually,  I never would have imagined something like this happening a few months ago, let alone a few weeks ago, but here we are. We’re at war with an invisible enemy.

Every time I see the news there’s something new: Spain is closing its borders, Western Europe is closing its borders, the number of cases in Spain is almost at 12,000 (a few days ago it was roughly half)… I’m thinking about trying to not watch the news for a little bit, although that will probably be hard to do. What’s also startling is the economic impact that we’re already seeing and will probably see for many years. In Spain a number of large companies have already announced massive temporary layoffs to thousands of employees. If companies are completely shut down and don’t have any income I guess there is no other viable option, but it’s still startling nonetheless.

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Here’s a picture of the supermarket the day people went crazy and thought a zombie apocalypse was coming.

And here is the supermarket the next day stocked up and ready to go. Clearly this was a false sense of security that things were under control as this was 2 days before 100% quarantine.

 

On a personal note, I can’t remember the last time I spent so much uninterrupted time at home, especially without having any defined end in sight. In my opinion this is definitely a necessary step that the country is taking. When the government in Madrid decided to close schools for 15 days last week, this resulted in the public parks, bars, restaurants, etc. overflowing the following day and multiplied cases- clearly this wasn’t going to work without some sort of formal enforcement. I’m not going to tell the US to watch out; I think even since starting this post it’s gotten more serious there. I’m the first one who thought this was all overblown and a bit crazy a few weeks ago..

Quarantine is a challenge! Especially when trying to balance working from home and having two little kids in the house all day. (We can’t even go downstairs to the common area in our apartment complex). The challenge is trying to organize activities, schoolwork, routines, playtime, etc. and work at the same time without everyone going crazy – ideal, but most likely not 100% possible. Work-family balance has gone out the window.

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Feel lucky to have such uninterrupted family time. When was the last time you can think of that you were with your children, spouse (or both) for an extended period of time? In this day and age we tend to complain or worry about not being able to spend enough time with family due to work and other commmitments. So take advantage of this time. At some point (hopefully in the not too too far away future), playing endless games of Go Fish and Candyland will just be a memory.

Now, imagine if we lost internet access as well…  is it just me or has anyone else noticed an increase in the amount of mobile phone usage? (well, in your household since you can’t observe anyone else really)

2. Find humor where you can; it’s the best medicine as they say. Everyone’s in the same situation, so we might as well try to find ways to laugh. Memes are great. Within minutes of any of the more-confining public announcements there were more memes. There are too many too post and almost all are in Spanish, but trust me – they made it a little easier the first day. Here’s one of my favorites:

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3. Exercise, but with caution. I’m an avid outdoor runner, so of course one of the first things that came to my mind when the quarantine was announced was “what am I going to do if I can’t go out for a run, let alone leave the apartment?” I’m a firm believer in the importance of exercise for not just physical, but also (and almost more importantly), mental well being. Of course there are a ton of online exercise channels, but I had never been one to try this out. Now came the time.

My word of advice: don’t overdo it! The first day in quarantine I decided to do an intense Hiit cardio workout thinking it would be too difficult since I’m used to running. Wrong: the workout was great; great until I couldn’t walk the next day…

4. Buy bread. Thank goodness buying a fresh baguette is sacred here in Spain! This is one of the few “necessary” reasons why you can still leave the house, but only one person at a time and maintaining your distance if you see anyone. Yesterday I went out to buy bread at the gas station up the street. Everyone had to leave a distance of at least 2 meters between other people in line, and you had to buy the bread through a little window.

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Buying bread at the gas station

On the way back the UME (the Military Emergencies Unit) drove by me. Good thing I had the big loaf of bread or they would have asked what I was doing out. Definitely weird, but at least this is one way to get a little fresh air if you can’t take it anymore (unfortunately not for the kids though 😦

5. Take advantage of your apartment terrace if you have one. Who knew terraces could have so many uses? We’ve been living in our current apartment for almost 5 years. I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I’ve used our terrace for leisure. Usually it’s just to get something we have out there in storage or to hang up clothes on the clothes rack. It’s time to be creative. Over the past few days the terrace has been converted into a workout studio, picnic station, chalkboard, disco and weak leak to the outside world. I am counting my lucky stars now that we have the terrace!

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Pretending to go out for a run

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The terrace. Sans bikes for now

Check out this great article in thelocal.es about what some people are doing from their terraces: TheLocal.Es article. I’m waiting for our apartment complex to get on board.

To be continued. This looks like it will likely go beyond the 15 days…

 

Why I’m happy I had children in Spain instead of in the US

Here’s a very interesting HBR article that highlights different country social policies when it comes to mothers in the workplace.

https://hbr.org/2020/03/two-new-moms-return-to-work-one-in-seattle-one-in-stockholm?ab=hero-subleft-3

Granted this article is a direct comparison with Sweden and not Spain, but it still highlights some major differences of the US vs Europe. Aside from the actual time off (and/or paid time off) what’s most interesting to me is the cultural aspect here: in the US women are more afraid to tell their bosses about their pregnancy and it can be received quite negatively, whereas in Europe (generally speaking of course) this can be received as positive news.

Motherhood is tough in itself! Having to deal with uncertainties in your workplace, lack of job security and negative feedback on top of just surviving to sleep and get by every day just seems unimaginable to me in a country so advanced as the US.

 

The Never-ending Spanish Holiday Season

One of the great things about the holiday season in Spain is that it goes on forever. And it’s all about family (and food).

It starts off with Christmas eve with a big family dinner and get-together. That’s followed by Christmas day when Santa leaves his presents (or Christmas eve in the case of my family). The kids then have almost a week to play with toys before the next holiday – New Years.

New Years Eve is a family tradition with a large meal and the traditional “campanadas”, the countdown at midnight which involves a countdown with a bell ringing pretty quickly 12 times while you choke back 12 grapes (or try) with each ding. In the US, New Years Eve is all about going out with friends and finding a party where you’ll be guaranteed a midnight kiss. In Spain it’s all about family (and then partying afterwards). Back before kids I remember going out until the early morning to celebrate New Years eve, leaving the house around 1am.

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And last but not least we have King’s Day. This is on January 6th and is when the Three Wise Men or Kings come overnight with their camels and leave presents for the kids. But it isn’t just this day alone: the night before before most towns have a “cabalgata”, a large parade with floats, camels, ducks, you name it (details and specific parade parts depend upon the city). During the parade the floats throw tons of candy out to the kids who anxiously wait on the sidewalks.

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Cabalgata image (candy not included)

So basically you have a sugar high followed by brand new toys the following morning. It’s kind of like Halloween + US xmas.

Not a bad deal for kids, if you ask me! And not a bad deal for me here in Spain to have such a long holiday season and over two weeks off from school. I’m already looking forward to the next holiday (Easter break) – just three months to go…

 

Spain vs the US: The importance of informal relationships in the workplace

I just came across this article in the New York Times commenting (explicitly) on the importance of  “awkward” office chit chat and (implicitly) on informal networks in the office. This article really struck a chord with me, mainly in thinking back upon the differences from when I used to work in Boston 13+ years ago.

In my opinion there is a big difference between office cultures in the US and Spain, especially related to the importance of networking and getting along well with others. The “avoidance strategies” in the US definitely ring a bell. I think you can see this as well in movies with the idea (myth?) of everyone rushing in with their morning coffees, heading to their cubicles (or in modern day open spaces) and the prevailing silence that follows.

From my experience working in both the US and Spain, a big difference I noticed is that in the US the final result of your work is most important  –  there is not as much control over the actual work hours and time in the office, but more a focus on the end result. In Spain, it is equally (or in some cases even more) important how well you get along with your coworkers and the informal relationships you maintain within (and after) working hours. Although this is important in the US as well, I definitely noticed it to be much more important here, to have visibility within the company, be recognized and/or suggested for a promotion, etc. For me this was a big culture shock when moving to Spain. The “awkward” office chit chat or morning coffee/full out breakfast seemed too forced to me. And the importance of having lunch with coworkers (not just once in a while as a special occasion or team event, but as a regular occurrence) is a big deal here. I would say 80-90% of the people where I work sit down and have their hour lunch with other coworkers. In Boston I could probably count on one hand the number of times I sat down and had formal lunches with coworkers; lunch time was reserved for going to the gym and running errands.  However, over time I have come to realize the importance of these informal gatherings, especially within my previous working environment in FMCG.

Personally I see the benefit and importance of informal chitchat and getting along with coworkers, both for professional and personal reasons. But I still feel that the end result of your work, not the degree to which you get along and are popular with coworkers or the amount of actual time you are seated in the office, is more important. I guess it’s about finding that right balance – on a personal and cultural level.

 

 

 

 

I was in the US for a month for summer holidays. Here are a few reflections.

I love the US. How can I not? I was born and raised there and it was my life for 26 years. I also love Spain. The more time I’ve lived in Spain the more I’ve become used to the Spanish way of living… and actually become Spanish. It’s been 13 years and the most recent years of my life.

It was great to be home with family in the US, which was the main objective, and also to have my kids immersed in English for a whole month. After having spent such an extended time there, there  are some things that stood out out in my mind that I wanted to share:

  • Where do kids in the US play? I have no shame in admitting that many times we googled “playgrounds” to see if there were any decent public play areas near where we were staying as we moved around. Turns out this isn’t an easy feat. In Madrid there are so many around where we live in the suburbs that you could probably go to a different, nice playground every day for a month without repeating.  Also where we live in Majadahonda we have a large, shared pool in our apartment complex that all the kids go to every day during the summer – no invite required. We found some good parks that we visited near Boston, but they required driving 20+ minutes to get there and there weren’t too many kids. This just made me wonder “what did I do as a kid?” I remember playing out in the street in my neighborhood, but I think the big thing is the US is going to friends’ houses and having your kids play with theirs with playdates. There’s nothing wrong with this, but the plus of having great public playgrounds is that you don’t have to be social with other adults for your kids to have fun. I don’t exactly consider myself an introvert, but it’s nice to just be able to go to a big public park where no one knows you and let your kids run around and make friends or not. If they hit someone or steal a toy the consequences won’t be personal.

Here are some pictures of some typical parks in the outskirts of Madrid.

  • Drive thrus. Surprisingly (and fortunately) this hasn’t yet made its way to Spain in the same magnitude as in the US. I had forgotten how prevalent drive throughs are in the US. This first hit me one day with my sister as we pulled into Dunkin Donuts. I told her I’d be out in a second to which she replied, “but we’ll just go through the Drive Thru”. Honestly it hadn’t even occurred to me. The coffee shop, the banks, the pharmacy, the car wash – you name it. Life made easy, but is it too easy?
  • Customer service can suck in the US as well. As you may now if you’ve read my blog, Customer Service/Customer Experience is something that is important to me. I’ve written many posts about not-so-great customer experiences here in Spain, as this is still something that has a long way to go. However, I discovered during our trip that it’s not all roses in the US either. We had a wonderful experience with Rentalcars.com (Hertz being the provider for a rental car) in which we were given a pick up location for the car that no longer exists. The hotel where we went to get the car no longer has a Hertz office there. When I contacted the Hertz office they were about to close in 20 minutes and were of absolutely no help. To make a long story short they ended up hanging up on me after saying they wouldn’t do anything and left us with no way to get back home and without a rental car. The best is that Rentalcars.com had already charged us for the entire two week rental. Note: do not use Rentalcars.com! The best thing is definitely to go directly with the company, even if you end up spending a little bit more. In the end we had to pay for an uber back to our house and then having to deal with Rentalcars.com on the phone so they could refund the payment they’d already received. Then we had to reserve a new car…
  • Coffee. Once you get used to the European coffee it’s hard to go back. Punto.

Overall it was a great trip home, but I still don’t see myself moving back to the US any time soon. I don’t think I would have a full month of vacation to be writing a blog like this, to start…