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America, May 29, 2004

Rob's Madrid Living - Part II

It's 75 degrees and I neglected to pack my winter parka

this looks lke winter
I'd want a coat too!
I love the look of indifference
That sweater - very Euro
now we're talking!
Ladies... need a coat?
want a towel?
Is Toledo warmer?
Editor's Note: My friend Rob is in Madrid this summer studying law at a Spanish University and is sharing his interesting interpretation of Spanish life with me.

Cold Madrid Summers
by Rob

While I was not surprised that May in Madrid can be rainy . . . [the rain in Spain is.....well you know the rest] I was surprised to learn that it requires a coat, not a rain coat or a jacket but rather a warm winter coat. As I trek-off to the metro each day I am greeted by stares from those I pass. I originally believed it was because I was so good looking or perhaps that at 5'11" I was the American giant, but no, I now believe it is because I dared to wear shorts on a day when the temperature was only expected to reach 75 degrees.

I am well aware that European men rarely wear shorts, but in a country where homes and businesses are rarely equipped with air conditioning I was surprised to see people wearing winter coats when the temperature was well above 75 degrees...but then again, if you need a winter coat when the temperature is in the 70's you probably don't need air conditioning.

Not to further belittle the French-like cuisine enjoyed by the people of Spain and endured by this American, but I am beginning to feel like Roseanne in a world of Barbies. Is it possible that the Spanish diet is the cure for obesity or the cause of anemia and poor blood circulation, resulting in the need to wear a winter coat in the middle of summer. I am not exaggerating, I could kick the ass of two maybe three winter coat wearing Spaniards without breaking a sweat or dropping my over-packed book bag as these folks are small.

Today, I had the opportunity to visit one of Spain's larger law firms. With forty-five lawyers and two offices it is far larger than most firms in Spain, which rarely exceed 15 lawyers. Spain has an overabundance of lawyers due in part because a law degree can be obtained in five years, is deemed an undergraduate degree and does not require the passage of a bar exam. A law student may elect to become a judge by successfully completing their law studies, passing an exam and participation in a 23-month internship. A judge is classified as a civil servant and once accepted in the civil service is guaranteed a job for life.

I had a lengthy discussion with the firm's managing partner who told me that the quality of lawyers in Spain is poor due in part because of inadequate legal training but also due to cultural issues. Apparently, most kids reside with their parents until they marry, at which point their parents provide them with an apartment as a wedding gift. Further, law graduates generally do not have prior work experience, as law students who secure a summer internship are believed to be less desirable applicants as their need to work suggests that they come from poor families. Thus, parents do anything they can to ensure there beloved children never have to seek a summer job to avoid the negative stigma. Thus, these sheltered students have few life experiences and are not comfortable with responsibility and tend to be very immature.

Lawyers in Spain, like in the US tend to be paid higher than the average professional and can expect starting salaries up to approx. $24,000 USD, which is also the starting salary for a judge. Which explains in part why most kids reside with their parents until they marry, as one should expect to pay about $ 200k USD for a small one bedroom apartment, with larger units [1,200 - 1500 sqft] running in excess of $ 500k USD. Automobiles are small, carry a big price tag, and generally exceed the cost of US models. Gas, groceries and clothing also run higher than what we experience in the US. The only real bargain appears to be cell phones. Unlike the US, cell phones are basically free, and you pay only for the calls you make, not those you receive.

Another bargain is the cost of air travel. While it cost a small fortune to fly to Spain from St. Louis, once you arrive there are some outrages airline [Ryan Air] actually offers free air travel between certain cities. To give you an example, it cost about $ 25 to fly from Madrid to London and for an extra $ 25 you can also hit Milan for a day of shopping. This afternoon I am headed to the travel agent to finalize a trip to the Canary Islands planned for Gailyn's arrival next month.

Yesterday, I took a train to Toledo, the provincial capital located about an hour from Madrid. The train left from the station which was bombed in March, but I saw no signs of damage to the station.

My train proceeded to Toledo at 8:30 but stopped short of its destination at a small rail station where we were told by an army officer to board a bus. No one appeared concerned so I followed the other passengers where we left the station via military escort, at this point I asked one of my traveling companions if this was normal as she had taken the same trip two years earlier. She did not recall, so I then asked if she was concerned given the events of last March and she said no, not until I brought it to her attention. Shortly thereafter we arrived in Toledo and learned that the station was closed for remolding and that all train passengers arrived by auto-bus in this fashion from Madrid.

Hope everyone is doing well in the States and to remind each of you not to wear your "White" winter coats before Memorial Day.


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