MDF v SMA

I’ve always, secretly, wanted to be something of an agony uncle. My utter lack of sympathy and compassion, added to my sometimes sick sense of humour, have, however, blocked my path into that area of journalism. But I do get occasional emails, Facebook messages, and Twits (twitters, tweets, twats? take your pick…) from concerned people worried about an upcoming visit to the big bad taco that is Mexico DF. Here’s the latest, republished with permission of course…

Your advice, please.


I am a  male, who is living in San Miguel de Allende, with his male partner. It’s been about 2 1/2 years. Of course it’s lovely, but it seems mostly populated by old (bitter) Gringos, who argue mostly about where they can get the cheapest services, or who’s going to the Walmart in Queretaro, or how dangerous is it really, to drive down from Texas this month.

Anyway, I find myself less and less happy here, and though I have found work (not legally), I see that most of the general unhappiness here comes from Old people Who Are Not Working Anymore. There is nothing to do for them but take a morning walk, and hit the bottle in the afternoon, and angry-blog in the evenings. I too am beginning to angry-blog back, which is a bad sign. Mostly they are concerned with their real-estate values, and they haVE ‘head-in-the-sand attitudes about what a mess Mexico is becoming, in terms of personal safety (as they drive their shiny new cars and wear their expensive clothes). I figure if crime-reform ever happens, it”ll start in Mexico City.

I have been in DF once, and found it to be exciting, and a great place. I am warned by everyone not to even think of moving there (crime, crime, crime)… by those same persons who deny the rising crime here in San Miguel and neighboring Celaya (now there’s a town for ya!) I’ll be visiting again within the month.Do most of your friends work, or at least occupy themselves? Is there a retirement community in Mexico City, and will they stay away from me? And.. is it at all possible to live in a place that is somewhat safe, like Roma, without paying huge rents? Rent is cheap here in SMA, but that’s because there is nothing to do. I suppose we could swing $8,000 pesos per month, maybe more. I expect to get robbed or pickpocketed now and then. So, ironically, while we think the country is imploding, we think it best to go the very center; also it seems like more fun.

Is the Gringo-Expat population as asshole-laden there in DF, as it is here? Is San Miguel really the joke that most tourist guidebooks claim it is? I have yet to meet a person from DF who isn’t loving it,…but here, I am warned that I will be killed, and also I won’t be able to breathe, so I should stay away from it.

I Just wondered if you have enthusiastically suggested to others that they should live in Mexico City, or if you refrain from suggesting this… My idea to write came to mind lately when I realized that everyone where I am living has no real job, so there is that ‘nothingness’ which comes with having no purpose. I have work, and should be working right now. (But materials are hard to come by, here) All the materials I need are in downtown Mexico City.

As I said, I was in Mexico City once, last year, and all the fear vanished. But it’s been creeping back.
I blame the media, and gossip. I don’t know. Sorry for rambling.

Tell me your thoughts on San Miguel de Allende- if you have a moment.
I’d appreciate anything, especially along the lines of ‘Get the hell out of there!”

One you your readers,

Obviously, the first thing to note is that….I have a reader! Woohoo! I knew he existed somewhere! 🙂 I’m probably about to lose any other San Miguel Allende readers though. Such is life. There is so much I could write about his, and other peoples questions about living or visiting Mexico City. I could write a book on it, I’m sure. Maybe I will one day. In fact if anyone out there is thinking of writing a book titled The A to Z of Living in The Big Taco, forget about it. I’ve already got it planned…

I must confess I’ve never been to San Miguel Allende. I’ve read about it, and read blogs by some of it’s English speaking residents. Some make for a little good light entertainment. Most, though, are as dreary and dull as I imagine living in the town to be. But it’s a matter of perspective. I’m a city person. Always have been, and always will be I suspect. I do prefer to be in a busy and slightly anonymous place. That’s just me.

The Rough Guide sums up SMA with this line about the community of the town … fleshed out with less ambitious retirees from the US and by flocks of students drawn to the town’s several language and arts schools. Like such a community anywhere, it’s inward-looking, often pretentious and gossip-ridden…..which is pretty much how I’d always imagined it to be. Not my scene.

So what is life like living in Mexico City? Do the fumes choke you to a near state of catatonic delirium? The air quality situation has actually improved a lot in recent years. I think the altitude is more likely to have an effect on someone, and even then only briefly, in a minor way. Will you be robbed, gunned down, beheaded or kidnapped? Well, there’s no point me saying it doesn’t happen. And to be honest there’s an awful lot of people here with stories that’d scare the pants off most people! But I have noticed that most of these stories come from a few years ago and are getting older by the day.

Living in the central parts of the city, most people are going to find that crime is not something that worries them an awful lot. I know of far more of us gringo types who haven’t been robbed than those who have. It pays to be wise in any big city and this one is no exception. But the safe areas are expanding all the time, as areas are regenerated and the policing generally improves. Calle Regina, just a few blocks away from the Zocalo is a great example. A couple of years ago, that was a good place to go if you fancied being robbed. These days, having been repaved, repainted and re-energized, it’s a lively street full of restaurants, bars and people having a good time.

Rent it has to be said is probably a little pricier that other parts of the country, but 8,000 pesos a month is going to get a pretty fine looking apartment in the city. You could get a half decent one bed place for considerably less. And it has to be said that most things actually cost less in DF. Water is subsidized for one. I think electricity and gas are too, but I could be wrong on that one.  Transport is so cheap it’s almost free! Just 3 pesos for a ride on the metro….sell the car! Even better, buy a mountain bike and get some exercise while you get about.

As for the expat community here. I know of one or two retirees, but mostly you’ll find a younger crowd, into the arts and culture, hosting regular parties of all sorts and generally intent of enjoying what Mexico City has to offer. It has to be said I’m one of the least sociable people who are part of that ‘community’, not least because I live a little deeper in the south of the city. But still, I’ve never come across someone I really disliked. Gossip doesn’t travel so far here…people don’t have the time.

I love living in Mexico City. Crime, pollution and the other terrible aspects that are so frequently reported (misreported) don’t bother me. The lack of water does, though that’s easily solved by an incoming resident who seeks out an apartment with a tinaco! The traffic is heavy too , but the more central you live, the less of a problem that is. And they don’t outweight the good things. The life, the museums, the history, the people, the food, the way the city keeps evolving on an almost daily basis. There’s always somewhere to go, something to do, some new people to meet.

Do I recommend Mexico City as a place to live? You bet. Providing you like big city life, then you’ll soon feel at home and wonder why you ever stayed away. San Miguel Allende? Get the hell out of there!  The last word on this I’ll leave to another person who wrote a similarly worried letter a couple of weeks ago. She wrote back after her visit….

Thank you so much for responding to my message.  You were absolutely right. I am completely in love with Mexico City! It’s a gorgeous city with so much to offer. I went absolutely crazy with the picture opportunities.  Thanks again for the tips, but mostly for fighting against our bad image, showing us how beautiful Mexico is and just for caring for it.Saludos!

Any questions?

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35 Comments on "MDF v SMA"

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KimG
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KimG
March 18, 2010 6:13 pm
I can heartily second Gary’s comments. Though I haven’t lived there, I spend about three weeks a year there over the course of the average year. My BF is Mexican, and we hang out with his friends when I’m there. We go to bars, clubs, restaurants, and lots of other things There’s tons to do, and I’ve never felt threatened. As for crime, sure there’s street crime. But I think it’d be a cold day in hell when things got as out of hand with regard to narco-battles as it has in some of the northern states. I vote for… Read more »
Felipe Zapata
Guest
March 18, 2010 8:08 pm
Agony uncle? Thirty years in the newspaper business, and I still had to Google it. More commonly agony aunt, I see. This has to be a relatively recent term. San Miguel is gossipy? That´s a good one. This whole freaking country is gossipy. Mexicans are gossipy out the kazoo. So, that´s not really something you can hold against SMA. San Miguel is what it is. It´s unique in Mexico, a place apart. Great place for shopping and good restaurants, considering its relatively small size. Mexico Lite, it´s called, with reason. If you don´t want to mess with learning Spanish, or… Read more »
blinky
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blinky
March 19, 2010 10:23 am
I would prefer not to be labeled as “working illegally.” If I made, say, a solar-powered messenger bag, to charge your laptop or your phone, or light up at night for bicycle-visibility, and I did this myself, the stitching and leather, and solar cells (from eBay), and I sold one, every… 2 or 3 weeks, am I really “working illegally”? Really? I have a documentable bank income, from the States. I can pay the rent and buy what I need to live here. If I sell something I made, that’s beer money. Is every artist at the weekend art fairs… Read more »
Vato Loco
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Vato Loco
March 19, 2010 12:18 am

The thing i hate the most about this city is the traffic. With all the construction going on, plus peceros stopping in the middle of the street and the not so uncommon rioters, moving in this city is becoming impossible.

I spend about 3-4 hours a day inside my car… even though my daily commute is only about 20 km.

Michael Wolf
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Michael Wolf
March 19, 2010 7:53 am

I’ve never been to San Miguel, but I have to wonder: is it possible to find grown up sized clothes there?

blinky
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blinky
March 19, 2010 8:50 am

Mostly Caftans for middle-aged white ladies, and plaid school-uniform skirts. Nothing more,
really.

Felipe Zapata
Guest
March 19, 2010 10:21 am

Plaid school-uniform skirts can look really hot on a middle-aged babe, depending on her condition and attitude, of course.

Daniel Sosa Tellez
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Daniel Sosa Tellez
March 19, 2010 11:49 am
I’m doing the exact opposite of what Felipe Zapata suggests. I’m a Mexican graduating from an Ivy League institution, who could remain and work legally in the US without much hassle… yet I am returning to Mexico City because I found a job that I like, and which might allow me to work on improving my city and my country… I am slightly skeptical of the whole pollution issue. I was in Santiago de Chile last week, pollution is as bad there or even worse. Tokyo is about the same too. Beijing has much worse pollution than Mexico City. Yet… Read more »
Obet
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Obet
March 19, 2010 5:22 pm
Please Gary don’t recommend to the “provincianos” to move to the D.F. we are already full of people, I think is better scare them with histories of crime, chaos and pollution. Say to them that all the natives of Mexico City we are a bunch of crazy killer rapists, and you could have survived thanks to all your years of training in the Royal Navy. Anyway…if you still advising to come to “Chilangolandia”, better recommend to settle in Iztapalapa or in Tepito. 😀 I’m agree with the transportation issue; why somebody wants to drive in the D.F. its just awful.… Read more »
blinky
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blinky
March 19, 2010 11:26 pm

Iztapalapa… is that like Condessa?

[looks at map]

D’oh!

Dan Green
Guest
Dan Green
March 19, 2010 10:16 pm
Gary, It’s all a matter of personal taste. I happen to like SMA and am a regular visitor,as I find the town’s size and amenities conducive to bipedal exploration. I love watching the car gather dust once I get to my residence! Personally, I have always had a preference for smaller communities, and when in major metropolitan locations (LA, SF, DEN, MIA, DAL, DET, TOR, AUS, DC, LON, AMS, et al.) I’ve been fortunate to be able to live outside of “downtown”. I now live 20 miles south of Raleigh in the midst of olde tobacco fields, yet only5 minutes… Read more »
Toni
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Toni
March 20, 2010 2:51 pm
My dos centavos – I have lived in San Miguel for over 4 years and do not share the view or experiences of the guy asking if he should move to DF. There is every kind of gringo here with every variety of life style and the population is in fact getting younger and younger. The cultural events are unending and I never “shop”. I lived in DF for over a year teaching English and lived in a working class neighborhood to the north, after Reform ends. I was there in 2002-3 and I had no idea how bad the… Read more »
echoman2000
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echoman2000
March 20, 2010 11:32 pm

Wow. Who new? This has been the best dirt I’ve read about DF vs. SMA since I arrived here 3 years ago. I hope to move to DF in the next year. SMA is DOA. Can’t wait. Thanks for the posts. I’m more determined now then ever. DF or bust. Lust for life. SMA is full of bitter people waiting to die. Time to move on.

Felipe Zapata
Guest
March 21, 2010 6:53 am

Jeez, echoman, talk about leaping from one extreme to the other. Take a gas mask when you head to DF. And up your accident insurance, way up. Personally, I´d take a look at some of the gazillions of other locations in Mexico that are neither DF nor SMA.

KimG
Guest
KimG
March 21, 2010 9:16 am
OK, on returning, I’d agree with most of the posts about the traffic. It’s insane, especially around holidays. Mexicans are aggressive drivers, and you can’t really adapt a courteous, suburban American driving style there or you will likely be eaten alive. Want a good prep in the USA? Come to Boston and practice. I think we have the most aggressive drivers in the USA, at least of the many places I’ve visited and driven. But I’d also agree that taking the Metro is the way to go. At rush hour it is indeed very crowded. And there are the typical… Read more »
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