Six Months After: Ba Vs. Madrid

#1
Six months ago today, I took my final remis ride to Ezeiza and, after 3 years, left BA for good. I had never moved down there to live like an expat, but to be with my Argentine partner. I genuinely enjoyed living there for the first couple of years -- while I'd always recognized the basic inconveniences, as long as I was earning enough to get by, they were generally outweighed by the things I liked. However, between 2009 and 2012, daily life became progressively more difficult, to the point that I could no longer justify the struggle (living with mediocre coffee and customer service is one thing, but when you have a master's degree and can't afford to buy a can of tuna, it's time to throw in the towel). Since then, I've been living in Madrid, and I must admit that, even in the midst of an economic crisis, life here is quite comfortable. However, neither the city nor the people have the charisma of their Argentinian counterparts. All things being equal, I'd choose BA over Madrid, but unfortunately... they're not. So, since Spain is sometimes mentioned in posts as a possible "alternative destination," I thought I'd make a list of some of the pros and cons of living in Madrid vs. Buenos Aires.

Pros of Madrid

Salary vs cost of living. In Buenos Aires, I made 50-60 pesos per hour as an English teacher, and despite an extremely frugal lifestyle, was barely able to get by. In Madrid, I charge 20-30 euros per hour, earning around 1,200 per month. My expenses are as follows:
-Rent (for a furnished room in a 2-BR apt.) = 275, plus 20-30 for gastos
-Monthly smartphone plan = 14 (600MB of data, 200 free texts, 60 minutes of free national calls and 20 free minutes to other cell phones.)
-Public transportation = 52 for an unlimited monthly pass or 12 for a 10-trip ticket
-Health insurance = 50 per month for the most comprehensive private plan (since I don't pay into the social security system, I can't use the public system.)
-Food and drink = maybe 30-40 per month for groceries, and 10-20 for social drinks (a beer, glass of wine, or coffee all cost around 2 euros, anywhere you go.)
This leaves me enough to travel at least once per month, and still have some money left over.

Security. This was kind of the dealbreaker between me and BA. Constantly being on-guard left me anxious and exhausted, and I feel 100 pounds lighter not having to worry about it anymore. Do I carefully watch my belongings in the Metro, a restaurant, a crowded street, etc? Of course. But I can walk near the curb without worrying about motochorros, feel safe at an ATM or walking home in the dark, and go away for the weekend without worrying about someone trying to break into my apt. It's awesome.

Ease of travel. Air and bus travel is extremely affordable, and Madrid's location makes it easy to get around. Since August, I've visited Sevilla, Granada, Salamanca, San Sebastian, Lisboa, Rome, and next month I'll visit Pamplona, Venice, Florence, and Milan.

General first-world efficiency. Consumer products are easy to find and reasonably priced. Huelgas, while annoying, are fairly organized and inconsequential (they must be announced in advance, continue to offer minimum services, etc -- no walking off the job or blocking off entire avenues whenever the hell you want.) If you buy something, you can exchange or return it without hassle. Buses and trains adhere to European safety and environmental standards.

Food. To be honest, I dislike dining out in Madrid. There's not much variety and the local cuisine is heavy and bland. When it comes to food, madrilenos are just as unadventurous as Argentines, and seem content to eat tortilla, croquetas, and bread with ham every day. However, thanks to the high quality and low cost of almost all supermarket items, you can eat very well by cooking at home. Olive oil, cheese, wild-caught seafood, real yogurt, nuts, coffee, dark chocolate... my diet is SO much more balanced here, thanks to all of those basic food items that I couldn't afford in BA.

What I Miss About Buenos Aires

The people. Generally speaking, I have found Argentines to be friendlier, wittier, more intellectually curious, and more open-minded than Spaniards. They are less entitled, better at managing money, and better at coping with crisis. And, despite the reputation that Argentines have for being rude, I saw MANY more displays of kindness and basic manners in BA than I have in Spain. I've made some lovely friends here, but I personally do prefer the company of Argentines.

The energy. Madrid is an extremely livable city. It's well-preserved, clean, easy to get around in, and although not super-sophisticated, offers all of the amenities of a national capital. HOWEVER... it's just kind of boring. It doesn't have the vibrancy or charm that BA has, and is often depressingly quiet (since the majority of the city closes at lunchtime, on weekends, and by 9pm.)

Verdulerias. One of my favorite things about Buenos Aires. It was awesome knowing that, regardless of what street you were on, you would be able to find fresh, affordable produce within a 2-block radius. In many parts of Madrid, where verdulerias are non-existent, your only choices are to buy produce at the supermarket (cheapest prices, generally decent-to-bad quality) or one of the "mercados tradicionales," which offer higher quality at much higher prices. And despite being "the farm of Europe," it is becoming damn difficult to find Spanish-grown produce in Spain.

Cafes. Yes, the coffee in BA sucks. The milk in BA sucks. The typical 22-peso cappuccino in BA sucks. BUT the cafes are generally wonderful. The decor, the history, the touch of ceremony (the agua con gas, the cookie) and the fact that you can sit there for hours without feeling pressured to leave. Meanwhile, I have yet to find a truly charming, authentic cafe in Madrid. The Spanish just aren't into coffee, so most "cafes" are actually bars/tabernas with an espresso machine.

Ice cream. The ice cream in Madrid is terrible and nobody seems to care.

Drinking in moderation. I have been amazed by how much alcohol the Spanish consume on a daily basis. They don't binge-drink like Brits or Americans, but it's all day, every day -- beer before lunch, wine with lunch, beer after work, wine with dinner, gin and tonics after dinner. In BA, Sunday lunch might include 1-2 glasses of wine... in Madrid on Sunday, the first beer and tapa happen around 2pm, and they continue pretty steadily until the final gin and tonic around 8 or 9. I miss being allowed to stop after one glass of wine.
 
#3
One of my favorite cafes in the world is in Madrid:

http://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caf%C3%A9_Comercial

Though I haven't been there in a long time. Also, if you are near Gran Via, stop in here:

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g187514-d2416765-Reviews-El_Casco_Viejo-Madrid.html

It's another one of my favorite places in Madrid.
 

Smcali23

Active Member
#4
Yeah, thanks for the post - it's very well thought out. Glad things are working out for you on balance and I hope it continues that way.

Madrid's an interesting city. I kinda love it but I've never lived there for any significant amount of time. You've got access to some good art galleries/museums, which I think of as a plus in any city (although they're not free like London's, if I remember rightly).

I also have to agree that Europe in general is so great in terms of ease of travel. 2 hours on a cheap flight and you can visit a whole load of amazing cities.

Anyway, all the best for the future. Maybe you can give us an updated update is 6 months time!
 
#6
Six months ago today, I took my final remis ride to Ezeiza and, after 3 years, left BA for good. I had never moved down there to live like an expat, but to be with my Argentine partner. I genuinely enjoyed living there for the first couple of years -- while I'd always recognized the basic inconveniences, as long as I was earning enough to get by, they were generally outweighed by the things I liked. However, between 2009 and 2012, daily life became progressively more difficult, to the point that I could no longer justify the struggle (living with mediocre coffee and customer service is one thing, but when you have a master's degree and can't afford to buy a can of tuna, it's time to throw in the towel). Since then, I've been living in Madrid, and I must admit that, even in the midst of an economic crisis, life here is quite comfortable. However, neither the city nor the people have the charisma of their Argentinian counterparts. All things being equal, I'd choose BA over Madrid, but unfortunately... they're not. So, since Spain is sometimes mentioned in posts as a possible "alternative destination," I thought I'd make a list of some of the pros and cons of living in Madrid vs. Buenos Aires.

Pros of Madrid

Salary vs cost of living. In Buenos Aires, I made 50-60 pesos per hour as an English teacher, and despite an extremely frugal lifestyle, was barely able to get by. In Madrid, I charge 20-30 euros per hour, earning around 1,200 per month. My expenses are as follows:
-Rent (for a furnished room in a 2-BR apt.) = 275, plus 20-30 for gastos
-Monthly smartphone plan = 14 (600MB of data, 200 free texts, 60 minutes of free national calls and 20 free minutes to other cell phones.)
-Public transportation = 52 for an unlimited monthly pass or 12 for a 10-trip ticket
-Health insurance = 50 per month for the most comprehensive private plan (since I don't pay into the social security system, I can't use the public system.)
-Food and drink = maybe 30-40 per month for groceries, and 10-20 for social drinks (a beer, glass of wine, or coffee all cost around 2 euros, anywhere you go.)
This leaves me enough to travel at least once per month, and still have some money left over.

Security. This was kind of the dealbreaker between me and BA. Constantly being on-guard left me anxious and exhausted, and I feel 100 pounds lighter not having to worry about it anymore. Do I carefully watch my belongings in the Metro, a restaurant, a crowded street, etc? Of course. But I can walk near the curb without worrying about motochorros, feel safe at an ATM or walking home in the dark, and go away for the weekend without worrying about someone trying to break into my apt. It's awesome.

Ease of travel. Air and bus travel is extremely affordable, and Madrid's location makes it easy to get around. Since August, I've visited Sevilla, Granada, Salamanca, San Sebastian, Lisboa, Rome, and next month I'll visit Pamplona, Venice, Florence, and Milan.

General first-world efficiency. Consumer products are easy to find and reasonably priced. Huelgas, while annoying, are fairly organized and inconsequential (they must be announced in advance, continue to offer minimum services, etc -- no walking off the job or blocking off entire avenues whenever the hell you want.) If you buy something, you can exchange or return it without hassle. Buses and trains adhere to European safety and environmental standards.

Food. To be honest, I dislike dining out in Madrid. There's not much variety and the local cuisine is heavy and bland. When it comes to food, madrilenos are just as unadventurous as Argentines, and seem content to eat tortilla, croquetas, and bread with ham every day. However, thanks to the high quality and low cost of almost all supermarket items, you can eat very well by cooking at home. Olive oil, cheese, wild-caught seafood, real yogurt, nuts, coffee, dark chocolate... my diet is SO much more balanced here, thanks to all of those basic food items that I couldn't afford in BA.

What I Miss About Buenos Aires

The people. Generally speaking, I have found Argentines to be friendlier, wittier, more intellectually curious, and more open-minded than Spaniards. They are less entitled, better at managing money, and better at coping with crisis. And, despite the reputation that Argentines have for being rude, I saw MANY more displays of kindness and basic manners in BA than I have in Spain. I've made some lovely friends here, but I personally do prefer the company of Argentines.

The energy. Madrid is an extremely livable city. It's well-preserved, clean, easy to get around in, and although not super-sophisticated, offers all of the amenities of a national capital. HOWEVER... it's just kind of boring. It doesn't have the vibrancy or charm that BA has, and is often depressingly quiet (since the majority of the city closes at lunchtime, on weekends, and by 9pm.)

Verdulerias. One of my favorite things about Buenos Aires. It was awesome knowing that, regardless of what street you were on, you would be able to find fresh, affordable produce within a 2-block radius. In many parts of Madrid, where verdulerias are non-existent, your only choices are to buy produce at the supermarket (cheapest prices, generally decent-to-bad quality) or one of the "mercados tradicionales," which offer higher quality at much higher prices. And despite being "the farm of Europe," it is becoming damn difficult to find Spanish-grown produce in Spain.

Cafes. Yes, the coffee in BA sucks. The milk in BA sucks. The typical 22-peso cappuccino in BA sucks. BUT the cafes are generally wonderful. The decor, the history, the touch of ceremony (the agua con gas, the cookie) and the fact that you can sit there for hours without feeling pressured to leave. Meanwhile, I have yet to find a truly charming, authentic cafe in Madrid. The Spanish just aren't into coffee, so most "cafes" are actually bars/tabernas with an espresso machine.

Ice cream. The ice cream in Madrid is terrible and nobody seems to care.

Drinking in moderation. I have been amazed by how much alcohol the Spanish consume on a daily basis. They don't binge-drink like Brits or Americans, but it's all day, every day -- beer before lunch, wine with lunch, beer after work, wine with dinner, gin and tonics after dinner. In BA, Sunday lunch might include 1-2 glasses of wine... in Madrid on Sunday, the first beer and tapa happen around 2pm, and they continue pretty steadily until the final gin and tonic around 8 or 9. I miss being allowed to stop after one glass of wine.

Starluccia you had me nodding at so many of these items - and I thought the croqueta obsession was only in Andalusia..maybe the 11am sherry here helps them digest those squidgy balls?? I'm not sure however I have the same experiences as you on the drinking thing as I was at an all you can eat restaurant on Saturday which at 12.95 pperson included all you can drink wine, beer, sangria, mojito, coffee, soft drinks etc and I noted how restrained people were with the drinks..in Ireland or indeed Bsas I think theyd be out of business in a month with that much freedom on the drinks. You're in the capital and in a younger age group than me which may explain it.

I made the same departure 18 months ago and what I will say is that making meaningful Spanish friendships really takes time. So many expats pass through Spain that there is a sense that they already know us and that we're just arrogant fly by nights here to impose their culture and language on from the country - to be fair thats what's has happened in most of the (to be avoided) popular coastal areas. Now that I'm here more than a year, speak good Spanish and live like a local I'm finding Im chipping away at the locals and being invited for drinks or coffee. Maybe in 3 years I'll progress to dinner...for now my closest friends are slovak, mexican and English. I'm lucky that our local market is out of this world in terms of affordable fish, meats, fiambres and vegetables. God how blissful to eat monkfish again and at 9 euros a kilo - the spanish winter strawberries (bonbones) and cherries are everywhere now and at 2 euros a kilo and just amazing. We're fortunate to have artesenal ice-cream shops here too and since the kids discovered draculin and fantasia there's no pining for Bsas.

So for me too I can say life is easier and safer here and it absolutely lacks the energy of Bsas but as I said previously the ease of access to other Spanish cities and Europe gives us the variety to life we need..for now...without the "crazy" element. Who knows what the future holds. Keep us posted and please go see Cordoba ASAP as it wasnt on your list and is breath taking!

Edit: The fact that I have to visit Bsas twice a year on business helps keep me in touch with the best of Bsas (friends) and keeps me from romanticizing it!
 
#8
Star-

I thoroughly enjoyed your post. Not only for the very precise and articulate way you explained details (some extremely obvious and others some of the minor and random details that normally go unnoticed), but also that it was not objective. It was not removed or impartial or neutral, but in my eyes, very fair.

I can only imagine that a lot of people would climb all over each other for the opportunity to legally reside in Madrid with an EU passport (which is pretty much a global access passport in a way, it's invaluable). A lot of people, including some Argentines who I personally know, such as relatives of my husband's family who did not waste a second to fly the coop and bail out from this country, especially around December 2001. A lot of people anywhere in the world, but not everyone.

I think it's at least remarkable and noteworthy that nowadays, the tables have turned and many Spaniards are coming here, a very significant number of them. In either case, at least a chunk of their motives are related to economic opportunity just to survive in this totally unrecognizable time.

Speaking only for myself, I'm not a very clever business woman. I have actively chosen with each day I remain here (and choose to keep getting back on the airplane in my hometown of Cincinnati for every precious trip back home), to do the fiscally irresponsible thing and stay here and live like a worker ant as times get tougher and people get hungrier and more competitive. I repeat, I can only speak for myself, because I also have a decent job en blanco here, a gainfully employed Argentine spouse, and if worse came to absolute worst, a way of somehow getting US dollars or just getting back to the US somehow because my entire family is there like a safety net.

"Ships in the harbor are safe, but that's not what ships are built for."

People here think I must be sick in the head when I tell them that, despite the daily battle to go to the post office (and wait... and wait... and keep waiting), and whatnot, I have no intention of leaving now or in the forseeable future (I also have these moments, too when dealing with Fibertel).

But just like you pointed out, Madrid may be a paradise for some and squaresville for others. Buenos Aires could be a bustling metropolitan city with its quirks and quirky people, or the dangerous jungle with all the predators and hazards (dog poop on the sidewalk!) but no trees.

I wish you tons of luck in Spain, and I'd also be very eager to read an update if yours at some point, who knows what could happen? Very cool what you are doing, and even cooler giving us a viewpoint that you wouldn't see in Lonely Planet or on Wikipedia.

Suerte y saludos!
 

Ries

Registered
#9
I love spain, although I would choose Barcelona- but I am amazed at how low your food costs are- in fact, all your costs, compared to the USA.
I spend at least $100 a week in the US, for my wife and I, for groceries, and we grow probably a quarter of what we eat. 40 euros a month in the USA is far less than you get in Food Stamps, which is currently about $275 euros for 2 people per month.
and ten or 20 euros a month for social drinks? thats about two drinks in most US bars. or five coffees.
I take my son to the crappiest US sandwich chain, and a sandwich and a drink is easily 8 euros.
I could not eat on ten times what you spend in the USA. Unless all I ate was rice and macaroni.

Same with rent- I have 2 kids in college in the US right now, and each pays around $500 US/ 425 Euros, plus another 75 Euros for internet, electricity, and cable tv, per month, to share with 3-5 other kids in a house or apartment, unfurnished.
The smallest tiny apartments in Seattle are more- to live alone there, its about $800 US/ month.
Compared to that, Madrid is dirt cheap-
Sounds like you pay about half what my student children pay per month, and one lives in the far suburbs, the other in a small college town. If they lived in the center of Seattle, it would be a third more. In LA, or San Francisco, double. NYC, probably at least triple.

Every time I have been to europe in the last twenty years, it has been significantly MORE expensive than the US, but what you are describing is it costing you 1/3 or so what it costs to live in the US.
 
#10
The people
I would say on the whole this is one reason I will be leaving BA.
The people I have met just seem to laugh at foreigners. Most times I've asked a porteño out for drinks or to a party they have said yes then didn't turn up.
The casual rasism here is disgraceful not to mention the sexism too.

I brought a home made curry into work one day and got remarks like 'que asco', while the locals were slopping down their over cooked milanesa and pasta.

Obviously not everyone is like this here but enough to warrant leaving.