‘Mexico? What the hell d’you wanna go there for?’ asked Jeffrey from US Homeland Security when he read my immigration form at JFK Airport. And to be fair, he had a point. Mexico isn’t top of most people’s bucket list. What with Donald Trump and his wall, high crime rates, and narcos, my parents weren’t too pleased when I announced I would be spending 2.5 months there, solo. I couldn’t honestly tell you what I was expecting from Mexico, beyond the age-old cultural stereotypes of tacos, tequila, drugs, sombreros and pyramids.
After a little over a month here, I can safely say I haven’t met any narcos, nor have I visited any pyramids. No one wears sombreros but Mexicans really do love tacos and tequila. But that’s hardly scratching the surface of this massive country. And often, it’s the things you’d never think about that are the most different, so here’s a round-up of some of my highlights and lowlights so far.
Strangers are everybody’s business
As a Brit, I am used to studiously ignoring strangers in most situations, or engaging in polite small talk about the weather when required to. In Mexico, you greet absolutely everyone by kissing them on the cheek, and people seem to be infinitely curious about what a 5'10" blonde girl is doing alone in Mexico. Whether it be bus drivers, old ladies selling street food, newsagents or complete randomers coming up to me on the street, it’s almost guaranteed they will all ask who I am, how old I am, where I am from and what I am doing here. Now I have come to terms with resembling the BFG, I’ve come to quite enjoy the attention. Too much maybe. To the extent that I feel minorly offended when people don’t ask me those questions on a daily basis.
Time is relative
Admittedly all time is relevant, but there’s no place this is truer than Mexico. Bus timetables don’t exist: my commute could take 15 mins or 45 mins depending on the bus driver’s mood/desire to get home for dinner. Meal times don’t exist - eat when you’re hungry and eat lots because there’s no guarantee when you’ll eat again (a week of immense hanger taught me this the hard way). Don’t trust people who say ‘ahorita’ - they’ll be at least half an hour. There’s no point even trying to be punctual in Mexico - just sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. You’ll get there eventually.
Spice up your life
Spice is a way of life. There is no food on which it is not acceptable to put spicy salsa or chilli on. Popcorn. Soup. Drinks (called a michelada and it’s gross). Sweets. I would call it sacrilege, others would call it essential. As a result, don’t believe anyone who answers ‘un poquito’ (a little) to the question ‘Es pica?’ (Is it spicy?). Mexican ‘poquito’ and my version of ‘poquito’ are 110% NOT the same thing. Another lesson I have learnt through much pain, clenched teeth, many glasses of water and a lot of laughter from Mexican onlookers. At least chilli is meant to be good for the digestive system, right?
Ain’t no fiesta like a Mexican fiesta
It may as well be illegal not to drink tequila in Mexico: alcohol is cheap and plentiful, you can use literally anything as an excuse for a party, and the phrase ‘But you are in Mexico, have another drink’ has become embarrassingly familiar. About half my Spanish vocab has been learnt from cheesy reggaeton song lyrics. Dancing is taken seriously, and not just the awkward club-shuffle: part of Mexican education seems to include learning how to shake-yo-booty. Last time I went out, there was a live performance of Despacito, complete with backing dancers. The only slight downside to Mexican fiestas is the 6 hours time difference, which has led to my mates receiving dubious drunk messages at 9am. Sorry guys.
It rains. A lot.
Many people, myself included, were under the impression that Mexico = sun. And sometimes, that is true. But Mexico is also bloody enormous, and there’s a huge range of weather. There’s been more sun in the UK in the past month than there has here, much to the amusement of my smug friends and family. The rain is insane (think hail stones, torrential downpours, lightning and thunder that sounds like the end of the world is looming), and you never know when it will strike. The neon pink pac-a-mac I threw in as a last minute, definitely-won’t-need-this addition to my rucksack, has become my most trusted ally when it comes to Mexican weather. Next time, I should probably check the weather forecast.
It’s not all tacos, tequila and fun.
Mexico is wracked with problems: democracy is dubious, the police are corrupt, and wages are abysmally low (minimum wage is 85 pesos a day, which is roughly £3.80). Diabetes is on the rise thanks to sugary American junk food, drink driving causes around 10,000 deaths a year, and pollution is choking Mexico City. The macho, misogynist culture drives me up the wall, and I can’t wait to be able to flush toilet paper down the loo again. Like every country, Mexico has its issues, but hey - nowhere’s perfect. Despite its problems, Mexico is a crazy, wacky, wonderful, warm-hearted place, much like its inhabitants: Jeffrey may have been right about the crazy part but there are many, many reasons to come to Mexico. Not least because on my first day here I was told “Donald Trump is very asshole”: my kind of place.
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