“I’m a Barcelona fan”
Madrileños take their fútbol seriously, so even if you are a fan of Madrid’s largest soccer rival, it may be best to just keep that fact to yourself. If you can’t bring yourself to cheer for Real Madrid, then at least muster up some enthusiasm for Madrid’s second largest team, Atlético de Madrid.
“I don’t eat meat” (or worse, ham)
Most Spanish people actually don’t mind if you don’t eat meat… but ham? That’s pretty serious in Madrid, as Iberian ham is a huge source of pride for the city and its locals. If you really are a strict vegetarian, make sure to ask waiters if dishes you order have ham. Often, bits of ham are added on to veggie or pasta dishes, but it’s not mentioned on the menu.
If you’ve finally convinced the Madrid locals you can still be trusted despite not eating meat, don’t ruin it by then explaining you won’t sample their specialty Manchego cheese or Spanish omelette either. There aren’t many options for vegans in Madrid, so you may want to think twice before visiting if you have an extremely restrictive diet. Make sure to read our article on healthy restaurants (vegetarian and vegan options included) before you come.
Madrid’s cardinal sin is telling a Spanish grandmother you’re full. If you’re eating in someone’s home and you tell the host you’re full, it will not only offend them, but you’ll still be served much more. It’s better to say something like “un poco más,” which means just a little bit more. This way, you’ll be served just a small portion more and won’t offend your host.
“Estoy embarazada” (when you are embarrassed)
Ah, the dreaded false cognate. Cognates are words that sound the same in two different languages and have the same meaning. A false cognate, however, means that words in different languages sound the same but have a very different meaning. So be careful when speaking Spanish that you think you know but don’t, because if you say “embarazada” it actually means you’re pregnant, not embarrassed.
“Aren’t you too old to be living at home?”
Madrid locals often live with their parents well into their 40s. A culture that prides itself on family relationships combined with the economic struggles the country has faced over the past years don’t make it easy for young adults to live on their own. Lack of jobs and the high cost of living make it hard for Madrileñenos to leave home and it often can be a sensitive topic – one that’s better left alone.
“Wait, why does Barcelona want to separate from Spain?”
Unless you want to spur a seriously heated discussion that could go on for hours, it’s best to leave this political question off the table in Madrid or pretty much anywhere else in Spain.
“So what happened with Franco?”
Spain’s democracy is actually rather recent compared to other countries. Since General Franco’s dictatorship ended in the 1970s, it’s still relatively fresh, and many older people in Madrid lived through the aftermath of the Spanish Civil war and Franco’s reign. Many had family members who died in the war or lived through intense political corruption and censorship, so it can be a very touchy topic. So steer clear of asking too many questions, especially to older people who you don’t know well.
“Where are all the tacos and burritos?”
Spanish food and Mexican food are completely different. So while you can get Mexican food in Spain, understand that Spanish cuisine has nothing to do with spicy tacos. Before you visit, learn a little bit about the typical dishes in Madrid (that are entirely different from burritos) and plan to try some.
“No thanks, I don’t drink”
Turning down alcohol won’t win you brownie points in Spain. Madrid has a culture very much based on drinking and eating. While you won’t often see a Madrileño drunk out of their minds, enjoying Spain’s wine is part of the whole experience. So even if you aren’t a big drinker, it’s okay. Just take one for the team and at least try some of the incredible Spanish wine.
“Where’s the car parked?”
Madrid is a city for walking and public transportation. There are taxis available, but the best way to enjoy the city is to walk. So put on those walking shoes and don’t complain. After all, there could be worse things than strolling Madrid’s stunningly beautiful streets on foot.