Maybe I’m being overly sentimental since Mexico was the first country in The Happy Nomad Tour, but I’m really going to miss it. The Happy Nomad Tour is going far better than I could have imagined and this is largely attributed to the wonderful Mexican people. I am excited to head to Guatemala tomorrow and volunteer with this awesome organization. But first, a proper goodbye.
In real life I am not good at goodbyes despite having to say goodbye so many times already. So now I just treat them as an “until next time”. Well, it’s the same with Mexico because I know I’ll be back in the future.
There is something special here. I haven’t been able to put my finger on what it is exactly, but it’s real and I felt it almost immediately. Could it be the amazing hospitality? Could it be the culture? Could it be the Micheladas? All possible. For sure I’ll be back someday and I’ll try and figure out what that special something is. Until then, all I can offer is some praise and information.
A Mexican friend of mine asked me some questions after I had been here for a couple of weeks. I think the best way to say goodbye to this wonderful country is to share some of the things I learned and dispel some myths, stereotypes, and preconceived notions people have about Mexico – especially north of the border.
Is Mexico Dirty?
No. But it depends how you define “dirty.” I think Mexico suffers from something many countries suffer from – Tragedy of the Commons. When you enter a house it is 100% clean and spotless, but as soon as you walk outside into the shared environment, it’s often a different story.
But in all honesty, Leon was extremely clean. Mexico City was too, along with the center of San Cristobal. However, I had no problem eating street food in Mexico. I never once got sick and I ate A LOT of street food. Is the US dirty because of multi-million pound recalls of meat or people dying from contaminated fruit? It’s all relative. Yes, you will encounter more garbage in the street and might even encounter foul smells every once in a while. But I think that’s part of being human and that the modern American/European lifestyle has become excessively, and perhaps unhealthily, sterile.
In the end, clean is a state of mind.
Is Mexico Dangerous?
Sure. But in many cases the US is more dangerous. Read this excellent article comparing safety in the US and Mexico. If you are part of the drug trade, Mexico is a very dangerous place. If you want to see the pyramids here or visit Cancun, it’s probably as safe as home – often safer. I never once felt in danger here, though I didn’t like waking up to a machine gun in my first hours here.
Is Mexico Poor?
Again, it depends how you define poor. Yes, the average Mexican income is lower than that of the developed countries. But if you look at the big picture, money is a “poor” way of measuring wealth and quality of life. As mentioned above, there is a spirit here. There is a culture that is celebrated in a way I haven’t seen in many other places. In some places, consumption is celebrated. Here, family, music, and love are celebrated. Oh, and food. Mexicans love their food. So yes, if you define wealth purely by money and ability to buy “stuff” then Mexico is poorer than many countries (and far richer than many others). But if you expand the definition of wealth to include other things that actually influence one’s quality of life then I don’t think Mexico is poor at all.
Do Mexicans Want To Leave?
No. I met many Mexicans here who worked in the US legally and illegally. All counted the days until their financial objectives were met so they could return home to Mexico. Again, these are all anecdotes, but after being here it’s easy to understand why a Mexican would not enjoy living in the US or Europe. I can see what they’d be missing after living here for a few weeks.
That said, I think many who do go to the US end up supporting entire families back in Mexico. They often find themselves in a situation where they are responsible for their entire family and as much as they’d like to return home, they can’t let everyone down back at home. It is this pressure that drives them.
There is a saying here, “¡Pobre México! ¡Tan lejos de Dios y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos!” (Poor Mexico, so far from God and so close to the United States!) Make of that what you will.
Other Random Thoughts About Mexico
- I thought I knew what a Mexican/Latino looks like, but after coming here I realize how ignorant I was. I have seen people here who look Asian, Indian (both American Indian and South Asian Indian), Irish (pale skin and red hair), and everything in between. Very diverse.
- I realized that everyone is on their own journey, just as I am. I think it just differs on how much control you have over your own journey. It seems like the poorer you are, the less control you have – yet, at the same time, the more adaptable you are. Or the guys I met at the nursing home. Many were there through no fault of their own, but all adapted to their new reality. Nevertheless, I wish more people played offense in the game of life instead of defense.
- Exploring a country using their language is a completely different experience. Ok, I explored the UK and Ireland in English, but it’s not the same. This has been a completely different experience in a good way. And everyone has been patient with my bad Spanish. Gracias!
- I don’t like the machismo culture very much, though there are pluses and minuses associated with it. There is a lot of jealousy, for example. The women use a lot of make-up. I asked people here if it is possibly related to the machismo culture and opinions varied. But chivalry is ingrained here, and I think there’s nothing wrong with that to a certain point. Sometimes in Scandinavia I worried if I held a door open for a girl she’d be angry.
- Given the cultural focus on the family, I think it would be impossible to feel lonely here. Extended family is much closer to the nuclear family and I think such a support network is great for kids’ self-esteem and development.
- There is far less waste here than in other parts of the world. Old cars are repaired and keep on running, hot water heaters are only used when necessary, etc. They are much more sustainable in many respects.
- I feel cheated that I’ve eaten in Mexican restaurants all my life but never really ate Mexican food. The food here is so much better than what you can find in Mexican restaurants in Europe or the US (in my experience). And the food is very diverse, with different regions of Mexico having different cuisines. I do feel sorry for people who can’t handle spicy food though. It is impossible to enjoy Mexican food without having some tolerance to spicy food.
How I’ve Changed And What I’ve Learned About Myself
- I’m more patient. There were several situations, the immigration circus, for example, where I needed a lot of patience and found it. Being more patient was one of my objectives before this trip started and I hope I continue learning how to be patient.
- I’ve been much more open to new opportunities and experiences, as I mentioned here.
- My Spanish is getting much better. It’s a slow and steady climb up a mountain, but I’ve spoken Spanish exclusively while here except the few days I spent in Mexico City. I’ll get there, but so far so good. Again, patience with myself is needed 🙂
- I need to take life less seriously and enjoy each day more.
- I get nervous less about things I can’t control. For example, the day I went to Mexico City I arrived at 10pm and the whole day I couldn’t get in touch with the person I was staying with (who I had never met before). But I knew everything would work out fine in the end and didn’t think much about it. Big change compared to the old me!
- My brain needs constant stimulation and I’ve been feeding it well so far.
- I like the lack of distance between people here. In Scandinavia there is minimal distance between people class-wise. That’s also great. But here I like that people don’t have much personal space. My bubble, or personal space, has reduced over the years, but I think being here in Latin America will help me reduce it even more.
- I like the family dynamics in Latin culture and I hope to have a family with such dynamics someday if/when I have a family.
I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye than this video. Thanks again and Viva Mexico!