Sunday, June 22, 2008

Living In Mexico And Being A Gringo

After having spent 1o years living and working San Antonio, a city with a 68% Hispanic population, I thought I knew everything about being Mexican and learning the language. Wow, it was a real culture shock. There is a big difference being a tourist and resident, living in a small Mexican town, big city or rving around the country and living in an American enclave. None are bad and none are better. After twenty years here, I have a whole different attitude.

For most Gringos, living the Mexican dream is white beaches, blue waters, and Margaritaville. It exists but it isn't a reality.

When it comes to living in Mexico, language is a big barrier. Imagine my grandfather when he first immigrated to the U.S., coming from a small farming community in what is now Yugoslavia. It was harder then than now, I think.

My first months here I was always by someone's side to help me get through the day. My work was easy to some extent because teaching English everyone had to comply with my rules. But out on the big streets of Monterrey, life takes on another scarier side. I do run into people at the Mailboxes, Etc. where I have my gringo mailbox and these people have come to Mexico with a large multinational company, have the good life as everything is paid for but they don't have any concept of Mexican lifestyle or culture. In some cases it isn't there desire. They live well, work easily and are treated like a gringo. But it must be a hard life not being able to strike up a conversation with any Joe on the street or get what you really want as a consumer. Learning Spanish fluently for me, was the biggest advantage in terms of work, leisure activities and all-around good living in Mexico.

Life in Mexico has been good to me. I have my "family" and friends although somewhat limited. That could be too because I enjoy my solitude. If I hadn't come to Mexico, I would have never been able to learn Spanish in a cultural sense, had the job opportunities which brought me travel and fame (within the English teaching arena in Central and South America) and the ability to rv in Mexico. (To my Mexican students, that is how you use a conditional statement).

I don't have my oil changed at a Grease Monkey, eat in franchise restaurants, or drink frozen margaritas, nor patronize places with English-speaking staff. I have been to CostCo four times (checking new solar products) in the last month and haven't bought a thing yet. Don't know what all the hoopla is about bulk buying and American products. I guess I have been here so long that I am accustomed to Mexican food products, Mexican wines, Mexican cheeses, even though the label isn't in French it is still pretty good to us.

There are upsides and downsides. Upsides, hey, I work 4 hours a day, I live in a nice house which we worked hard for and have wonderful neighbors. Most people here in the community know me, say hello and treat me with respect. I have made some friends along the way and some enemies too, but that's all in a days work. I don't pay 4 dollars a gallon for gas, I don't have to drive across a continent to go rving in Mexico because I am already here, and finding good Mexican food is a snap!

Downside to being a gringo; people think I have a lot of money, like to "try" and charge me more, think I won't understand them, and only go into deep conversations when no one else is around. The other day I went to the car wash and I was speaking to the car wash attendant (obviously in Spanish) and he said to me, "do you speak Spanish", I responded, "no, but your French is very good!

The Wind Blew It Away!

Last night around 6 p.m. a long awaited rain storm came leaving little water but a lot of strong wind. So strong that it took most of the patio furniture and the palapa away. We were able to salvage the patio furniture but the palapa got away.


  1. Lovely post, but jeez Chris, you never eat at Sanborns or Vips? You never have frozen margaritas? You are deprived my friend. Well, Vips and Sanborns are best when you are really hot and hungry and cranky and just want someplace with nice seats, ice tea and lots of AC. But, the margaritas... they are best made at home with fresh limes, naranja agria, good tequila like Gran Centenario or Corralejos and some kind of licor de naranja.

    I loved your reply to the guy at the car wash, did he get it? or even laugh?

    I'll bet you are a very good English teacher. I'm impressed that you gave your blog address to your students, I'd be too nervous about making grammatical mistakes. That was a very complicated and very good conditional sentence. ¡Bravo!

  2. I know Chris is speaking mainly of Mexican Franchise restaurants and I agree with him. We spent only five months in Mexico and wanted the "real" Mexican experience. You will not find it in a VIP.

    American franchises are starting to show up and that is a great disappointment! We actually went into Applebees in Guadalajara for some dumb reason and it was a terrible experience. Overpriced and mediocre food... We don't go to Applebees in The USA, I don't know why we went to one in Mexico.

    This traveling thing is a learning experience...

    Great Blog Chris! I will get mine back up and rolling again when we head down there in November.

  3. Hey guys, thanks for posting comments. Jonna, the guy in the carwash gave me a big smile. I didn't think he'd get it. I make a ton of mistakes especially with things that I rag my students about, "to" and "too", "there" and "their". They get a kick out of it when they see my mistakes. I tell them, better to speak with lots of mistakes than "quedarse callado".

    Crandle, I love all kinds of food. But like you said, American franchise is mediocre and expensive. Toks, VIPs, are great once in awhile but bad for the diet. During the week it's all cooking at home and on the weekend one meal out.

    Sanborns is too noisy for me. I have to admit to eating there twice this year during business meetings. Excellent coffee.

  4. I've got a running list in my head of US chains that I've eaten in down here and never in the US. Either they are a lot better here or I was wrong about what I thought they would be up north.* Places like Chevy's, Boston's, TGIF Friday's, Chili's, and I'm forgetting others. If you live down here and you eat out a lot, as we do, then you end up at them occasionally. For one thing, eating times in Mexico are fairly rigid and if you do not feel like eating at the correct time, you have a lot less places to choose from. I was pleasantly surprised by Chili's, great hamburgers. The others were pretty good but they seemed like Sanborns or another Mexican chain and not particularly American. Mainly, they are open when I happen to be hungry, they will serve me breakfast anytime and they keep the AC on freezing.

    *that is a complicated tense sentence that I could never get right in Spanish. God! Learning another language is so difficult.

  5. This comment section is developing a life of it's own!

    When I got home and figured out what we spent last winter we found our dining expenses to be about $25 per day. We ate an average of one meal per day out. Our favorite places were always open air restaurants on the town square where we could sit and people watch. Our usual pattern was to have breakfast in the RV and head to town where we would explore and look for an interesting place to eat. We would return there for a late lunch / early dinner and sit for a couple of hours and socialize with the waiters and fellow diners over a margarita or a cervesa.

    We had a ball in Mexico and I hate not being there.

  6. Don't get me wrong I love frozen margs. They just don't have them here. Sunday we spent 17 dollars on a shrimp cocktail (grande) and a filete a la diabla with all the trimmings and two beers. Is that reasonable? For us, we think it is expensive. Wait until July when we start our month-long state tour and we report our expenses including food. Can't wait. Chomping at the bit!

  7. I think that price is about right for Merida but cheap for the Riviera Maya. It's all relative.

    Oddly, about half the times we've eaten at US chain restaurants it was because we were eating with Mexican friends and that is where they wanted to go. In Merida, I've never seen another gringo in any of the ones I've been in. Mainly, you will see gringos in restaurants in the centro but not out in the malls or residential neighborhoods.

    Oh, the really horrible one we went to was Sirloin Stockade. No gringos, but a bazillion kids climbing on the buffet tables and sticking their hands in the food. Not too appetizing. Also, the meat was tough.