April 13, 2024

Seven years I’ve been living in the same working-class neighborhood in Madrid, Spain. For the first six years I have somewhat proudly proclaimed myself as “The American of the Neighborhood“, never finding evidence to refute this. Times change.

No, I don’t hang the American flag from my balcony nor do I play American music so loud so the entire neighborhood can hear it. Nor do I ask merchants, ‘Excuse me, do you speak English?‘. That’s just silly. In fact, I don’t want ANYONE to know I’m American. They can already figure out I’m not Spanish by my ‘look’ and accent/vocabulary so if they’re curious enough, they can ask and I’ll tell them. A few have asked, too, and don’t treat me differently upon hearing the answer.

Local shopkeepers, about which I wrote in my “Feels Like Home When Merchants Know Your Name” blog post, have told me on one or two occasions that they think someone else from my country lives in the area. Not surprisingly, Spaniards sometimes confuse Americans with Brits with Irish with Australians and even with Germans because we really do look a lot alike. I have heard a small handful of people, maybe 4 or 5, speaking English around the neighborhood, but they’ve all been British – which is ALSO surprising to find here.

In the last year I discovered one of my neighbors, living within a literal stone’s-throw from me, is (likely) from the United States and about my age, maybe a little younger. No, I haven’t spoken with him yet, but I’ve heard him speak in perfect American English on his mobile phone and even sing classic American English-language songs from a distance. Sure, he could also be Canadian, I guess, but that’s even less likely.

Needless to say, I don’t suffer from The Ugly American Syndrome and have made every effort to assimilate myself into the Spanish social culture. My interactions with Americans only take place online and I don’t have a single face-to-face American friend in Madrid. That’s mostly by design. But don’t misunderstand. I’m not at all anti-American.  I’m just pro-Spanish.

I must say that something about his presence does make me feel a bit different, not so special or unique anymore. I know many readers will encourage me to introduce myself, make a new friend, and share our common stories and experiences, but I’m resistant to this idea. I’m afraid to open that door. It could seriously change the dynamic of my Spanish experience and lifestyle, one I love so dearly.

I’m a true believer that one should “Stand In The Place Where You Live” (lyric from the R.E.M. song, “Stand“). Sure, I pined to live in Madrid for many years from Ohio, USA, but now that I’m here, I’m perfectly happy.

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8 thoughts on “Only American in my Madrid Neighborhood-Until Now

  1. I can hardly believe it has been 7 entire years since you made the momentous move. Your love for Madrid, the Spanish people and every last kilometer of Spain is evident in all you do. And FWIW – you are the most Spanish-“ized” American there!

  2. I am very good friend with an American guy who lives in the limits of the province of Madrid with Guadalajara, in an isolated by very nice area called Eurovillas. Well, he is so submerged into the Spanish culture that besides marrying a spanish lady, he has almost forgotten to speak English……lol….whenever I visit them with any of my american friends, once in a blue moon, it is hard for him to keep the conversation in English as he constantly deviates to Spanish. Some of you guiris just love Spain!

    1. Jejeje… It’s true, Isabel. Some of us guiris really do love Spain!! Great story, too, and I believe it 100%. Like your friend, I, too, speak so little English that sometimes my Spanish friends ask me translation questions like, “What do you call this in English?” and many many times I fight to remember – and sometimes I don’t! So I’m not surprised your friend in Guadalajara is also forgetting his English.

  3. I’ve been in that situation, far from home [El Salvador] and had a chance encounter with another American and just ducked away from her. Why is that, I really don’t know. Living in Madrid I might feel different. I moved to Houston, Tx. from Pasadena, Ca. last year after living in Pasadena all my life. Its been hard making new friends here, if I saw someone from back home I’d probably be stalking him or her. Good to see you are writing again MM.

    1. Thanks, Patrick! It’s nice to know others share my concerns about “opening that door”. I *AM* an open person – although it may not seem so from this blog, but since I’m IN SPAIN, I prefer to be surrounded by Spaniards if I can choose. And if I have to choose an English-speaker, I lean towards the British and Irish – because they’re interesting to me. Sure, we speak the same language, but there’s something to be learned there, too. (plus, they just talk funny – JUST TEASING!!)

  4. I can remember strolling around a tiny, rural village a few years back and complaining to my Mrs that the guy walking towards me could not look any more English and out of place if he tried. He stopped me to ask me directions to the nearest bar – meaning that I too must have looked equally English and out of place. Guilty as charged I suppose.

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