Interview: Biggest Adjustment

This is the second in our four part series of interviewing people who are living or have recently lived in Mexico.

What was the biggest thing you had to adjust to in Mexico?

The biggest adjustment was learning the processes for accomplishing bill paying, garbage pickup, phone repair. Daily things that you don’t encounter when you’re traveling in Mexico.
Barbara Eckrote from Babs of San Miguel.blogspot

When we were in Mexico it was very interesting to see how bills were paid. In the US, you get mailed a bill. If you don’t pay it the service gets shutoff and you have to pay some type of expensive fee to get the service turned back on again in addition to paying the bill. This fee recognizes that it is expensive for the telephone, electric or cable company to turn your service off and back on again. Mexico’s infrastructure is built so it is not expensive to turn things on and off. Sometimes you would get a paper bill, but often you would need to just remember to go down and pay whatever you owe. If you didn’t that service would get cut off so you’d know to go pay it.

Probably the language difference.
Brenda from Brenda And Roy Going To Mexico

This was a challenge for us as well. We picked up quite a bit while we were there, but not nearly as much as we would have liked.

The inefficiency and corruption in government were hard for me to adjust to. I also had trouble with how poor service can be, at all levels. The concept that the customer is always right is not known in this part of Mexico.
RiverGirl from RiverGirl

The corruption was something that we didn’t have to deal with specifically, but it was very different. There is just a different attitude about being on the police force. While I’m sure that some officers have great integrity it appears that the standards of what is acceptable is much lower. Part of this comes from not paying high enough wages to police officers and expecting them to supplement their income through bribes. I’ve heard of some cases where a policeman is given his job, but with the condition that he pay the person who hired him a certain amount each month for the privilege of being employed.

I’ve had to become more patient with the way things work around here and had to try and let go of my strong feelings with regards to the way things “should work”. There are a lot of extra annoyances and stresses about living in Mexico. Generally those annoyances can be pretty funny and interesting when you first move here. But after a while, when you get into a routine of things and try to live a regular “real” life from day to day, they can be more and more annoying and stressful. So when the repairman says he’ll show up at 6 and never does, but decides to show up a week later unannounced, you have to really learn to roll with it. Sometimes I do….sometimes…. not so much! LOL!
Elizabeth from Mexico “Way”

We ran into this as well. At first it seemed obvious that if people would just do stuff the way we expected things would work out much better. Of course we didn’t tell anyone this, but you get use to the way things work in the States and assume everyone should follow the same protocol. After we had been there for awhile, more of the things that were different made sense.

For example, in Durango they have free trash pickup twice each day, but most of the streets don’t have signs.  I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t make people pay for the trash and invest in street signs.  However after being there for a while it makes sense.  People can still find their way around, but a lot of people wouldn’t want to pay extra for trash pickup, so it would just end up in the streets.

Easy. The traffic. Still haven’t adjusted.
Rosana Hart from Mexico with Heart

We generally avoided driving. The taxi service was good and we felt much safer with someone who knew how to avoid the other drivers. Once I was out driving with my friend and he warned me that I should yield to traffic at the next intersection. I didn’t see any signs so I asked how he knew that. He said “Everyone knows that the other street has the right of way.” He said it was probably on some map or something in the city records. For me that was a little scary and good reason to avoid driving more than necessary.

Can’t think of anything right now other than learning the language.
John Bokma from Johnbokma

John evidently had a very easy time adjusting. 🙂

Rudeness of people, especially in traffic. Inconsideration in general that manifests itself in countless ways.
Michael Dickson from La vida bougainvillea

When we were there we found things that seemed rude, but as we got to understand the culture better, we realized that some of the things we were doing seemed very rude to the Mexicans.

The traffic is a big issue. Coming from the US there is a very different standard of what is acceptable and it is difficult to get use to.

Learning Spanish – of course we knew we were just beginners but it was a significant stress not being able to communicate well and understanding so little of what people said despite studying Spanish six months before our trip and daily once we got to Mexico.
Jim and Mindy from Jim and Mindy in Rural Veracruz

I found that much of my study of Spanish was useless in real conversations. Either my accent was wrong or I was using a correct synonym that was so uncommon they had no idea what I was talking about. I became very good at charades however.

The increasing militarization of Mexico has been difficult. I have still not completely adjusted to having to pass through military roadblocks almost wherever I go.
Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson from Tijuana Bible

I wasn’t sure whether the military checkpoints should make me feel safer or more nervous. The only ones I remember going through were with our friends and were no big deal. It still seemed odd to see people with machine guns waving you over.

To be honest, I feel just as comfortable in Mexico as where I grew up in the UK or have lived in the US, if not more so. It’s actually quite hard to think of anything that really needed adjusting to. 

Witnessing levels of poverty absent or hidden in other countries, like kids of 7 selling chewing gum on the streets or flowers in bars late at night is something you never fully get used to and there are constant reminders of the huge divides and contrasts of a modern Mexican city like Guadalajara. That would be the major thing, and everyone has their own way of assuaging their first-world guilt.

On a more prosaic level though, some people take a while to get used to the food, I never had any problems and ate food from street vendors almost every day (the trick is to look for places with queues of locals). Drinking bottled water was new to me and having the water guy deliver gallon bottles every few days was odd at first but it’s not exactly life-changing. Driving can be tricky at major intersections, but despite Guadalajara’s ever rising levels of traffic, it’s still nowhere near as dangerous/ frustrating as it is getting from A to B in the SF Bay Area. Paying tolls to use decent motorways does take some adjusting though. If you’re planning a long journey you’ll need a lot of cash handy to pay the tolls for the extremely modern, well-equipped roads. However you can plan ahead with a handy new web tool from the Transport Department’s website that tells you how much the charges will be.

Gwyn Fisher from Gwyn’s Blog

We had reasonably good success with the food. I got really sick once and we aren’t really sure why. Bottled water was a little bit of an annoyance especially when you go out to eat. I generally drink a lot of water with spicy foods so I can easily spend as much on water as on the meal itself.

Looking back, there was really no major adjustment, because I was already sufficiently familiar with the country and knew what to expect.
Jennifer J. Rose from Staring at Strangers

3 thoughts on “Interview: Biggest Adjustment

  1. On military (and police) “protection:” Every shootout in Tijuana (where we have lived for 3.5 years now) has involved police or military on all sides. Nobody is safer, in my opinion, by increased police or militarization (in any country, but certainly not in Tijuana, Mexico). The U.S. is not safer because it is involved in two (or more) wars. Mexico is not safer with more weapons on the street. Crime rates have gone up with the increased militarization. Every time more soldiers arrive, more murders occur.

    This is especially frightening along the border where there has been a tremendous increase in military presence on both sides. Recently a young man (Mexican) was shot along the border with Arizona by a U.S. soldier who said he thought he was a goat. ???

    Send the military back to their barracks on both sides!

  2. @Lynn – It may depend on where you are, but the police and military we encountered in Durango were nice and helpful. Tijuana is right on the border so I’d expect there to be many more problems there.

    I don’t think puling out the military in Mexico border towns would make them any safer. It might temporarily reduce the number of people getting murdered by shifting the balance of power toward the mafia, but just letting them run things isn’t really a sustainable solution.

    I think a lot of the problem is that Mexico doesn’t seem to have the resources (or perhaps the will) to really do away with the mafia so neither side is going to really win. In the US, a lot of the mafia wasn’t brought down for their biggest crimes–it was tax evasion that did them in. The corruption in Mexico isn’t helping the problem either.

    I’d be hesitant to draw conclusions about the country as a whole from the border towns. Even in the US, the border towns can be pretty dangerous, but that doesn’t really tell you anything about the US as a whole. It is like measuring the dangers of living in inner city LA to determine the danger of living in rural Nebraska.

    Thanks for your thoughts. It sounds like the Tijuana area is a lot more dangerous than I realized.

  3. The biggest adjustment I had was more just a change of rolls. Since I’m the only one who speaks Spanish in our house, I now had to set up all the utilities, pay bills, do all the dirty work that involved dealing with people. So adjusting to my husband constantly asking “Did you ask him…?” and me not anticipating what he would have wanted me to ask was the biggest adjustment.

    Since then, teaching my husband to be able to go pay bills and stuff has made it much easier.

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