I have never met an unhappy expatriate in Madrid. The laid-back atmosphere,
unending nightlife and recent economic prosperity draw foreign workers like
fans to a Real Madrid football match.
You can rent a flat and eat out for a fraction of the prices in New York or
London. And the food - don't get me started on the delicious Spanish
cuisine. Spain's varied cultures have congregated in the capital to
provide Basque seafood, Segovian lamb, Valencian paella, Andalusian gazpacho
and Salamanca ham.
Winter temperatures never drop below zero and it does not snow. The summers, however, can be smothering. Dry waves of 40-degree warmth envelop the city in July and August, causing most of Madrid to head for the
mountains just an hour's drive north of the city. But at least the traffic
is lighter during these months.
Madrid is Spain's financial hub, partly because finance and the government coincide so much. The main artery supplying Madrid's executives
with offices, banks and posh housing is El Paseo de la Castellana.
Although going by different names at some points, this avenue runs
north-south from Atocha train station, past the Prado museum and the Hotel
Palace, and from there, the tree-lined walkways lead into Spain and Latin
America's biggest banks: Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria and Santander
Keep going and you will find Deutsche Bank, Bloomberg,
Barclays, Societe Generale, PricewaterhouseCoopers and oil giant Repsol YPF.
Branching off the Castellana, you can find every law firm, investment bank
and trading firm in the city.
The boom in business stems from Spain's meteoric economic rise in the 1990s,
when its annual growth topped all other European nations during that time
Lifestyle and Culture
By Spanish standards, Madrid is a fast-moving city. To almost
everyone else, Madrid flows at the calm pace of a trickling stream. People
walk slower, do things slower and any meal that takes less than an hour is
criminal. And if lateness is fashionable, all of Spain is hip.
One major acclimatisation is the meal times. Breakfast consists of coffee
and perhaps a croissant. Lunch, eaten anytime between 1:30pm and 4 pm, will
make you wish you were wearing larger trousers. Most restaurants offer a
Menu of the Day that includes two dishes, wine, dessert and bread, for a very reasonable 6 to 12 euros.
Conducting business at lunch is the norm, especially when meeting other companies. Don't bring a lawyer or a power-point business plan - just wield a large appetite and be prepared to chat about politics, football, etc. over a few bottles of wine. Maybe something business-related will surface during the coffee and cigarette after desert. A good lunch means more to a Spaniard than any
And contrary to popular belief outside Spain, few people actually take a
siesta. Nevertheless, the long lunch means that businesses
and stores will be open until 8pm or 9pm.
However, most stores will be closed Saturday afternoons and all of Sunday.
Dinner can start any time between 9 pm and midnight, and you can either opt
for a sit-down meal or something smaller due to a large lunch. At the bars
you can get a bocadillo, or sandwich on French bread, of potato omelette
(tortilla española), lean Serrano ham (jamón serrano), chorizo sausage,
cheese (queso) or whatever is on the menu.
These bocadillos are also the standard halftime meal during any of Madrid's football matches. The giant Santiago Bernabéu stadium on El Paseo de la
Castellana is home to Real Madrid, one of the world's leading football clubs, which boasts stars such as Raúl, Figo, Zidane and Roberto Carlos.
Madrid's other leading team is Rayo Vallecano, a working-class squad
that always seems to surprise the league with impressive victories against
supposedly superior sides. Rayo plays in the Vallecas neighbourhood to the southeast.
And finally there is Atlético de Madrid, demoted to the second division two
years ago, which plays not far from the Royal Palace. Atlético and Real Madrid fans have always maintained a hate-hate relationship - Real Madrid supporters generally come from a wealthier
Housing and Transport
For those who work in and around the financial centre, home is the nearby
Salamanca district. The most posh area of town, it is famous for its
expensive nightclubs and restaurants, and also because it was probably the
only neighbourhood not to be bombed during the Spanish Civil War - Franco knew his aristocratic allies would want to live there after taking
Renting flats is never a problem and the most efficient plan is to
go through one of the many estate agents in the area. They will probably charge a month's rent as commission. But excellent flats can be found all over the city.
The quick and efficient metro can take you anywhere. And 10 trips in Madrid
cost the same as two tube rides in London. The buses also prowl with
efficiency, although city traffic can sometimes make you wish you went
For travel outside Madrid, there are hourly 55-minute flights to Barcelona
(as opposed to the eight-hour train ride) with airliners Iberia, Spanair and
Air Europa. The AVE super-fast train line which will link Spain's two
largest cities is expected to be finished in 2004. The AVE already runs
to Seville, rocketing clients to Andalucia's capital in two and half hours.
When English pubs ring the bell, Spaniards start the festivities. After a lengthy meal in any of the fine restaurants in the Cava Baja district behind the Plaza Mayor, diners often head out for a bottle
of Rioja at the many wine bars in the area.
Done this neighbourhood? Head northeast to the chic Huertas zone, or to the
sleazier Malasaña, or to the posh discotecas near the Bernabéu stadium. If
you are desperate for a Guinness, Irish pubs can be found all over the
Most bars close between 3 am and 4 am, but there are always exceptions, not
to mention the night clubs and discotecas that gyrate until 6 am. Some bars even reopen at that time for the exiting crowds. Breakfast is served at 7am all around the city.
Crime and Taxes
The most serious crime is pick-pocketing around the tourist areas. Violent
crime is non-existent, apart from random killings of military and
political figures by Basque terrorists.
The income tax rates, however, could
be considered criminal, ranging between 18% and 48%, depending on salary and personal information, such as dependents and if you are paying
for real estate.
The cost of living, though, is so low that on a foreign salary, you can live like Spanish royalty.
Mike Elkin is the Spain correspondent of The Daily Deal