1) Stylin’ clothes. People here dress sharp. Not a lot of velour tracksuits with flip-flops.
2) Jesus do they party. Clubs don’t get going till well past 1am, and the streets are filled with people till 4am, but only on days that end in Y.
3) Free food. There is a tradition of giving away tasty little tapas snacks with your drink order. Or with your tapas order, like your tapas had tapas offspring or something. I love this tradition.
4) Rampant smoking. The memo that smoking cigarettes is one of the dumbest, foulest things you can do as a human being has not reached these parts. People of all ages, especially youngsters, smoke like they’ve got lung and life to spare (truth: you absolutely, positively do not).
5) Parking. This is a nation of champion parallel parkers. The streets are narrow, parking spots tiny, and somehow these guys wedge their cars in with 10cm between themselves and their neighbors. Amazing.
6) Smartphone addiction. Spaniards love their smartphones every bit as much as Americans, obliviously walking into intersections while staring at their screens like the best of New York and San Francisco.
7) Low obesity. There are no fat madrileños. The overweight people are almost exclusively tourists.
8) PDA. This is the capital of public displays of affection. In the airport, at the bar, on the sidewalk, a guy will grab his girl and start a serious, extended make-out session with zero compunction.
9) Trains. The trains are amazing — polished, gleaming, graffiti-free, air-conditioned beasts of modern transport efficiency. And Madrid has three layers of public transport: the CERCANIAS city train, the metro, and buses.
10) Globally homogenized youth culture. In their manner of dress and ornamentation, Madrid kids are indistinguishable from their American counterparts in San Francisco or Brooklyn (and Berlin and Paris, for that matter). Hipster style is the same, with the beards, hairdos and skinny pants. Septal nose rings, random tattoos and those ghastly earlobe-expanding washers also abound, perhaps even more so than in the US.
11) Ubiquitous free internet access. These people are big on public WiFi (pronounced wee-fee). It was not just in every small cafe and tapas bar — it was in the buses. Damn.
12) Silent Spanish. There are a few facial gestures Spaniards make that are unique to them, which is how I could tell them apart from the foreigners before even speaking to them.
13) Tapas! Holy cow. The variety of ingredients, the flavors, the combinations were astonishing. Pinchos (or pintxos, the equally common Basque spelling) are the tiny snacks put on a single piece of bread, like Spanish sushi. I found the broadest variety (if not necessarily the cheapest at 2.70 euro a pop) at this converted old movie theater called Platea. It’s in the swanky Salamanca neighborhood near the city center, and you need to check it out: two floors of tapas and food shops, one full restaurant, one gleamingly suave cocktail bar, and a DJ spinning bumping tunes the whole time.