I suppose because relatively few people leave their native countries to live elsewhere – whether temporarily or permanently – it’s an oddity to live abroad. It’s probably even MORE odd for a United Statesen to leave his “Land of the Free/Home of the Brave” for some second-tier country (tongue-in-cheek ethnocentric comments), leaving all prosperity – and dreams of prosperity – behind.
But WHO chooses to leave their country? Among them include refugees in war-torn countries, poor nations, people whom might have business in their destination country, to re-join family, political, social, and racial reasons are the ones which come to my mind.
The following is a homemade interview of MadridMan by J.C. Ciudano… but some of the questions have been posed to me several times.
Q: Was moving to Madrid for good the right choice for you?
A: For me it was the right choice. Everyone has to deal with his own demons regarding leaving your family, country, and way-of-life behind. I’ve dealt with mine and feel much more at ease with myself and my future here in Madrid.
Q: Has it been easy?
A: For me, yes. It has been very easy. But I’m also aware that it’s very very difficult for 95+% of the United Statesens whom come to Spain to live so I’m the anomaly to the normal equation. I’d been preparing myself both mentally and culturally for my move to Madrid for at least 6 years so my culture shock was nearly non-existent when I arrived. My goal was to assimilate myself to Spain even BEFORE arriving. But shortly after arriving in Spain there was a stretch of months, probably the first 6 months, when I went through some stress for the shops’ opening times, having difficulty managing my workday to go to the supermarket during their OPENING hours. You see, many/most of the supermarkets and shops close from about 2pm to 5pm and THAT was just about the time I was READY to go! Adjusting to the change in meal time was easy for me. Nearly without fail I have my lunch at 2pm and my (light) dinner at 10pm and stay up until about 1am every night. Remember, I work at home so my schedule is however I want to make it. This means I rarely get out of bed until 9am, breakfast in front of the computer with some work/emails, then go to the gym, get home by 1pm or 1:30pm, shower, then make lunch and eat in front of the TV, 30 to 60 minute siesta nearly everyday, then wake up, have a coffee and a snack (i.e. a MERIENDA) in front of the computer where I’ll stay until about 10pm when I’ll stop to have dinner with the 10pm movies on Canal+. It’s a relatively short work day during the week, maybe 6 or 7 hours, but I also work a solid 6-8 hours on Saturdays AND Sundays too. LOW STRESS is my lifestyle. I suppose most autonomos work longer days but probably few work on the weekends. I just love my job!
Q: What do you miss most about the United States?
A: There’s not much, really. Difficult as it may seem, escaping the United States anywhere on this planet must be virtually impossible. Spaniards ask me this question constantly, “Don’t you miss the United States?” And my answer is always the same; “What’s there to miss? It’s everywhere!” It’s CONSTANTLY on the news and in the newspapers – and not usually for positive things but sometimes with regards to scientific breakthroughs. I turn on the TV and I get The Simpsons, Friends, Seinfeld, The Sopranos, CI:XYZ, House, NBA Basketball (which is big in Spain) and nearly all the movies are from Hollywood both on TV and in the cinema. USA based products like Coke, Pepsi, Nike, MacDonald’s, Burger King, Hard Rock Cafe, and Starbucks are seen at every turn on the streets. Switch on the radio and, depending on the station, at least 50% of the music is in English and/or from the United States. The USA is inescapable. What’s to miss? But there is one thing I miss – my Ohio State University Buckeyes football games on Saturdays. ARGH! That’s a tough one to swallow. So I listen live via internet radio and follow on ESPN’s GameCast graphical play-by-play coverage. I hope to attend one game in person this coming autumn. On Canal+ there are one or two NFL games shown per week but that’s about all – and all the broadcasters are Spaniards speaking in Spanish. That’s okay – but not the same.
Q: Are there
any things you wish you had done before you left?
A: Hmmm… I don’t think so. In my last 6 months in Ohio, USA it was already a certainty that I’d be moving to Madrid. I took advantage of that time “to be present” to my surroundings, my family, and my friends. Those 6 months were the best time. I was going out, meeting with friends, doing things I either never did or rarely did, and put extra effort into every moment. Throughout that time I asked myself, “My goodness! Why wasn’t I like this before?” I guess it comes down to complacency. When you know everything’s good and moving along you just continue moving along, going with the flow and very little changes take place. Routine sets in. But when you know “These are the last 6 Months of my life – here in the USA” you tend to look at things from a drastically different perspective.
Q: Would you do it
A: Absolutely. I just wish I could’ve moved to Madrid sooner. But as it worked out, I had to wait until I was (just) 40 years old. I’m certainly glad – and fortunate – to have lived the first 40 years of my life in the United States. That’s a wealth of knowledge, experience, and opportunity I have under my belt. The USA isn’t perfect, far from it – in fact, the general political climate aided in my decision to move to Spain – a much more liberal and generally more socially enriching environment – but living in the USA (or anywhere in the world) for such a long time gives one perspective. For example, if you bought your dream car at 16 years old and that was the only car you’d drive all your life you’d have no idea that other cars might better fit your. But if you buy several cars throughout your lifetime you’d know that while you loved your first car, your second car handled much better on the curves (of life).
Q: Was everything the way you thought it would be?
A: Pretty much, yes. I’d been visiting Spain about once each year since 1995 until 2002 when I started visiting twice a year. In those visits I visited many of Spain’s regions and experienced many of their customs, festivals, holidays, and events. Some visits lasted 1 month while others were as short as just 5 days. And you know what, that 5-day visit was nearly the best one of them all. Intense. I already knew that Spaniards were generally gruff on the outside but soft on the inside. I knew that dog owners casually allowed their doggies to leave their “gifts” on the sidewalk. I knew that Spaniards will do just about anything for you, very easygoing, very conversational, very social. These last 2 things were/are an adjustment for me. IN FACT, much of what Spain represents are many of the things I lacked in my own life in the USA. I often joked with people and coworkers in the USA that I had surprisingly more friends in SPAIN than in the USA! That I had longer and more meaningful conversations in the SPAIN than I ever did in the USA. That I drank and ate more in Spain than in the USA!! (that last one is dangerous – Spain is the perfect place for a United Statesen to become overweight and alcoholic VERY easily as we have little respect for moderation). And unlike most others who come to live in Spain, I already had a large
network of friends and near-family here in Madrid so I had a kind of
safety net and people who would help me with paperwork, knowing how the system worked, how to order a pizza, and little details of day-to-day life.
Q: Do you think you will stay there
A: Short answer is YES. I can’t imagine something happening which would cause/force me back to the United States. I suppose if my company was decimated and I had no source of income I’d consider, however briefly, a move back to the USA. But I can’t imagine going back after just 2 years here. Here I have FREE health care for any and all of my needs. Wow, I can’t say enough about the health care system in Spain. Sure, I pay into the Social Security system, paying now the minimum of about 230 Euros monthy. That not only covers my socialized medicine but also goes towards my retirement pension when that time comes. But at 230 Euros monthly my pension won’t be anything worthwhile. Regarding medicines, the prescriptions I’d habitually get in the United States cost me about $50 every 3-months, by mail order, with a state government insurance plan. The same medications here cost me 4 Euros. Wow. Incredible. Shockingly cheap. And there’s no co-pay for doctors visits. When I go to the doctor with an appointment, usually the 8:30am group in the morning, I never wait for more than 15 minutes. When I went the first time and explained my medicine wants (not medicine NEEDS because they really aren’t necessary) and showed the doctor one of my previous prescriptions, she simply looked at it, then to her computer, and printed out the prescription! ZIPPEE!! ¡Tan Fácil!
Q: Has it been
A: Not for me,
fortunately. Remember, I had been planning this move for YEARS so I’d
accumulated a good nest-egg emergency fund if things didn’t go well.
But things went even better for my hobby-turned-business once I arrived
in Spain. Again, I’m the anomaly. Few people can use me as their “Road
Map to Success in Spain” – although I admit I’ve often considered
writing such a booklet. It’d be incredibly difficult for people to
follow in the same way, however. Anyway, here in Madrid I’m well
connected. I live alone but don’t pay any rent. My real expenses
include electricity, gas, internet, television, phone, grocery, and comunidad
fees (monthly fee to the building). The “over and above” expenses
include lunches out, beer or coffee stops, a little on public
transportation and taxis, bowling, movies.
Q: Just what is it you do for a living??
A: Good question – and one I’m frequently asked. In short, I sell advertising. That’s it. MadridMan.com carried me well for about 8 years but with more competition presenting itself on the internet I found the necessity to diversity, starting BarcelonaMan.com at the beginning of 2006, then GranadaMan at the end of 2006, and ValencianMan towards the beginning of 2007. What’s next? My short-term plans include smaller-scale websites for SegoviaMan, ToledoMan, BilbaoMan, SanSebastianMan, CordobaMan, CadizMan, and on and on. I’m also putting forward more effort in the city-specific lodging-only websites like Pamplona Hotels, Zaragoza Hotels, and a great number of others as time permits. Sometimes I feel like I’m burning my candle at both ends. Sometimes I get a little overwhelmed. But I never lack for work to do. And so far, I love doing it. My day is far from monotonous. There’s something different around every corner.
Q: Are you “Legal”?
A: Yes. I have my Tarjeta de Regimen Comunitario para Extranjeros – got it about 3 months after arriving on December 29, 2005 but filed for it 3 months before arriving. My company’s legal too. It’s a registered Sociedad Limitada (a.k.a. “S.L.”) company with a C.I.F. (fiscal number) any evvvvrything! I read in today’s newspapers that I can eventually apply for citizenship too but so far I’m not in a hurry to do that. Maybe someday.
Q: Do you pay taxes in the United States?
A: Ugh. Yes. Well, I did for the year 2006 because of the date on which my company was registered. Luckily, through the US Embassy here in Madrid, I found an older US military gentleman who does taxes for a few Americans here. Wow, I was happy to find him even though he charged me like $200. For tax year 2007 I don’t expect to pay any US Taxes because of my status as “living abroad and having no income in the USA”. I don’t know the exact figure but apparently if you’re a US Citizen living abroad you don’t have to pay US Taxes if your personal income is less than $75,000 (or something like that). Any income made abroad over that figure YOU DO have to pay US taxes on the excess. Isn’t that ridiculous? I, being my own company’s only employee, gave myself a low-ish monthly salary so I don’t expect to pay any US Taxes for 2007 – but of course I still have to file a tax return. How do I live on a low-ish salary? I don’t. I also live siphon the savings I’ve accumulated over the years before coming to Spain.
Q: Did you have problems with the language?
A: Problems? I didn’t have any problems, per se, but learning a new language is a never ending education. I’ll never know it all. I’d started studying Spanish in my junior/3rd year of High School as part of the foreign language requirements. I really didn’t go willingly but watchagonnado, right? I didn’t do particularly well but at least it went better than my one year of French as a freshman. I put in my time, did my homework, and took two summer trips to Mexico with the Spanish Club – of which I wasn’t a participating member but they let me tag along since I was (ahem, my parents were paying) paying for the trip and was at least taking the Spanish classes. After high school, college, and more language requirements – 20 Credit Hours (that’s 4 classes at 5-credits each) – so I took Spanish. Well, as we all know, College is MUCH more challenging than High School on all levels. I went to class most of the time, did very well in my first two courses, not so well in my second two courses, but passed and was done with the foreign languages, probably forever. OR WOULD I???…. Life went on and had little occasion to speak Spanish after college so I forgot most of it – happily. Then I met a Colombian neighbor woman in about 1991 who’d just moved to my apartment complex in Centerville, Ohio (a Dayton suburb). Her English wasn’t good, probably a little worse than my Spanish, and used me to help her with all sorts of things after having shown the least little bit of interest in her language and Latin American culture – not knowing anything about Colombia except the obvious things you see on the news and in the movies. Fast forward 2 more years, 1995, and I find myself visiting Madrid for the first time and spending 1 month. That’s when my eyes and my mind opened. I traveled all around Spain, met some people with whom I’m still friends, and began to take a real interest in this new, unusual, historic country – which had SO MUCH to do with the early development of my entire home continent. Very shortly thereafter I wanted to learn more about the country, had an interest in computers and the burgeoning internet, and needed a hobby. “Hey! How about a webpage!?” In 1996 I started my first webpage, “MadridMan’s Yankee Home Page” on Geocities (back then it was totally free), put up some of my scanned Spain photos, wrote a short journal, and started adding little amenities here and there over time. Back then, when the internet was young, there was only one other Madrid-focused, English-language PERSONAL website on the internet. I remember being thrilled when I had my first 15-visitor day! Wow! “THEY LOVE ME! THEY REALLY LOVE ME!!!” Hahhaaa.. Wow, well, that was then. Now I get WAY more visitors per day and, well, I don’t know if they love me but they do seem to use what I have to offer so that gives me satisfaction. (don’t worry, I’m tying this all into how/why I wanted/needed to improve my Spanish skills) Just a couple years I was telling my parents about the success of my website and my father suggested I contact some Spanish language schools in Madrid to see if they’d like to advertise on my website. I told him he was crazy! WHO in their right mind would want to advertise on my tiny little personal website?! No one. Right? Or would they……? I sent 3 emails to language academies in Madrid and 2 replied saying that YES, they’d like to advertise. I WAS SHOCKED! And they paid a lot too! But from that day forward, correspondence with the hundreds of advertising clients I would have from then, 1998, to now, would all be done in Spanish by email. Wow. So to tie all this up, the daily correspondence with my clients in Spanish, my reading Spanish newspapers, listening to Spanish radio online daily, and listening to Spanish music would help me a lot in improving my Spanish. Now, living in Madrid for a little more than 2-years, I speak Spanish everyday with people on the telephone, the shop keepers, and most of my Spanish friends. The friends are largely bilingual but we tend to speak in Spanish but it’s nice to know we can switch to English if necessary.
Q: What do you regret about moving to Madrid?
A: That’s a tough one. My only regret is that I don’t see my family or friends more than about once a year. But it’s not an overwhelming regret. We all stay in weekly contact via email and SKYPE calls. In fact, I probably speak to my family and friends more often NOW that I’m living in Spain than when I lived in Columbus, Ohio those 10 years before moving to Spain. That’s about it. I have to admit it was particularly difficult saying goodbye to my parents at the Columbus Airport when the took me for my 1-way flight to Spain. Hugging them then, knowi
ng I’ll infrequently see them, NOT KNOWING if I’ll ever see them again should something happen. You know. All the usual things which go through your mind when you say goodbye to someone. But these were/are my parents. My ONLY parents. And there I was a 40-year old man, fighting back the tears, hugging my parents goodbye (hugs aren’t big in my family) at the airport security checkpoint. “Would I ever see them again?” They’d asked me several times over the years, as any parent would, “Are you sure this is what you want to do?” The answer was always the same. “Yes.” And now, as they know how things are going with me, I think they’re now proud of their son – after so many years of the torture I put them through. Finally I found my niche. In some ways it’s a shame I had to find it outside of my own country, away from my family. But sometimes that’s the way it is. Parents want their children to be happy and relatively successful. I think their minds are finally at ease in this regard.
Q: How often do you return to the United States?
A: About once a year. Well, I think I’ve been to the USA just twice since moving here, both trips were in summer for family reunions. My typical stay is about 10 days. It doesn’t seem like much time but before long I find myself “itching” to return to Madrid after only a few days. And when that plane touches down in Madrid Barajas airport, ahhh.. what a sigh of relief that. I’m SO happy to be back in Spain.
Q: Do you get to travel much now that you’re in Europe?
A: Not as much as I’d like. I’ve been known to lament to friends that here I am, living in Europe for 2 years, and I haven’t even left the country! I did think I’d have more opportunity to travel throughout Europe, being my own boss and all, but it hasn’t happened. Partly due to laziness, I’m ashamed to say. But there are so many places in Spain I want to visit too. In this regard, I have taken pretty good advantage of my time here, visiting Granada twice, Valencia, Tarragona, Barcelona, much of Cantábria, and lots of the towns and cities near Madrid. I’d also visited MANY MANY places around Spain during my frequent visits here. The ONLY places outside of Spain I’ve visited so far since moving to Madrid include Porto, Portugal, Geneva, Switzerland (twice), and… errr… that’s it.
Q: Are you glad you moved to Madrid?
A: That’s an easy one. Yes. How many times have I been walking through Madrid at day or night after being out with friends, having beer and tapas and lots of conversation, on my way to get the bus back home, and look up at the magnificent architecture or listen to the sounds around me and think, “My goodness. I’m really here. I’m REALLY here. I’m LIVING in Madrid. I’m living my dream – a dream richer than I ever could have imagined.”
A long-time English photographer friend here in Spain made the would-be newspaper headline years ago (before my move to Spain) on an online chat one night which rings so true;