I left bonnie Scotland to move to Madrid almost 4 years ago exactly. Every summer after that marks one more “anniversary” celebrating my new life abroad. This, however, is my first summer without the pressure of deciding whether to extend my stay or move home. Last year I finally changed to an indefinite contract here, saying adios to the time sensitive deadlines of my former rolling contract and to being forced to think about whether I want to spend the next however many years of my life here or back home – a decision I dreaded having to make every July until now. And wow does it feel good! Just when I thought the sun couldn’t shine any brighter, it turns out it can, when all you have to worry about is soaking up every minute of the city you live in and have become to love.
Madrid, it’s hard not to fall in love with it you see. Maybe I’m biased. But with it’s pretty buildings against a backdrop of blue sky and sunshine all year round, it’s vast collection of museums, parks and plazas, nevermind the endless terrazas and rooftop bars with a cold beer calling your name, it’s got everything you could possibly want. And each year it just gets better and better. What can I say? I’m smitten.
I’ve come to realise that falling in love with a new city is very similar to falling in love in real life:
- First of all there’s the gut feeling. I don’t necessarily mean love at first sight like you see in the movies, but that gut feeling you get right from the start when you meet someone. There’s either an instant attraction, or there’s not. You can tell you’re going to get on like a house on fire, or not. It’s that simple. Me? I’ve been in love with Madrid since day one. It had me at “hola”.
- But even if you have that initial spark like I did, there’s getting ready to “commit”. This is the hardest part. Getting over the fear, letting yourself be vulnerable, finally admitting that maybe, just maybe, this could be real and could work out for you. If we always waited until we were 100% ready to do things, we’d never get anywhere in life. So if you ask me, do it, dive in.
- Once you finally take the leap, you’re into the honeymoon period – you can’t quite believe this is your life and how lucky you are. You pinch yourself 10 times a day. Is this really happening?
- Inevitably, after the highs come the lows, meaning there might be some road bumps along the way, but if you’re lucky, they’ll be minor – the odd day feeling out of place or misunderstood – and somehow or other you’ll always end up realising you’re exactly where you need to be in life. You realise that this is your new normal. Your old life is nothing but a fond memory that you cherish dearly but can’t quite imagine going back to yet.
- Then I guess there’s nothing left but to live out the happily ever after (the part I never seem to get quite right!).
So if I’ve loved Madrid so much from the word go, why have I always struggled to say I want to stay here for longer? Well, because I hate having to decide between the two places I call home. I’ve always struggled fully embracing how much I love Spain because a part of me felt like I would need to give up my love for Scotland. But this year I’ve realised it doesn’t need to be one or the other. And it’s Scotland itself that has made me realise that (which means I’ve definitely found a flaw in my theory that falling in love with a city is like falling in love with somebody in real life…. it’s not normally your ex-boyfriend who convinces you how great your new boyfriend is).
I’ve always sort of struggled to express my Scottish-ness and the pride I have for my country while being here, not because I haven’t felt it (ironically being away from home actually makes me feel prouder to be Scottish than ever), but because I haven’t really had an outlet for it…until fairly recently.
I’ve met a few Scottish people throughout my time in Madrid, some I clicked with straight away but have now moved on, others I’ve just not fully clicked with at all. But a couple of years ago I met another Scottish girl and it was like looking at myself in a mirror. Yes, our journeys were different in a lot of ways, but at the end of the day, we’re just two girls who left our hometowns in Scotland, made a quick pitstop in our beloved Glasgow along the way before one day deciding to move to Madrid. The city that we love.
After an entire year of politely keeping in touch and meeting up once in a blue moon (the consequence of our over-cautious Scottish attitude to not scare each other off), we realised we needed each other more than ever. After the madness of lockdown, we subtly started to spend more and more time together, then one sunny afternoon at the start of this year, when the two of us sat on a street terrace with a glass of fizz, we simultaneously confessed our gratitude to have found another Scottish girl to confide in. We talked about how grateful we are to be living in Madrid and about how much we miss, love and appreciate home.
I swear since that moment on the sunny Castellana terrace, the universe, the stars, or whatever other greater good you may believe in, has brought more Scotland into my life than ever. Be it in my personal or professional life, I’ve came across more Scottish people in the past four months than I have in the past four years and with each encounter, I realise more and more that there’s been little bits of Scotland floating around here in Madrid right in front of my eyes this entire time – I’ve just never seen them until now.
Exhibit A. Back at the start of summer, when incidentally I was stuck in a non-writing rut, a few recently acquainted Scots had plans to hang out one weekend for a few drinks. While for them it was probably just a regular Saturday, that night changed things for me, the next piece of the puzzle clicked into place. There was just something about being surrounded by other Scots who understood exactly what I had been internally processing and struggling to put into words for the past 4 years – the highs and the lows of life abroad, the constant conflict of passionately loving both the country you come from and the country you now call home. There was something about listening to Caledonia. There was something about listening to the bagpipes play. There was something about four people from different parts of Scotland coming together and sharing their strangely similar stories. And of course, there was definitely something about hearing said stories told in our dulcet Scottish tones.
Admittedly, I don’t know whether it really was a combination of those things or simply the combination of several beers, glasses of wine and vodka-lemonades…but regardless, something clicked that day. Whether I stay in Spain or move back to Scotland one day, that night will forever hold a special place in my heart. I looked at the other three and realised I had Scotland right there in front of me.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like there’s been something in the air recently. Between the majority of us not having had visitors since 2019 and none of us getting to go back to the homeland half as much as we would have liked in the past couple of years, it’s like we’ve all needed to come together more than ever.
So to all of my fellow Scots here in Madrid – old friends and new – thank you for opening my eyes recently. Thank you for the inspiration to write again after months and months of being stuck in a rut. Thank you for the inspiration to write specifically about this. But most of all, thank you for being my little piece of home here in the city that we love. The chats, the banter, the memes, the voice notes, the sing-songs, the moments we’ve shared no matter how fleeting….they mean more than you’ll ever know. You’ve made me fall in love all over again.