I read Sober Señorita’s “11 Things You Must Accept Living as an Expat in Mexico“and, like many of her commenters, I agreed with some things and disagreed with others. While her 11 Things list is true for her experiences in Cancun, I thought I’d make my own version for my experiences in Puebla. Here goes:
1. The banks: This is probably my biggest pet peeve. The banks are full of fees, arrogance, incompetency, and inefficiency. You can do a lot of things online, but if you have to go to the bank for anything other than to make a simple deposit, expect to spend one to two hours being shuttled between different unhelpful employees and ridiculously long lines.
2. Lines: Lines here are aggressive. If you want to get something, you need to be willing to sacrifice personal space (get as close to the person in front of you as possible, or risk being skipped) and to practice your shouting. Not rude shouting, but shouting to get the vendor’s attention when you’re, say, in a big crowd in the market and everyone and their mother wants to buy something from the same person. I’ve gotten so used to these tactics that once, when I was visiting the US, I accidentally skipped a bunch of people at the post office because I just assumed they weren’t actually in the line. There was too much space between them!
3. Traffic and pedestrians: A friend who drives in New York once told me, “You just have to be prepared for drivers to do anything.” And that’s exactly the way it is here. As a pedestrian, you need to be extra careful about crossing streets. Always make sure the driver sees you and is going to stop, and never cross a light that isn’t red. Be particularly vigilant about buses and taxis (buses are, sadly, known for mowing down pedestrians, even the ones waiting at the bus stop). A good rule to follow is “When in Rome, do as the Romans” and cross the street when (several, not just the daredevils) local people cross.
4. Every service making tons of noise: the jingle from the gas truck, the whistles from the garbage men, the shouts from the water delivery men, the flute of the knife sharpener. Anyone who has a service to offer in your neighborhood will announce it with some sort of sound. And when you’re dying to take a shower but you’re all out of gas for your water heater, you’ll be at your door like a bloodhound, honing in on anything that sounds remotely like the gas song. There’s even a cumbia featuring the shouts from the people who buy used things: “Se Compran Colchones” (“Mattresses Bought Here”).
5. Parties: Expect to get home right at dawn, or, worst case, at lunch time the next day. I’ve even been to weddings that have “Breakfast at 6am” listed on their menu.
6. Gas and water: Oh, how I long for the days when I never ran out of gas or water. Houses here have “cisternas,” a huge collection tank for water, and you need to use a “bomba,” or pump, to get it up on your roof so it can flow back down into your pipes. If your cisterna’s out of water, you’ll need to call a “pipa,” which is a giant truck that delivers water. And if your bomba’s broken, then you’ll need to call the plumber. I don’t usually have water problems, but what drives me nuts is the gas (for your stove and water heater). It follows Murphy’s Law: You’re at home all day and the gas truck goes by a million times, and you think, nah, I have plenty. And then the next morning before work, your water heater refuses to turn on, your stove rejects your attempts to light it, and you’re screwed because you won’t be back home until the gas service has stopped running for the day. Go figure.
7. Eating times: At first, it’s weird to eat lunch at 2pm (or even later) and dinner between 8 and 10pm. But then you get used to it and it all seems to make more sense. Just bring snacks for the long periods between meals.
8. Cake: So moist, so wrong. Some people love “tres leches” cake, which is soaked in milk, but I do not. I’ll take a regular ole vanilla cake with no milk seeping from it like an overly soaked sponge, please.
9. Informality: In the beginning, it might drive you nuts how people invite you everywhere and confirm all plans, and then never show up for anything. After a few months, you’ll start doing that yourself! Not everyone is perpetually late or flakey, and you’ll have friends that will get mad at you if you are. But if someone leaves you waiting for him/her without warning, don’t get too mad. It’s just a different social scene.
10. The metric system: If you live in a country that doesn’t use the Metric System (ahem, the US), then you’ll need to adjust to asking for food by the quarter kilo or measuring distances by the kilometer. It’s not difficult to adapt. Just don’t make the mistake that I did and ask for a kilo (2 lbs) of jalapeños at the market when you really only need two or three peppers. Or, do make that mistake and then you’ll learn the metric system really quickly!
11. The little stores: My friend Emma moved to Chile last year and wrote about how conflicted she felt about having to go to different little stores for everything she needed. In the beginning, it can be overwhelming to have to stop by the carnicería (butcher shop), verdulería (fruits and veggies shop), panadería (bakery), farmacia (pharmacy), abarrotes (general groceries, often dried or preserved), expendio de pan (bread that’s near or past its expiration date and therefore on sale)… Of course, we do have Walmart, Costco, Sam’s, and infinite chains of Mexican grocery stores, but the fact is, they’re expensive, and the produce they sell isn’t usually fresh. By going to all the little places, you not only get to know the people who sell you their products, but you also get ripe fruit, fresh bread, and better prices. Another option is the market, which will often have most of what a grocery store has, just separated into different stalls.
And there you have it. These are the eleven things that I had the most difficulty adjusting to, or still have problems with today. What’s on your list?