What Are My First Impressions of Málaga, Spain?
It's like the secret love child of Mexico and California.
In 2013, while still living in Jamaica, I dated a Spaniard from Málaga. He often spoke of Andalucía, an autonomous community that is also home to Seville, Granada, Cádiz, and Córdoba. So when I decided to visit Spain, Andalucía was the very first place that came to mind for a test trip.
So, is Andalucía everything I dreamed of and more?
I have only seen Málaga so far, and it has changed dramatically from how my ex described it a decade ago. Even the people here admit that change has been rampant and rapid. Like most tourist beach towns, it has attracted international foot traffic, significantly changing the culture.
While riding in an Uber to an event last night, I noticed my driver was listening to English stations. “Por qué aprendes inglés?” I asked him. (Why learn English?)
He explained in Spanish that most passengers were from abroad and English was the common language. Whether they were German, American, Swedish, or French ― English was the language most people expected others to understand. So, his goal was to learn “Spanglish.”
“Málaga, 50\50 English and Spanish,” he concluded.
I shared the conversation when I arrived at the event, packed with ex-pats from abroad and sprinkled with Spaniards from other cities. “Do you think he’s right?” I asked. “Is it really 50/50?”
One of the Spaniards responded, “Yes, I think he is right.”
There is an obvious upside to this.
I have met dozens of ex-pats since visiting Málaga, and so far, I am the only one who speaks as much Spanish as I do. Even Europeans from other countries aim only to learn English. I am sure there are exceptions, but the common refusal to learn Spanish surprised me.
One German proudly said, “I don’t speak a word of Spanish, and I would like to keep it that way, gracias!”
A Spaniard at the table laughed. They, too, spoke English.
Personally, I can’t imagine how ex-pats get by without learning any Spanish at all. They tell me they rely on their phones for translations, and many seem to have cornered the ex-pat friend market and do not have as many Spanish friends.
I will say that, contrary to my original expectations, I find it much easier to understand Spanish in Spain than in Mexico. The Málaga accent takes some getting used to and sometimes sounds almost Italian.
But they speak much slower than Mexicans. That makes them much easier to understand. By a landslide!
Is Spain the secret love child of Mexico and California?
When my British Airways flight took me over the dry mountain range, I might as well have flown over Southern California. And, when we landed in Málaga, I felt for sure someone had dropped me off on what foreigners might think border towns look like between Mexico and California.
Spain is not a wealthy country. It is sometimes called The Third World of Europe by Spaniards and foreigners alike. Wages are not high, and everyday people do not live lavish lives here.
But Spain itself looks very reminiscent of a time when it was a World Power and conqueror — a time when conquistadores took to the high seas in search of wealth and adventure in the Americas.
There are still well-preserved castles and cathedrals. And tight, cobblestone streets weave through the city like a Mediterranean maze.
In place of taco stands, there are pizzerias and coffee shops.
The cars are nicer, and the jeans are tighter, but you can instantly see the connection between Spain and Mexico when you arrive. There is that same fun-seeking spirit that is so characteristic of Mexican culture and a similar prioritization of family and close connections.
Of course, the big difference is safety. I do not think twice about walking down the alleyways at midnight, smelling pizza and pastries still freshly baked at this sacred and unholy hour of nightlife.
When I sent photos of Old Town and other places I had walked through to my friend in Baja California, he texted me back:
Wow, Alex! This is not what I expected. It looks like Mexico City!
This Mexican and Californian familiarity mixed with a tinge of unique Málaga life makes it feel like home and a new adventure.
I love it here! Who knows? In time, it could become my future home.
Alexis Chateau | Free Ramen is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Next week, I’ll share more photos of my trip with paid subscribers. I’ll also cover some additional areas of my first impressions:
See you then!