One of the slight inconveniences of living in Madrid is that you cannot leave the house without being immaculately dressed, perfectly groomed and in full makeup. After spending 26 years here you would have thought that I might have learnt that important fact of life, but no. This afternoon I made the rooky mistake of taking the dog for a walk in our vast local park dressed in an extremely holey T shirt which is really only fit for making dusters out of, and a pair of old cropped jeans which snagged on something as I got out of the car leaving one bum cheek exposed. I was wearing nice knickers but that is besides the point. When I heard the unmistakeable sound of ripping fabric, I should have got back into the car and returned home to change into something charmingly casual but sporty, done my hair and checked my makeup, not carried on walking into the park thinking “It doesn´t matter. I won´t see anyone I know”.
I headed off the path into the wilder part of the park and was walking along while the dog was snorting and bounding around in the long grass when I heard someone calling me. To my horror I realised it was one of my neighbours. She of course, was perfectly coiffed and made up to the nines and after casting her eye over my less than perfect outfit asked if I was alright. What she was really saying was “what on earth are you doing out of the house looking like that”. I decided to follow my grandmothers advice of “never explain, never apologise”, gave her a beaming smile and said “yes I am fine” and marched off deeper into the park with my bum cheek burning in shame.
It is sods law that in Madrid if I leave the house looking anything less than perfect I will be seen and judged. Not so in London. I could go outside dressed up as Jack Sparrow or even in my pajamas and nobody would bat an eyelid. There I am quite happy to pop down to the local shop for a pint of milk with no makeup on, whereas here it would be social suicide. Grooming is very high on any self respecting Spanish women´s agenda including regular mani-pedis, a weekly blow dry and the most vicious waxing regime it is possible to imagine. England is definitely more relaxed about such things. Having been to a couple of weddings and parties in England recently, it was interesting to see many cracked heels and acres of rough skin being paraded around in summer sandals, a complete nono in any social event on the Iberian peninsular. In the UK it is quite acceptable to stop dyeing your hair and go grey while in Spain it is unthinkable and even some men dye their hair well into their seventies.
The school run here is a sartorial minefield as well. All the mums appear dressed to kill with Gucci and Versace being paraded around while they seem amazingly comfortable in the most vertiginous of heels. I as a newbie, frequently used to turn up fresh from the stables in breeches and boots. The looks of incredulity and wrinkling of noses I received were no doubt deserved as I am sure the aroma of “eau de cheval” followed me around, but pretty quickly I realised that if I was going to make or keep any friends I had to toe the line and turn up looking vaguely put together and not as though I had been mucking out five horses and galloping hard across country.
Which way is better? I am not sure, there is something to be said on both sides. The spanish way forces you to maintain minimum standards of grooming which has to be a good thing and on the UK side it is lovely to think you can be a little more relaxed when leaving the house. I have come to the conclusion that “When in Rome…”, so in Madrid I try to blend in by keeping up with all grooming appointments, getting my clothes ready for the next day and generally wearing a reasonable heel. While in the UK I can relax a little and can be seen in Waitrose wearing flats and minimal makeup. Today´s encounter in the park has just reminded me not to get my countries mixed up and to chuck out any items of clothing that are better suited to being made into rags than shocking the residents of either Madrid or London.
(Image from theglamoroushousewife.com)