Before leaving the UK, I had stupidly misread the Easy Jet website and was convinced that a weight allowance of 20kg meant 20kg per bag. Thinking of the enormous pile of clothes on my bedroom floor, not to mention the shoes, I promptly purchased two bags to put into the hold. When I finally got round to reading the small print, I realised that – to my horror – the weight limit applied to each passenger rather than to each bag, and as a result, the total weight of the luggage could not exceed 20kg. I therefore ended up feeling ridiculous as I arrived at the airport with my two huge, half-filled suitcases, and feeling even more so as I sat at the luggage collection point in Madrid, twiddling my thumbs, as I waited for my second suitcase, which at long last appeared on the conveyor belt almost half an hour after the first. But after I had finally managed to gather my luggage, I strode through the gate into Arrivals to see a blissfully familiar face, grinning broadly at me and waving like a lunatic. This is my Spanish mother, Elena.
I am lucky enough to know a wonderful Spanish family who live in northern Madrid, and who insisted on putting me up until I found a flat of my own. This particular family are relatively recent acquaintances; the parents, Elena and Paolo, each speak Spanish, Portuguese, English and French with relative fluency, and their four kids, Ricardo (23), Ines (21), Francisco (18) and Isa (17) have each spent at least a year in English boarding schools and/or American summer camps learning English. As it happens, the boarding school that Ricardo, Francisco and Isa all attended was the Berkshire prep school that my brother and sister also went to. Isa and my younger sister were in the same year and became good friends, and my sister later visited Isa in the family’s summer home in Alicante. Then, two years ago, when I was preparing for my Spanish A-level oral exam, I stayed with the family in Madrid in order to practice speaking Spanish. When I then wrote to Elena earlier this year to tell her that I was coming to live in Madrid for a year, she immediately offered to help me settle in here in any way that she could.
Before I left the UK, I naturally felt comforted by the thought of having madrileños to show me around a city that I had only ever been to once before, but it wasn’t until a few days after I had arrived in Madrid that I fully appreciated how invaluable their support has been in helping me settle in here. I was immediately absorbed into their family life, and once my early attempts to speak Spanish made it painfully clear that I was extremely out of practice, every member of the household switched effortlessly between languages in order to make sure that I never felt excluded, patiently translating for me and waiting out my stammering attempts at conversation. We taught each other new words (they gave me ‘botellón’, the Spanish term for pre-drinking, and I informed them about ‘good posture’ and ‘hunched shoulders’), laughed at each other’s pronunciation (apparently my way of saying ‘maravilloso’ is particularly entertaining and I spent hours making Elena attempt to say ‘Gloucestershire’) and they were intrigued by the differences I was constantly pointing out between our countries (I spent ages looking for a button to press to allow me to cross the road before I realised that they didn’t exist). When, after a week, the time came to move into my new flat (I felt that Francisco deserved his room back) and begin my life as a lone English girl in Madrid, I became unexpectedly emotional. Luckily for me, if I accidentally get caught up in a political protest or simply fancy learning some more words, they only live a couple of metro stops away.