Embracing the Differences
Tomorrow makes 7 weeks since I arrived here at my new lakeside home in San Nicolas de Ibarra, Jalisco, Mexico. My level of anxiety on arriving was very high, even though I had chosen this path for myself.
It was a totally new place, big house almost empty of furniture (lots of echoing), I knew practically no one in the village, I had just spent five days on the road during which my pup died and I had to drive through mountains and sleep on hard beds, and I was totally by myself in a foreign (to me) country with a different culture.
I'm amazed now, in retrospect, at how comfortable I feel about so many things that initially intimidated me having been here for such a short time. But part of reaching a comfort level is being able to embrace the differences.
I was reading someone else's blog about some of the differences they found between living in the US and in Mexico. It made me realize that pointing out those differences to you in my own life would give you a better understanding of how to acclimatize.
Some who come here try to bring their US lifestyle with them, which is both unfair and insulting to Mexico and it blocks the newbie from really experiencing the rich Mexican culture. I've heard so many times that it's easier to learn the language when you are immersed in the population, and it's easier to learn the culture when you live among the nationals rather that in a gated community of expats who only hang out with expats. Why even be here if you only commune with your own?
So, here are some of the things that are a part of my new life:
1. I now use gas instead of all electricity and have mastered the art of pilot light lighting.
2. We don't use central A/C or heat. During the short hot period (about 6-8 weeks) we use fans and shade and siestas. During the cool months I have a couple of floor heaters. Electric bills are very low though so that's a big plus!
3. Plumbing is very different so potty paper goes in the trash, not in the flush. If you're out in public you should always carry some of your own potty paper for when it's not available. And it often costs a few pesos to use public toilets.
4. I am my own dishwasher.
5. The laundry and water heater are in a little room outside. Mexicans like these to be in the outdoors or a separate building. Mine is right next to my door, so no problem. And I hang my laundry on the line instead of using the dryer, also cuts down on electricity use.
6. Having a gardener and a housekeeper are very affordable. Mexico has some very strict employer/employee laws regarding paid holidays and severance though, so I have occasional help instead of regularly scheduled help. Plus, I get a certain satisfaction in doing for myself.
7. Other than gas for the car, just about everything I've encountered here is less expensive; rent, utility bills, food, entertainment, dining out, public transportation, medical treatment, hiring an attorney, auto repairs, plants for the garden, and the list goes on. Oil paint for my art and US brands at the grocery store are higher than in the US.
8. Supermarkets - the brands are different and getting used to where everything is and reading it in Spanish is often a challenge. I ask people and often find the assistance I need. And now I buy 95% of my food from butchers, cremerias, and vegetable tiendas instead of the big chain store.
9. You don't drink the tap water. I had a filter system installed in the kitchen so I can get very clean water there for consumption and rinsing the dishes I wash. Also for filling some small bottles to keep in the bathrooms for brushing teeth. Most people deal with just buying water in big bottles from the grocery or the trucks that drive around town and have the dispensers in their homes.
10. The gas and water trucks come by daily with loudspeakers and music announcing their presence. If you need some you just flag them down and they deliver it inside for you. I call my gas guy and he comes out the same day when I need him.
11. Noise; church bells, barking dogs, celebrations which include music and fireworks, loudspeaker announcements about politics, vendors offerings, and in my village there are also public service messages daily. I find some of it endearing and tune some of it out, but it is a constant part of life.
12. Street dogs are everywhere. In my village they are generally healthy because so many people feed them. In other areas of Mexico, they're not so fortunate.
13. Getting gas for you car is a treat. It may cost more (about $4 per gallon right now) but they pump it for you and wash your windows.
14. Tipping here is very important. The business person you are dealing with isn't someone you tip but anyone who helps is definitely anticipating that little extra. This includes the waitstaff at restaurants, the guy who pumps your gas, the helpers who deliver you furniture and bring it in the house, the people who bag your purchases in a large store, your household help when they go above and beyond, you get the idea. Tips don't have to be large; a few pesos to a generous 15-20% depending on the situation and amount of service.
15. Expect to learn the language. This is their country and the more you attempt, the more they appreciate it. Generally the Mexican people are helpful and happy and do pretty well when I resort to charades to communicate.
16. Driving is an experience. The signs are suggestions, they use topes to slow you down, you MUST have auto insurance, accidents can be very scary because the rule is to arrest everyone until fault can be determined and your insurance agent bails you out of jail. Drivers hug the right side of the road for faster cars to pass, there are many free range animals - large animals like donkeys, horses, cows, goats, sheep - that could cause you a world of hurt if you hit them. And the rule is if you hit it, you bought it! Almost every vehicle you see will have scrapes and dents. Don't worry about your wheel alignment, it won't last more than 15 minutes anyway.
17. Walking is a lifestyle here but it's also a potential accident. The main highways are smooth but the town streets are cobblestone. You have to watch where you walk or you could easily suffer a twisted ankle or serious fall.
18. Getting used to the different currency and the metric system for measurements and temperatures is fun.
19. The seasons; there is a green season and a brown season. Amazingly, there is a abundance of tropical foliage that thrives here at 5000 feet.
20. The altitude. Coming from Florida, I am still getting used to the difference in oxygen. Some days I notice it when I'm doing activities that are more exertive.
21. The construction, mostly all brick and mortar. A far cry from the building codes of the US. Makes it more difficult to hang my art. And rooftop miradors are very common, I love my mirador on the second floor.
22. More armed law and military presence. There is the occasional road side pull over request to check papers and the more rare shake down for a bribe, but it does happen. So far, I've just been waived through with my US plates.
23. Gates and walls and bars. This is really a part of the lifestyle of many countries outside of the US, and even some communities within. I saw it in Ecuador and Italy as well. The cool part is getting invited inside and seeing the gorgeous interior jardins and terrazas.
24. Medical care is very affordable AND doctors actually make house calls. You can often get low level but good medical advice from the pharmacist and many medications that are by Rx only in the US are over the counter here, and CHEAPER!
25. Serenity, joy, contentment, happiness, appreciation, the attitude of gratitude. I feel it, I experience it, I see it, and it abounds here where people are happy to be alive and have families and faith and community spirit.
I do love it here and look forward to having more experiences and gaining more knowledge about this wonderful place.