It’s a scary time to be an American in Madrid

In a matter of a week, the climate has changed in Madrid. Not from winter to spring — from amiable to chilly.

I cannot even imagine what the atmosphere is like in the United States right now, but I imagine anxieties there are of a different nature. When a reporter contacted me a few weeks ago for a story about students abroad and the war (“Despite Iraq, few worries on terms abroad,” 2/28) I told her I was trying to be careful about things (i.e., not traveling to places like Morocco) but that I wasn’t particularly concerned. Not anymore.

When I arrived in Madrid in January, I found the culture very inviting. When people found out I was American, they were eager to practice their English with me or to introduce me to their customs. I even got teased about the 2000 election sometimes when I admitted to being from Florida. My biggest fear was the notorious pickpockets, but I’ve protected myself by avoiding certain neighborhoods and carrying minimal cash. No problema.

Two weeks ago, I was at a bar when President Bush came on TV. My friends and I were talking to some Spaniards who asked us what we thought about the war. We made it clear that none of us had voted for Bush and we were against the war. They were (of course) against it too. (Though Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar has been fully supporting every move Bush has made, I saw a figure that over 90 percent of the Spanish people are opposed to the war). After we felt we had adequately made fun of Bush’s pronunciation of the word “nuclear,” we went back to our cervezas and discussing our mutual love for Bruce Springsteen.

Last Wednesday we had a five-day weekend for the San Jose Holiday, so I went to Cordoba for a couple of days. I knew Bush’s 48-hour ultimatum was expiring and when I woke up, I instinctively knew that the war had begun. While browsing in a souvenir store, I saw Aznar addressing the Spanish people on television, explaining his involvement and the motives behind the war. But Cordoba was full of tourists and I didn’t really know how much the Spanish attitude would change until I got back to Madrid.

Thursday night I was at that same bar, less than 24 hours after Bush had declared war. As usual, a Spanish man asked me where I was from. When I replied, “los Estados Unidos,” he said, “Yeah, let’s kill Iraq!” I didn’t know what to say. It doesn’t even matter now what I think. Being an American is tantamount to being a criminal.

I left my apartment the other day, planning to walk a few blocks to pick up a couple of things at the grocery store. But when I got to the corner, I saw that the main street of my neighborhood was flooded with protesters. If the protest were in New Haven, I probably would have joined in, but this one scared me. I hurried down side streets and avoided eye contact with everyone.

In the past few days, my American friends have been screamed at in the streets. One was spat upon. A few weeks ago, the protests were large, but relatively calm. I avoided them when possible, but mostly because they made it difficult to cross streets and made the subways crowded. Since the war broke out, the police have had to use force. The normally clean streets of Madrid have been littered with debris and overturned trash cans. Despite a recent ban, people have been drinking in the streets again. The chants are louder and the sentiment angrier. On Saturday, the protesters dumped red dye in several of the fountains to symbolize the blood of the slain Iraqis. The graffiti has even gotten more violent — my roommate saw a sign where someone had written the “s” in Bush’s name as a swastika.

Their anger is not all directed at Americans. Actually, I think it’s mostly about Aznar’s complete disregard for public opinion. With this war and the way the Spanish government has (not really) cleaned up the oil spill in Galicia, Aznar should be glad he’s not running for re-election.

But Aznar has bodyguards. I can speak Spanish at all times and avoid American restaurants, but I still have a gringo accent and blonde hair.

Other Americans have had their wallets stolen, but they will get over that. I’ve lost my sense of security and I don’t think I’ll get it back.



Naomi Martin Massave is a junior in Ezra Stiles College. She is a Yale Daily News features and magazine editor spending this semester in Madrid, Spain.

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