Written on August 30, 2011

Today I walked with my señora (housemother) to this huge mega-mall / department store / outlet called El Corte Inglés. I’ve heard people compare it to a Spanish Macy’s, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this in the U.S. It’s a complex of several buildings, is probably at least ten stories high I only went to the fourth floor but, unlike the metro, the store was not very clearly labelled with sections and floors).

All of these stores are huge and contain virtually anything you could desire for your home or business (there’s even food and markets). I went to the flagship one which has the most space, but they’re all like mega-malls, and there’s around six just in Madrid alone! I was mind-boggled at how a city like Madrid could fit in six of these huge stores in one city.

But, like the metro, there’s never one too far away from where you are. Think of Manhattan having six Targets, six Macy’s, six Saks, six Lord & Taylor, and six Costco stores and how ridiculous that would be, and you’ll get the idea of how baffled I was at the seeming excess, for a store that’s already essentially a mall. I found out the company owning the stores is based here in Madrid but they have locations around Spain (like in Barcelona) and in Portugal.

A plaza leading to one of the innumerable entrances to this ginormous mega-department store.

It was pretty crazy…it’s literally the one-stop shop for everything you could ever need or imagine. There’s like smaller version of outlets and major brand/department stores all in one big room crammed next to each other on various floors. I walked through clothing, make-up, electronics, books, home improvement, homeward stores, cafes, etc to pick up a water bottle, dictionary, and look at sunglasses.

It’s so huge I was in there for a couple hours figuring out where stuff was and almost all of my time was spent walking from one side of the complex to the other because nothing I needed was close to each other.

Most of the stores and brands are pretty upscale though and you probably won’t shop here if you’re not at least comfortably middle-class. For example, Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Brookstone, Polo, Armani, and Jimmy Choo, all had little sections on the first floor in the midst of pricey perfumes, make-up, sunglasses, and watches.


Prada outlet in El Corte Inglés

Not all the brands were quite that expensive but most do cater to the wealthier consumer, as Madrid is a city I’m slowly finding out is like Manhattan in that the cost of living is very high, higher than in the rest of Spain.

Accordingly, many residents of the city are well-off individuals. This really sunk in when walking for 5 or 10 minutes from my apartment, we passed neighborhoods where my señora said most of the apartments go for 2 or 3 million Euros (you can do the math to convert, but it’s a lot of dough any way you slice it). You can also see the material wealth in how well many people dress to go out shopping or for lunch in the middle of a weekday.

My señora walked with me there, taking about twenty minutes walking a little slower than usual for me lol, through residential neighborhoods and the Plaza de la Repúbblica Argentina (which has sculptures of jumping dolphins!) on a sunny cloudless summer day after I got up at 11 am. She pointed out where some things are and accompanied me to try to get a new battery for my watch [which is actually fine, but the little crown fell off and they told me I have to come back in two days to get it fixed].

department storefront

Street entrance to the flagship El Corte-Ingles store. "Rebajas" means sales (they ended the next day) and the green pennant in the bottom right is the store logo.

A view of one floor in Corte Inglés. Desigual is a popular fashionable clothing chain here

Then we split up, as she said she’d be a while and had a bunch of things to buy in various places while I only had a few. But, as I took a while to wander outside, knew where nothing was and had to keep asking, and made sure I was going the right way, she beat me back home.

I was a little anxious about how easily I’d find my way home at first. But I remembered the general way we came, got oriented, and walked back the way I recognized; there was only like two turns and I had my big map with me to keep on track.

Surprisingly and annoyingly, the streets are not always labelled and most time I don’t see the sign so I just stop and ask someone where something is. I’m somewhat conversant in Spanish so this has not been too much of a problem, but usually they have to repeat what they say because it’s too fast!

All the people I’ve spoken to have been very nice and helpful. I always go right to talking in Spanish; only one person has told me I could speak in English. Gradually I’m learning where the street signs are placed—though I was surprised to discover small plaques on the side of building walls, high up, are actually the names of the streets (in addition to the innumerable plazas with fountains and/or monuments/statues)!

Though there’s a good amount of American culture here (movies, music, advertisements, products, etc.), it’s surprising how in a major metropolis of almost 7 million people (the city has a huge area, and tons of parks, trees, plazas!), how few people know English or are even conversant/proficient in it. If I hear someone speaking English once or twice in one day walking around, it’s a lot.

street signs on the corner of a block

Palabra Española del Día:

redactar = “to edit”, o “to write”