1. General food- As a reflection of the relaxed air of Spanish life, Spanish eating habits meander between the mid-evening onto late in the night (they have no work for evening). I´m used to eating my lunch at 12ish, a time that Spanish people normally dedicate to coffee drinking. They will normally eat between 2 and 3 so as to coincide their lunch with their siesta (read greatest invention of mankind). Spanish food is rarely hot and most of the peppers used in the food serve to make it a comfortable level of tangy. The lack of vampires in Spain supports the fact that garlic is a popular addition to many dishes. Quantity in Spain is, in most cases, synonymous with quality most food received will be ample and with a nice range for the palette.
2. The language- Spanish (i.e. Castilian Spanish) is not the only language spoken in Spain. There are at least 3 other languages, and many dialects to follow. Don´t ever refer to any of these other 3 as ´dialects´, just don´t. The major languages are Castilian, Basque, Galician and Catalan. Spanish people are very welcoming and friendly, as tourists and especially international students are still a novelty and the rapidity at which they speak to you is not unusual nor should you take it as unfriendly. Aggression is a rare sight in Spain and Madrid as a city feels very safe.
As with any language evolution is essential if any language is to survive and with a strong focus on colloquial as well as formal Spanish, the language courses at AIL Madrid will give you a rounded education and many differing perspectives.
3. Shop food- There are more bars and restaurants scattered on the streets of Madrid than there are verb conjugations, there are also many options available for the hungry student on the hunt for food. The first is the ´Chinos´, these are corner shops and they are numerous. They sell most things, but at a slightly higher price than supermarkets and are often open all day, every day.
The main supermarkets in Spain are Ahorra Más, Día and Eroski all of which are great, and their block-colour designs and patterns make them easily identifiable contrasted against the traditional Spanish shops.
Spanish doughnuts are called ´churros´ and are long, thin and served with a mug of chocolate thick enough to stand a spoon in. Beer and wine can be brought for an average of 0.30€ per can (in crates) and a bottle of wine will normally set you back 3-4€, as previously said all will be slightly more expensive in the local corner shops. There are huge department stores (about 8-10 in Madrid) called Corte Ingles which sell everything from guns to budda statues.
4. Money- All purchases in any establishment made using bank cards must be validated by either a passport or a driving license. Basically cash is king; I never use my card and will always withdraw money to spend rather than be on the receiving end of that look of slow burning hatred from a waiter to whom I´ve just handed my visa.
As with any city cash points are frequent and the most popular banks are Santander, Barclays and Caja Madrid. There are two types of bank accounts that exist in Spain for international clients; ´cuenta para residentes´ and ´cuenta para no-residentes'. I think you can guess what they mean. If you are going to be spending more than 183 days in Spain, you qualify for a cuenta para residents. For information on how to obtain a resident´s permit see: http://www.spain-visas.com/Residence-permits-Stay-permits-pag6.htm. Without the residents permit you will, generally, need a non-resident´s permit which can be obtained from any police station within 10 days. You will have to deposit a small amount of money in the account to open it, normally between 20€ and 30€.
5. Metro and transport within Spain. - The Spanish metro is very well organised, clean and makes moving around the city a breeze. 10 trips on the metro will cost you 12,50€ except for a one euro surcharge to and from the airport. If you are staying in Madrid for longer than a couple of months I recommend getting an Abono which is a monthly pass and if you´re under 23 it´ll cost you 26,30€, over 23 -> 41,00€.
The centre of Madrid itself is actually pretty small and you can walk to most places in the city, if you have time I would definitely recommend walking as you will get to know the area better and see some of the beautiful Spanish architecture. If going out at night then the last metro will leave the last stop at 1 30am, and most stations will be closed by 2 30. Night buses do however, like the fiestas, run into the night. If you´re looking to get to anywhere outside of Madrid then it´s best to do it either by bus or train unless you have a car. The trains are expensive, the buses less-so.
6. Madrid.-The last and most important thing is to remember to relax, this is Spain and the best way to start fitting in is to adapt to their perspective which is one so relaxed it´s almost horizontal. Madrid is incredible and, as cliché as it sounds, has a rhythm that never ceases and never disappoints. Don´t be afraid to speak slowly, for two reasons, firstly it will allow your Spanish to improve quicker than you realise and will lay some solid foundations and secondly the Spanish will appreciate you making the effort and will take your needs, wants/ desires into account.
¡Buena suerte y hasta pronto!