Into the Familiar

If you had the great pleasure of speaking to me on Tuesday, you knew there was one thing on my mind: junk food. And lots of it. I was waging war with the cabinets devoid of cookies, cakes, Cheetos, ice cream, and other various delicious and heart-stopping treats.

The next day, I took matters into my own hands. I went to the supermercado and picked up some cookies for myself, then went to Starbucks, got a latte, and nommed on two caramel waffle cookies. I was satisfied, albeit a bit guilty.

When I got home, I waited longer than usual for my family to all arrive at the apartment. Once my host father and his son showed up, I started gathering all my tutoring materials. I heard the dad call from the kitchen, “Bring a chair!” so I went and got one. Back in the kitchen, the dad was setting the table.

Because it was my host mother’s birthday.

Which meant there was a tarta. A cake. A delicious, delicious fancy Spanish cake. Which meant I was about to have the biggest sugar rush I’ve had since landing in Madrid. WHICH MEANT I was going to crash hard and ultimately feel awful about my sugar cravings.

So that was wonderful and awful all at once.

Today, however, was just wonderful, even though it involved even more junk food. Brandi and I went out today to do some exploring, as we’ve been doing lately. Heading up the road, we both started talking about how hungry we were. In Madrid, there are tons of restaurants and cafes to choose from.

We chose McDonald’s today.

Here’s the thing: I rip on McDonald’s all the time. I avoid McDonald’s at almost any cost (minus their Sausage McMuffin breakfast combo meal– which I requested as my last breakfast in the U.S.A. before I left. Super Ninja totally pulled through on that. Okay. Random side note done.) and always feel terrible after eating there, both physically and morally.

But here in Madrid, the McDonald’s experience was different. First of all, we were surrounded by an overwhelmingly stylish and fashionable crowd; no Big Berthas or Madison street bums to be seen. Second of all, they have Toblerone McFlurries on the menu– um, can you say yum? Thirdly, this building was well-styled, as a growing number of McDonald’s seem to be. This one had two “marble” staircases leading to big, open sitting areas. And there was a real coffee bar around the corner from the other cash registers. Not only were there way more options than the local Starbucks menus, they were also serving cheesecake and tiramisu (though to be fair, ‘Bucks serves cheesecake in Madrid, too– must. not. cave. to cheesecake.).

Needless to say, my mind was thoroughly blown. What came next, though, was even more shocking. (Okay, no, it’s not shocking.)

Ladies and guys, after finishing my McPollo combo and Toblerone McFlurry, I announced to Brandi, “This is the first time I’ve ever said this after McDonald’s… but I feel great.”

That feeling lasted throughout the day. Maybe it was the fact that it was something familiar. Even though I had to struggle through the ordering process, I knew I was going to get a greasy, satisfying lunch of some sort. Maybe it was the fact that going to a McDonald’s here didn’t carry the same sort of stigma that it does back home, because the environment was totally different. Whatever it was, I felt fine about it. I know it’s frowned upon to do things like visit McDonald’s or Starbucks when you’re in another country, so I apologize for that. But at the same time, I don’t.

Later, after our McDonald’s adventure, we wandered around. We decided to hunt down an American-owned book and coffee shop called J&J Books and Coffee. Walking down Calle de Fuencarral, we found the hostel that I’ll be staying at this weekend, as well as a place called Estar that Brandi had visited a few days ago. However, we did not find J&J the first time around. We walked all the way up to Bilboa before busting out a map and figuring out that we had missed the shop by a few blocks.

Finally, after happening upon a cute little plaza, we found Calle de Espiritu Santo, and after walking the wrong direction down that road and turning around, we found the shop. There, we were greeted by Dave, the guy who is running the place, and it was off to browse books. After a good period of time, I came away with a Spanish-English dictionary, a Spanish textbook from 1982, and Under the Tuscan Sun, which I plan to read on my flight from Jerez to Frankfurt in a few weeks.

The shop is great. For two Americans sorely in need of English-language books (and for me, some Spanish help books), it was just the thing. Dave chatted with us while we enjoyed some drinks, and another traveler from the States joined in the conversation. While I had to take off to catch my trains and buses home, Brandi stayed behind. You should check out her blog to find out what happened afterward.

All in all, I was happy with our excursion into Madrid. Yes, it was very American, but it was also refreshing in a sense.

And on an unfamiliar note, tonight was my first experience with this:

“Ardith? Can I sleep with you tonight? I had a pensadilla…

Yeah, I had my first little kid asking me to help them because they had a scary dream. I got her back into her bunk bed and sat with her until she was snoring soundly. The things you overlook when you volunteer to be a language assistant in Spain…

And on that note, I’m out for the night.

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