When embarking on a new adventure it’s hard not to have expectations for what life will be like. We all do it – whether it’s starting a new job, heading off on a trip, or moving to a new country or city – we fantasize and daydream about the way our days will look, how we’ll spend our time and just how absolutely amazing everything will be.

Before I moved to Spain, I spent days – really, weeks – daydreaming about my time abroad. I would dream about the glorious sunshine I would bask in, the delicious coffee I would relax with each morning, and the flawless Spanish I would speak with ease.

But, what we expect and assume usually isn’t what ends up happening.

Before moving to Spain, I had a lot of expectations and assumptions about how life would be in Madrid, but almost none of them came true. My reality in Spain was very different than the one I had imagined; in some ways, it was harder and in others, it was so much better than I could have ever hoped. Here are some of the expectations I had before moving to Madrid, Spain, and the realities that I experienced while living there.

Expectation: People will speak at least some English.

Reality: While I didn’t expect everyone to speak English, I was shocked at just how few people spoke any at all.

In the absolute centre of the city (i.e., the touristy areas) I’d occasionally encounter people who spoke English, but this was a very rare occurrence. In our neighbourhood, no one spoke English. Not bank tellers, not grocery store cashiers, not the barista at our local cafe. No one that we regularly encountered in our area was comfortable speaking English.

At first, this was a huge hurdle to overcome. Regular chores and errands were a challenge and required a good deal of patience, charades and Google Translate. But, not being able to rely on my native tongue forced me to learn more and practice my Spanish language skills.

Expectation: Lunch is at noon, dinner is at 6 PM.

Reality: Oh heavens no. In Madrid, it was customary to take a mid-morning coffee break from 10:30-11, making noon far too early for your next culinary feast. Madrileños would work straight through until 2 PM when they would depart for their lunch. This long, leisurely mid-day meal, which often lasted until 4 PM, meant there was no need to have dinner until at least 8 PM (or 10 PM if you were our fried fish loving neighbour).

It was a bit of an adjustment at first to eating so much later in the day. But after a few weeks, we had no trouble eating like Madrileños.

Expectations: Banking will be the same as in North America.

Reality: Cash is still very much king in Spain. While credit and debit cards are used, cash is predominant throughout the country. While living in Madrid, there were numerous occasions where I found myself in situations where I could only pay with cash – this was a huge change after years of tapping my card in shops, taxis and cafes in Canada.

Expectations: Being on time means arriving at the time you agreed upon.

Reality: Spanish time is very real. The Spanish people are very laid back and relaxed, but this often means that if you arrive anywhere 30 minutes after the scheduled start time, then you’re early and probably the first one to arrive. This was in stark contrast to what I was used to in Canada, where friends would actually meet at the agreed upon time, not 45 minutes later.

Expectations: The siesta isn’t that much of a “thing” anymore

Reality: The siesta is still a thing, it’s just different.

Spain has for years been famous for its mid-day siesta, an hour or two where workers would go home, eat lunch and then take a nap. Sounds pretty great, right?! Prior to our move, I’d been told that the siesta wasn’t really that much of a thing anymore. Well, that isn’t exactly true.

While many workers don’t take the time to pop home for lunch and a snooze, they do break for lunch. Each weekday shops and companies would shut down while their employees went out for an extended lunch. Each afternoon between 2 and 4, our neighbourhood would become a ghost town with practically all businesses closing up shop. This meant that if you wanted to run errands, like visiting the bank, pharmacy or dollar store (Euro bazaar), you had to do it early in the day or wait until later on.

We all have expectations before we embark on any new adventure, be it a new job, a new hobby, a trip or an overseas move. It’s important to fantasize and dream about what we’d like to happen, but it’s even more important not to let them cloud your reality.

Learn to embrace the different, the new, the odd and the interesting in your new situation. Not only will this help you adapt, but it will help you experience and enjoy so many new and wonderful things in life.

What has been your travel and/or expat experience with expectations and reality?

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Expectations vs Reality: Madrid, Spain [petiteadventures.org]

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