For expats in Mexico, it’s the little differences that take you by surprise
There’s a hugely popular website called Expat.com that specializes is communication between people who are scattered around the world, not living in their own country. This week the discussion topic was: ‘how do you cope with being homesick?’ That’s when we realized we aren’t actually homesick for our country, but we are occasionally still a little discombobulated by the differences.
Mexico uses the metric system. No inches, feet, miles, ounces, pounds, or Fahrenheit. Yes, we are Canadian and our country switched over to metric in the mid-seventies to match the rest of the world, but in school we learned the Imperial measurements. Change happens slower when you are older. Buying shoes in metric is still perplexing, but most everything else has sorted itself out in our brains. We can only imagine how confusing it is to our American neighbours, the last country in the world still using Imperial measurements.Most of us realize before we leave our home country that there will be some big changes to our lives, but it’s the little differences that can catch you by surprize.
Appointment times are all ish. If four in the afternoon is when you are meeting a friend, or expecting a service person that is now four-ish. Your acquaintance or tradesperson could be thirty minutes, an hour, or two hours late. It’s not rude, it’s just the way it is. The person will eventually arrive, all smiles and hugs or handshakes. Life is good; they are very happy to see you, and therefore it follows, that you are very happy to see them. Public events, parades, parties – everything isish! When we first moved here we always arrived at the suggested time, only to find the host in the shower, and the hostess decorating for the party. It’s a little less embarrassing now that we don’t arrive exactly on time.
Street closures are common, especially in the smaller communities. Why? Usually for a family event, such as a funeral or a birthday party. Most of the homes are too small for family gatherings and permission is usually granted to close the street for several hours. No one gets upset, everyone just adjusts their schedule to work around the closure.
Grocery shopping is a daily task for most locals, and we have changed from our Canadian habit of stockpiling once a week, to shopping every second day. Produce is fresh, ripe, and doesn’t keep for any length of time. Buy fresh, and buy often is the local habit.
Driving in Mexico is entertaining, especially in the bigger cities. The local drivers are very aware of traffic around them, and are pretty decent drivers. The incentive to stay out of accidents is huge. Get into a fender-bender and everyone goes to jail until the police decide on who is responsible, and who is paying. Signs and traffic lights are treated as ‘suggestions’ not cast in stone, the exception being the raised striped crosswalks. Traverse one of those when there are pedestrians using the crosswalk and you will rapidly find yourself having a lengthy personal chat with a police officer. Been there. Done that.
Signs for small businesses are somewhat limited. When asking for directions to an unfamiliar store or business, it’s always best to ask for a description of the building including colour. Many small establishments don’t have signs. The reasoning is; if you are a resident you know the location.
As for guns, contrary to what international television news suggests guns are very, very rare in Mexico. In fact there is only one store in all of Mexico that sells guns, and you would not believe the paperwork. And speaking of the police. When we moved here we were told by many Mexican friends, do not ever interact with the police. Don’t make eye-contact, or even smile at them. We did that for a number of years, and then decided that we weren’t happy treating other human beings this way. We’ve started to acknowledge the officers with a wave and a smile. They wave, smile back, and chat when they recognize us.
And the best difference we have noticed; we can actually wave and say ‘hello’ to little kids. The families are close-knit and loving. It is everyone’s job to watch out for the younger family members, but a wave and a smile are still allowed. It’s a refreshing change. Bureaucracy is a fine art in Mexico. Paperwork takes an inordinately long time to process, whether it is immigration papers, building permits, or simply renewing a driver’s licence. Bureaucrats will test your patience. It’s a good time practice the fine art of daydreaming as you loiter in the waiting room, linger in the line-up, or shuffle from paper-pusher to cashier and back again. And smile. Angry outbursts will guarantee that your documents find a new home on the bottom of the one-meter-high teetering pile of paperwork, waiting for the final stamp of approval.
As Ex-pats, living in a foreign country has been very beneficial to us. We have been able to stop medications for stress and high blood pressure. We seldom eat packaged or prepared foods. We are happy and healthy.
We aren’t homesick, this country is our home.
By Lynda and Lawrie Lock for TYT