First time in Spain: The expectation trap


We, people from landlocked countries, spend almost our entire lives dreaming of a house on the shore, dreaming of looking at golden beaches and breathing in the fresh sea breeze while sipping on our morning coffee.

We rather choose to spend our vacations bathing in the sun instead of going camping in the woods. It is because that is what we lack the most – cold seawater and some freshly prepared seafood with a glass of good wine or some crazy pineapple cocktail, and all that while watching the sun settle behind the horizon.

A dream, right?

Well, certainly! One man’s every day – another man’s luxury.

The problem with us, those whose citizenships cannot brag about golden beaches and salty waves, and especially us, who cannot brag about too many steps over the border, is that we gather our info about the seaside life from all sorts of exaggerated sources.

We create the idea of seaside places based on those paradise-like places in movies, fancy travel guides, and pompous Instagram accounts, and hear about it in the infinite number of stories from those who traveled.

Those stories are always filled with unthinkable adventures, shiny crystal-clear waves, vivid and exotic palm trees, sweet and sugary coconut milk, warm platinum sand, and, of course, the most delicious local cuisine.

It is different for us who think of a palm tree as a symbol of luxury, hedonism, and privilege, and for whom the sea breeze smells like freedom and success. For us to whom the word village is not countable for those little places on the seaside and who rather call them oasis.

It is different because we expect too much, we expect a paradise resort even in those local sea-side places where people work in fields and fish. We don’t see the ordinary in the seaside life, because it is not ordinary for us, and when facing the ordinary in this paradise we imagined, it is truly a slap in the face.

All those things are exactly what I was expecting while sitting on a plane on my way to Malaga. I remember I kept telling my friend “WOW! We will be spending a whole year in Spain: drinking cocktails, sitting on the beaches, wearing floral dresses, drinking Sangria and eating fresh fish and whatnot”.

We imagined the world we were about to enter is an absolute luxury, tanned people, European behavior, fancy restaurants, fancy apartments, fancy beaches, well… EVERYTHING fancy!
Malaga Beach
And the thing that happened when we got there – well, it was not that fancy, it was just, you know – life. But we didn’t get that at the very moment, it took us some time. Because when you enter another state, another culture, you look on it from your previous experiences, and if you never lived anywhere but your own culture before, those eyes you are looking from are the eyes of a tourist.

And that is fine when you are a tourist. As a tourist you make sure you are staying in a nice place, you are spending your days at the beach, not thinking of yesterday or tomorrow, you are eating at fancy restaurants, because you prepared yourself money-vise to just spend and relax, etc.

But when you come as, well, a resident-to-be, without so much money on you, focused on a hundred other to-do-before-you-settle things and STILL look through the eyes of a tourist, you experience a little bit of disappointment.

The real difference between a tourist and a resident-to-be

Well when you come to a place with that attitude of a citizen-to-be, the city will treat you that way. You choose an Airbnb room, shared with other local people, who are living by their regular everyday flow, which creates a regular living atmosphere and not the fancy beachy vacation atmosphere you expected. Yes, you came to this place with some other plan and not to vacate, but you still somehow expect that vacation feeling.


If you are like what we were back then, two young people with no experience in traveling, the first time this far away from home, first time traveling by plane, and first time not having anybody to organize your trip but you, then you would probably, like us, not look very well into the tourist information as you would if going on a vacation. You would book your room, book your plane, organize the trip to the place you are staying, and then, you know, expect to think from that point on.

So, without a big plan on where to go (except: to the beach, of course, but not knowing where the beach is), you will find yourself in a big and busy city, living upstairs from a China market, just around that dark corner which smells like urine, bumping into regular people as they are walking their dogs, fighting on their cell phones, buying bread or cigarettes, etc. And you will find yourself asking Why in the hell is this place so popular? It is dirty, it is dark, I don’t feel safe and sound here, it is busy, and nobody is giving me the attention, and nobody is helping!

Well, you are not a tourist, you are a resident and the city is treating you exactly like one. So, your first impressions of this paradise place you came to? Scary, big, not-so-welcoming, where-the-heck-is-the-beach!?, not-a-paradise-at-ALL, and so on and so on. BUT, don’t worry, and lower your judgments, once you start seeing it with the eyes of a resident, you will find it very charming and you will wrap your heart around it forever.

But can tables turn like that?

Benalmadena - Malaga

Yes, and they certainly will; but two of us were still not figuring this out at the very moment, so we were not impressed. We went to the beach, thankfully, we popped into the right person when asking the directions, who led us to the better beach, saying that the one in the city is not so pretty. He took us to Benalmadena. Benalmadena is very popular, very beautiful, full of tourists and restaurants, etc., but you know, it is a regular tourist place. Nothing so resorty and fancy and nothing so unthinkable, a regular seaside place. So, at the time, we were still just okay with the whole place, but not as astonished as we expected. Nobody would know that almost a year apart from then, we will gladly choose Benalmadena again as an exceptional beach place for showing it to our friends. We were more experienced then, of course, so we choose a boat to stay in and not a room, so that put a star on our experience, but more on that later.

First impressions of Spain

The thing that fascinated us the most was the change between day and night, where days lasted till 22:00h. This was early September, which was like an unrealistic dream for us, it was very cool, and a bit scary. But thinking that the most fascinating thing in this city is day shifting, you find it a little bit disappointing.


The day got better while visiting the city center, we finally got to try the famous Sangria (which, you would be shocked to know, is not such a popular drink among locals) and got to feel the city’s energy. That night we met our roommate-to-be, a great guy from Morocco, who you will be meeting a bit later.

Malaga Center at Night

So, without telling it to each other, but not so impressed, we packed our bags the third day and we set off to Jaen, our home-to-be for the next 12 months. From that point we expected nothing; we got to see Malaga, which compared to Jaen, a small city without sea, can be just … worse, right? If Malaga didn’t WOW us, Jaen certainly won’t. And that moment of lowering the expectations and being slapped by the reality is what opened our eyes to all the beauty you could find in Andalusia, Malaga, and Jaen, and all the other cities in the region. And let me give you just a peek in Jaen: no sea could replace its charm, but you will find more about that some other time.

What was wrong with our expectations?

Looking back now and knowing all that I do after living in Andalusia when coming as a resident and not a tourist, the beauty of a place will show itself in ordinary life. It will not be the beautiful beaches and luxury restaurants you’ll remember; it will be that regular everyday flow which is so much different than that in your country of origin. You will find that all those things you thought would impress you and build up your life experience, will just be a part of your regular life and that things that will actually leave a trace, will be those little moments on a casual Monday.

Malaga Streets and People

To love a country or a place and to fall in love with it, you either must be a 100% tourist or 100% NOT. And no, I don’t mean you should not try those TripAdvisor restaurants, or stay in a hotel if in another city, or not try the classic tourist experience. All I am saying is – if not a tourist, DO NOT expect too much, and do not expect to be treated that way, because you are starting your new life, and not going on a vacation. But as important, do not force to become a local. It is fine if you go to an American restaurant and if you don’t like the local food. It is also fine if you don’t like local music and would rather listen to your music. If you are a resident, you will be treated that way, no matter how you speak, what you like, etc. Because the only actual difference between a tourist and a resident is your attitude towards the country you are in, it is your perception of things that surround you.

The truth about Spain and a pinch of advice

Looking back now, I find Andalusia magical and I am absolutely fascinated by it! I love the people, I love the food (which is not what you would imagine), I also love the sea, which you will find is NOT crystal clear; I love the beaches, with gray ashy sand and not the golden one, I love those dark corners that tell me I’m home, those market owners who, like me, are both foreigners and locals, and all those odd traditions I later embraced in my everyday life. I just love it all.


So, my advice for all of you like myself – don’t expect the beauty to be so apparent; stop and take a moment to breathe and smile, because that is how the Spanish people are: relaxed and happy. So, before you dislike something, try your best to enjoy it, and, believe me, you will love it very soon!

Mirador de San Nicolas - Granada

If you think that maybe you have also fallen into the expectation trap and want to know what the beaches really are like, what exactly is the local food, who those mysterious market owners are and how does life in Andalusia really look like, just continue reading our texts, and we will be happy to shatter your foggy goggles and show you the REAL beauty of the sunny land of Andalusia!

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