I’m a Londoner who spent 2 weeks working in Madrid — here’s everything that surprised me about daily life in Spain

Buen Retiro Park sits right in the middle of the city — and it's incredible.

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Buen Retiro Park sits right in the middle of the city — and it’s incredible.
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Ryan O’Donnell

Though I was born in Canada and grew up in the Great White North, I was raised by Brits, and having now lived in London for nearly five years, I consider the UK my home.

I’ve travelled quite a bit and am always up for exploring a new place or way of life, so after Business Insider España launched in December, I jumped at the opportunity to spend two weeks in Madrid getting to know the Spanish team.

While it may only be a two-hour plane ride, the experience was pretty eye-opening.

I’d been to Madrid before, just once a few years ago, but my knowledge was essentially limited to cerveza, tapas, siestas, and sunshine. What I didn’t realise was that the laid-back attitude translates into the working world, too.

From late, long, carb-heavy lunches to a sleek alternative to Uber, scroll down to see everything that surprised me about everyday life in Spain.


The Spaniards take their lunch incredibly late — 2 p.m. at the earliest, but often later. As someone who eats constantly, this was a shock to the system on my first day, when I didn’t bring lunch to work.

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Most of them eat at the exact same time so they can chat and catch up (for at least an hour), meaning the office was often left empty. Nobody eats lunch al-desko.

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There is bread involved in every single meal. At lunch, loaves of broad are often passed around for people to enjoy with their food. Anyone with a gluten-free diet would struggle.

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The diet is also pretty heavy on meat.

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Ryan O’Donnell

I even ate some beef sushi.

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Alison Millington

Beer (or cerveza) is another staple among both men and women.

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Alison Millington

As is cheese.

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Often, a Spanish meal will comprise of a mix of all of the above. Mm, carbs.

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Alison Millington

If you’re more of a wine drinker, luckily, you literally cannot get a bad bottle of Rioja — even if it costs around €2.

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Across the entire country, most shops, restaurants, and bars close for a few hours in the afternoon, so you need to plan your time accordingly.

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They also don’t open again until late — most Spaniards don’t eat dinner until around 9 p.m. because they work later than we do, usually until 8 p.m., thanks to their long lunch break.

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During the afternoon/early evening gap, often all you can find to eat are tapas or pintxos (small snacks).

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Still, Madrid is home to some incredible food, including the oldest restaurant in the world.

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Alison Millington

But you’ll need to go to the coast to get good fish.

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Alison Millington

People are incredibly friendly. They greet you with Buenos Dias in the morning, and Buenos Noches in the evening — even if they’re a stranger. This was a nice change from Londoners, who assume you’re unstable if you speak to someone you don’t know.

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They’re even friendly to strangers in bars.

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Alison Millington

To get around the city, Spaniards prefer Cabify over Uber, and it’s easy to see why. It has Free WiFi…

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Alison Millington

…and bottled water.

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Alison Millington

Madrid residents are big on recycling, and there’s often a colour-coded system.

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Alison Millington

Maybe because of their focus on protecting the environment, the lights in many of the toilets work with a motion sensor, which isn’t always accurate…

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Alison Millington

…so you get left in the dark a lot.

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Alison Millington

Before they start the week again, Spaniards really make the most of Sundays. Especially if it’s a sunny day, you’ll see them enjoying beers or wine on patios.

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Alison Millington

Perhaps the best thing about Spain, though, is how incredibly stunning a sunset can be — an absolute must-see no matter where in the country you find yourself. You don’t get that in London.

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Alison Millington