First things first, when it comes to living in Mexico, it’s the weather and lifestyle that attracts most of us. Okay, that, and the cost of living. The thought of living out our years on “Mexico” time, lounging on a pristine beach, or in a quiet colonial town, is indeed alluring. And, in many ways, Mexico delivers. However, not always. The pace of life in Mexico is slower and moves to the rhythm of the people, not to a clock. The typical work day includes a 2 hour afternoon break to allow for a nap . . . aka “Siesta.” Depending on how big the place you live in, the whole town can shut down for the hours between 2-4pm-ish (not incoincidentally, the hottest part of the day).
I recall my first few months in Mexico as being filled with excitement, wonderment, confusion and an avalanche of culture shock. Most gringos go through this same period of adjustment. Some people can deal with the changes and some cannot. Those who adapt find a wonderful home here! And, those who don’t, are often carried out babbling to themselves!
During your “adjustment period” in Mexico, you should be prepared for things to not happen like they do in the US or Canada. Your focus should be that great tip for sanity (particularly when dealing with bureaucratic red-tape): Truly make an effort to appreciate the differences instead of complaining about them – we’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto! Keep your sense of humor handy, your patience at the ready and learn to endure the bad and embrace the good.
I’d like to speak from personal experience now, and share some wisdom that I’ve garnered as a “gringo.” The idea of service in Mexico is not the same as it is in the US or Canada. In fact, a real “customer service” concept here is noticeable by its absence. However, Mexicans, in general, see themselves as service-oriented, eager to please, and sometimes they are. An example – if you ask a Mexican if he/she can do something, the answer 99.9% of the time will be “yes.” This includes projects like nuclear physics, building rocket ships and solving the mysteries of the universe . . . they will agree to do anything, because they simply cannot say “no!” Ability and qualifications to accomplish the task are just not considered to be necessary ingredients.
Another concept to always keep in mind is that, contrary to what most gringos think, “mañana” does NOT mean tomorrow. It’s more of a vague idea of “some day in the future.” Keep that in mind when someone tells you, “mañana!” Also, bear in mind that you typically have limited resources and back up when it comes to having a handy man, plumber, electrician, carpenter or other service person do a job for you. You won’t have the phonebook, or internet listings, to fall back on when someone doesn’t show up. Be patient, and when you find a good one hang on to them.
“Saving face” is very important here. The typical “assertive American” routine of getting angry and frustrated will only lead to abandonment. If you must make a point, do in private, do it calmly (actually it won’t hurt to apologize for burdening them) and never in front of subordinates or family members. What I have personally learned to do is just put things “out there” for the projects I need done and know that in time, it will get done . . . it always does, but it probably won’t be on your clock. The clock being used belongs to the people you are dealing with, and believe it, anything can reorder their priorities – with your needs most likely being way down their list.
You’ll develop your own expectations and working relationships as you go. I don’t make appointments in Mexico anymore. If someone tells me they will be at my house for a project or delivery, I simply say “great, here’s my number, call me when you arrive, or are close.” This has saved me countless hours and degrees of aggravation. In the beginning, there was frustration that I held on to for months – I expected them to be on MY time! “I’m an American, damn it!!” came out of my mouth too many times – I am embarrassed to admit that, now. I am sure there were plenty of “stupid gringo” comments along the way . . . which I deserved.
But, all in all, it’s a wonderful life in Mexico and learning to be patient has been an important part of my personal growth. I am, honestly, a better person because of my time in Mexico! My wife and I cannot complain with a beautiful home that cost one-third to one-half what we would have paid back in Colorado – and it’s paid off and on the Caribbean. Fresh fish and produce are abundant. Cat and I live in a small town called Tulum about an hour and a half south of Cancun. The people and the place are simply put, magical. And the connection we have with the community and nature is something we never take for granted. We live in paradise and are lucky enough to have a business that allows us to do that.
Yes, life in Mexico is a very good life for us. And, I have no doubt that with a few changes in your expectations, you can make it happen for you, too!