Hay Muchas Diferencias: The Good, The Bad, and the OMG’s

This post is dedicated to pointing out the many differences I have faced during my transition from living in the U.S. to living in Mexico.  Some may surprise you as they have surprised me.  As many people coming from small-town USA, I was taught that Mexico was nothing but dirt roads and drug cartels with a few outstanding beachfront resorts.  There are dirt roads, but there are also beautiful cobblestone streets. The drug cartels exist, but they are not a threat in many areas of Mexico, and HELLO, not all of Mexico is on the beach.  This has been a common misconception that I have dealt with.  The only places in Mexico people tend to think of are places like Cozumel, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.  There is SO much more.  Where I am currently residing is the historical city of San Miguel de Allende in the state of Guanajuato which is about 170 miles north of Mexico City.  First of all, I must touch on one of the most amazing aspects of living here:  The fantastic views!  I look out the window in my living room and wonder if the view is actually real.  You know how people pay thousands, sometimes even millions, in the U.S. to see a great view from their high-rise condo or huge amounts of money to have a mountain view?  Well, I can assure you, I do not have that kind of money, but I have a pretty amazing view sitting on my couch in my stretchy shorts and t-shirt drinking my off-brand white rum with Coca-Cola Light.  I live about five minutes outside of the city, and I have beautiful views of the city along with the mountains touching the surreal clouds surrounding them.

The views are wonderful, but so is the weather.  As a lifetime East Texas girl, I know all about those miserable days where the temperature reaches over 100 degrees, and I also know how stressful it can be when an unexpected ice storm hits during the winter and you’re wondering how in the hell you’re going to get to work without your car sliding off into the ditch.  I have been here for almost a year and a half, and I can honestly say that the weather does not change that much.  You have your hotter days, and you have your cooler days, but it’s never at those unbearable temperatures I have experienced in Texas.  The hottest months are April and May where the hottest it will get is a little above ninety degrees.  When May turns into June, it starts cooling off at night.  When my mother visited me for the first time, it was around the end of July, and we were preparing to go on a trek around the city. I told her she may need a light jacket.  She looked at me like I was crazy, but this is the reality.  The wind starts picking up and produces this heavenly breeze that can sometimes turn cold.  I dress my toddler in long pants and t-shirts at night in the middle of the summer because I know it will end up being chilly.  This leads me into my next topic.  We do not have air conditioning or heating here.  It may sound crazy, but it really is not needed.  There have been a couple of days when I thought an air conditioner may be nice, but it has never gotten so hot that it is unbearable.  We have fans, and we keep the windows open, and that is pretty much all we need.  In fact, when late September hits, we find ourselves closing the windows because it gets a little too chilly.  When it gets to those chillier temperatures, wearing my beloved sweatpants and a light hoodie is all that is needed.  Another positive aspect of not having central air and heat is the extremely low utility bill.  We pay around 25 USD per month for electricity which is nothing compared to the exorbitant bills we were paying living in East Texas during the miserable summer and also during the few months we had low temperatures, and it seemed like our heater was running non-stop.

One thing that I love to tell people about living here is the way things work.  This statement may seem a little “mickey-mouse,” but it really is interesting.  Our stove/oven, and water heater are run on gas which may be nothing different from what some people use in the U.S., but the way the gas runs into the house is different.  We use large tanks that are hooked up in the back, and that tank powers the fore-mentioned appliances.  Our water heater is a little bigger than a laptop computer, and when you turn the hot water on, it immediately ignites and begins heating the water.  There is no tank; however, when we were residing in our previous residence here in San Miguel, there was a tank, and the gas powered it, but you had to be conservative about leaving it on.  If you left the water heater on all day, it would use up all of your gas.  So, what we were forced to do before taking a shower was turn the water heater on, wait about thirty minutes, take our shower, and then turn the heater off.  This pretty much sucked because we always had to plan when we were going to need hot water.  I am very thankful for my automatic water heater now. There are several gas companies that have trucks that come by every day blaring their advertisements over their loudspeakers like they’re the ice cream truck.  In fact, my toddler often mistakes the gas truck for the ice cream truck. Once he starts mouthing his incredibly adorable “MMmmmm!,” I have to remind him that it is only the gas man and not the ice cream man.

Another aspect I have had to get used to is not owning a dryer.  This may seem like a horror to some people especially my fellow mothers to young children.  It really isn’t that bad, but I cannot and must not get behind on laundry, or I will be sorry.  The problem with not having a dryer is that once the laundry is washed, it goes on the line to dry.  This process may take only a couple of hours, or it may take all day.  Plus, there are a few things that I prefer the feel of out of the dryer like towels.  It has been hard, but I have gotten used to the stiff, crunchy towels instead of the soft, billowy towels fresh out of the dryer. There are people who own dryers here, but from what I’ve seen, the dryers do not get much use.  It’s kind of like the air conditioner thing:  There have been a few times when I had wished I had a dryer like when it rained for a straight week.  The laundry was piling up more and more every day, and a dryer would have been amazing, but hey, we got through it.

I absolutely must mention something that may cause people to shake their heads and call me a complete lush.  It is the amazing fact that alcohol is comparably very cheap here.  That bottle that I used to pay $20 for is now a little over $6. Oh, and you must never miss out on the sales on alcohol. Luckily, one of the grocery stores we are frequent patrons of has three for two deals on different items each week during the entire month of July, and yes, the last week of July this year was three for two liquor and wine!  Whoop Whoop!  While sales in America often never include things like liquor, the sales in Mexico do so it’s best to stock up.  Also, one can get liquor anywhere.  It is accessible during the weekly trip to the grocery store or one can get it while getting gas at the local gas station.  As I have mentioned in one of my previous posts, the purchasing of alcohol may be accompanied with a disapproving look from a teetotaler spouse, but who cares? One of the advantageous parts of being in San Miguel is that you always feel like you’re on vacation, and what do “normal” people do on vacation?  They eat, drink and are merry!  So I say live it up!

One of the things that people automatically think is that Mexico is “behind the times” on some aspects of life that many Americans have become unable to live without.  I will tell you, I believed the same thing, but from the minute we arrived here to the present time I am sitting here writing this, I have always had WiFi.  We stream movies and music, I use the WiFi for work, and of course we must have it to keep up with our loved ones in the U.S. on Facebook.  When we first got the WiFi connected, we had a few problems with it, but it was resolved, and we have not had problems since then.  One thing that has been a tad bit difficult is transitioning from having my smart phone with internet to having a phone that is just a phone outside of our home.  We still use our smart phones, but the fees for data are outrageous so we have opted to give up that luxury and only use the internet on our phones when we are at home or if we are somewhere in the city that offers free WiFi.  Another advantage to living where we live now is that all of the power lines are underground so there are no ugly lines distorting your view of the beautiful mountains or the surprise of a hot air balloon floating right above you on weekend mornings.  However, I must add that not all power lines are buried here.  When we lived in the stank ghetto, the power lines were just a bundle of mess hanging overhead, and of course what ghetto neighborhood would be complete without ratty tennis shoes thrown over the power lines?  That always adds something to the décor of the neighborhood. It goes well with crappy graffiti and dirty, drunk men.

Another aspect of life in Mexico I have had to adjust to is the currency exchange rate.  Right now, the current exchange rate is little over 16 pesos per U.S. Dollar.  When I first got here, I was totally confused when we went to the store, and to this day, I always have my phone out doing calculations on what the prices are equal to in American dollars.  I would think, “What the crap? A bag of chips is $47??….Oh wait, (pull out the calculator), that’s only like $3 American.”  Living in America for thirty years caused my mind to only think in American currency, and although my husband was born here, he has also had to adjust to pesos instead of dollars because dollars are what he was used to.  There are many financial institutions in the city that will exchange money for Americans, Canadians, etc.  It is always best to check online for the actual exchange rate to make sure the financial institution is not charging a crazy rate for exchanging currency.  For example, they have kiosks at the airport for exchanging money, but their rates are ridiculous compared to the banks inside of the city.

The slow-moving, relaxed atmosphere of San Miguel can be very beneficial at times, but there are other times when I want to scream. People do not get in a hurry to get anything accomplished.  My husband is very talented in the area of wood-working, and when we first got here, my husband’s uncle said he had hired someone to build a cabinet for him, and it took him six months.  Six months??!!   When we go to the grocery store, sometimes we have to stand there for several minutes waiting for the thirteen-year-old sacker to wander around and look for change if we use a larger bill or if we don’t have coins of small currency to round out the amount.  The urge to yell out loudly ” Could you move ANY slower?” enters my mind a lot, but then of course not many people would understand me and would most likely shrug their shoulders and characterize me as just another crazy, spoiled gringa.  You know the things that Americans can usually take care of on their lunch break like car registration, drivers’ license renewal and stuff like that?  Well, don’t expect to get that done in a short amount of time here.  Time really does not exist here compared to our always-in-a-hurry lives in the U.S.  People working as customer service representatives here are as slow as Christmas, and the person that is in front of you in line will most likely take what seems like three hours to complete what he or she came there to do. Oh and there are always those hated “cutters.”  You know, the people who butt in front of you so they can ask the cashier a very important question instead of getting in line behind of you?  I witnessed this while my husband was making a purchase at a mall in a neighboring city.  A lady who obviously thought she was hot-you-know-what butted in while my husband was attempting to complete his transaction to ask the cashier some dumb question that could have been answered by simply reading the signs posted all over the section of the store.  As long as the said person butts in with a polite smile and a generous “Disculpe,” I guess the person they push to the side is automatically expected to accept their rudeness.  I was in line for the bathroom one day, and this older woman just cut in front of like five people to get into a stall.  What the hell?  I guess because she was old, we were all supposed to allow her to waddle her old butt into the stall.  I had no idea what the correct cultural response was, and then again, I had no idea how to express my feelings without speaking English so I just stood there towering over all of the other petite ladies at my five feet, six inches (which is not tall by any standards in America) fuming about how rude she was. I suppose this scenario is another part of Mexican culture I need to get used to; however, it is difficult for me.  I am by no means claiming that Americans do not possess excessive amounts of rudeness, but one thing I have learned since I’ve been here is that most Mexican people are blessed with the virtue of patience. I feel like my level of patience has improved since I have become a mother, especially since my son is now in the often dreaded toddler stage, but I really don’t think my level of tolerance for rude and ignorant people will ever change.

While there are many differences I have experienced coming from a small, East Texas town, I am gradually learning to accept the changes I have had to endure.  Some of them I have adjusted to quite naturally, and others have pushed my anger to rise to the top of my big American head.  One thing I must always remember is that this is a learning experience that I will most-likely be thankful for in the future.


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