Home Or Away

One of my students asked me last week whether I still feel like a tourist in Mexico. I’ve been here very nearly five years, so….no. Not really. Not all of the time, anyway. But I don’t feel like I’m a Mexican either. Or even that Mexico is truly ‘home’. Other bloggers sometimes post about Mexico, pointing out that it is now home. One of the expats I know best in the country declares Mexico to now be home. But I don’t.

I think the biggest difference between me and aforementioned others, is that I moved here with a view to stay a year or two. Maybe three. It’s turned into five. It will come close to six. But it’s never been in my mind that I’d be here forever. I’ve never made a big investment in my life in Mexico, except perhaps, with the turtles. Other than them there is nothing holding me here. A killer career, a mortgage or other sizable loan. I have a wife, that is true. But she wants to make the UK her home, so it doesn’t count. I’m also reminded with every trip through the front door, by every person I meet, that I’m different. Not from these parts. Is it truly possible to feel a clearly foreign place is home? As in, where the heart is, and more.

I am not enfranchised here. The UK general election that will occur in a couple of months is of far greater importance to me. I follow Mexican football, but I can’t quite get up the passion I have for Liverpool FC, and I will cheer on the team in white and blue at the World Cup, although I wish the short guys in green the best of luck too. They’ll need it. By the bucketful.

It’s not that I feel unwelcome in Mexico. It’s not that I don’t enjoy living here – I do. I could stay here a lot longer, quite happily. But I have wondered how to describe my presence here in terms that go beyond ‘immigrant’. Something with the descriptive power of ‘home’.  In transit?  Too vague. Temporary resident? I was looking for a single word. Purgatory? Closer, perhaps! Maybe I should just settle for ‘guerro’. It means little, but at least everyone knows what it means.

To follow on from previous posts and comments – to blog or not to blog from London? I’ve been running this blog on one platform or another for nearly 7 years. A year and half of that I was in the UK. Blog entries from there? Zero. Apart from my two week holiday last year. The thing is, London is and always will, I suspect, be home.  I’d like to think I’ll view my home country with new eyes after my Mexican adventure. But I’ll have less free time on my hands, I am sure. We’ll have to see.

One day I may return. We;ve talked about it. Save five thousand British pounds annually, and in just ten years there’s enough in the piggy bank for a very nice home in Merida. Another suggestion I got was to simply stay in Mexico. Tempting. There is another solution, although the logistics of making is a reality seem a little daunting…

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    • I have read that Mexico City has cut in half the smog problem in the city. Have any of you noticed the change???? Taling with folks in N.E. many either have or planning to relocate to Mexico a few to Mexico City and others to Playa or Merida. Such an escape is it not or just a fulfillment of one’s life dream or the need to reestablish yourself as in slow down “smell the flowers”. Mexico City is a diverse city is it not? A lot goes on in all over. I can understand how you have all ended up there of course it might have been for job purposes also. I like cosmopolitan, can go your own way and make a life to enjoy. Enjoy.

      • The air is very clean at the moment, but that’s largely because we had torrential and unseasonal downpours at the beginning of the year which sorted out the air nicely!

  • How does this work at home?

    At least with me, the Other Half is lately on a “Leave Mexico!”
    kick (after he witnessed a teenage stabbing AND a club fight, where a girl’s classic car is completely destroyed– one was in December and the other was Sunday—
    by gang-bangers–, yes, in San Miguel)..

    and then he chills out, and he is in love with the ‘raw beauty’
    all around.. and the 200 dollar rent..! meanwhile, I’m thinking, well, we could just go to DF where we
    EXPECT this, and when it does not happen, then … great! Also, they have police in DF.

    But usually the same day, I get almost run over by a cab here and hear “pinche gringo!” or some crap.

    So, we almost can agree that if we DID leave, we’d never have the funds to move back the stuff and tools we brought down! So.. to me the next best answer is Mexico City…

    because really, Atlanta isn’t really in Georgia, (have you ever been in rural Georgia?)
    so maybe Mexico City isn’t really in Mexico (I mean, gay marriage and so forth?)

    I love this new analogy i have just invented!

    sr

    • Yeah, Mexico City is different… I think it’s the only truly “liberal” city in all of Mexico, a place where you can live without being bothered by traditions or “custom”, a place where you can exist outside the rigid social hierarchy that you find elsewhere. Having been brought up in Mexico City, I lived under the assumption that Mexico was a forward-looking country that valued social and political liberalism, secularism and individualism. In fact, the rest of the country is still staunchly conservative, and many are still being told by the Church how to live their lives. In Mexico City you can make a living, live your own life, and no one will bother you… And plus it’s sufficiently diverse, cosmopolitan, big and quirky to keep you amused.

      If I am to live in Mexico, it has to be in Mexico City -at least while I’m young.

    • I can’t think of a time where I saw someone stabbed in Mexico City. Of course it happens, but I actually think the risk of falling victim to a random bit of street violence is less in DF than it is in the UK.

      I have seen death though. Sometimes life can be cheap, and in Mexico, where basic health and safety laws are not enforced, life can be very cheap. And then there are the roads….you need to take care, that’s for sure. Especially after dark if you ask me. Street lighting is poor and drink driving is not yet a socially unacceptable activity.

      This was the saddest incident I have seen.

  • Daniel: I am of Europoean background, educated, family not very prosperous and yet I expect to be treated equally and I am sure relations are far different than they are in the states. I have become familiar with the Mexican way of life (only through literature, Internet, films and friends) and I suspect that it is not, obviously, the same as in “real” life. I will have a short visit to be a tourist/business and most positively will extend myself with respect and graciousness to the peoples.

    • Hi Carol,
      I was actually trying to describe myself, not foreign visitors! I wanted to show some empathy to Gary by explaining that many Mexicans can feel like outsiders in their own country because of things like ethnic origin, values, traditions and education.
      You will be treated well in Mexico, not “equally” as if you were a native but better (ask journalist David Lida why.. he’s written a chapter about it in his book “First Stop in the New World”). However, it’s a two-edged sword: a majority of Mexicans will treat you very well because of your condition as a tourist (Mexicans are, by and large, a curious bunch who get excited by the opportunity to meet foreigners and practice their English) but there are some con artists and fraudsters who scam tourists…

      Go to Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum to read about the most common scams. Number one in my list is taxis…

      • Daniel: Thank you for your information. I shall look into it with much interest. Taxi drivers have a tendency to “scam” you if they realize that you do not know your way around, i.e. NYC, Boston just to name a couple of cities so I cannot imagine any city in Mexico not being any different. I had once considered moving to Mexico several years ago never materialized so I will be a tourist instead. Takes time for things to happen for some of us. As I told Gary we are going to Cancun and then to Merida and now Playa not necessarily in that order. Gary gave me some advice. My friend is planning to relocate there either Merida or Playa we shall see. You live where – Mexico City as others on the blog?

  • I don’t know if this helps you feel better Gary, but you needn’t be a foreigner in Mexico to feel “different” or discriminated against (or discriminated “for”, as it were)… When you are 6’4″, have brown hair, white skin and green eyes, brought up by atheist, liberal, college-educated middle-class parents… well then there are many, many contexts in which you might feel, ehm, a bit different because then you belong to minorities at many different levels.

    Many Mexicans aren’t part of the “dominant” mestizo culture, either because they come from predominantly European backgrounds or from predominantly Amerindian (indigenous) ones. Historically, mestizos have been racist against the indigenous peoples but have been deferential toward the white minority. In general, many Mexicans -especially outside big cities- are still very deferential toward whites (Mexican or foreign). The natives will treat you with a mix of respect, fear and resentment. So sometimes it plays out for you, and sometimes against you.

    Anyway, I’m just trying to raise awareness to the wider issue of race relations in Mexico, a theme often overlooked because of the dominant ideology imposed after the Revolution (i.e. the idea that we are one race, the Mestizo race). There is a continuum of ethnicity in Mexico but that doesn’t mean that all Mexicans treat other equally, and in any case there is still a very, very strong correlation between how European your background is, on the one hand, and how educated and prosperous your family is, on the other hand.

    About what Kim said, well I don’t know if I like “standing out” per se in Mexico, but being about one foot taller than most native tends to play to my advantage, except when I’m in a microbus…

    • I was born here in the D.F., my parents were both born in provincia, their parents came from central europe. The other day at home they gave me a letter addressed to a different apartment intended for somebody with a completely different name, not even close. When I returned it to the guy at the lobby, the doorman told me they assumed it was for me since it was a “strange” name like mine. He didn’t even say “foreign” just “strange” (raro). Everywhere I’m a “güero” or “güerito” (blondie) which I’m not, I’ve got brown hair. The cruel reality in Mexico is that I’m treated better for that, have more opportunities than the average mestizo.

  • You are quite correct. I much rather would like to spend my time meeting the people — learning a different cultrue as opposed to going to a beach full of tourists from USA and other countries. No I want to walk take in the scenery and why not soak up what is around me. Yes discrmination is every where, unfortunately. I have never been fond of it in all my years. The beauty of Merida I look forward to and may be take in the ocean too. That time of the year in New England where we are looking for that feel spring which we had recently but desire it more. ‘Adios’

    • For the ocean, I highly recommend a bus trip to Cancun and perhaps beyond, if you have the time! The coast near Merida, whilst ok, is really nothing special! But then Merida is beautiful enough to make up for that!

      Alternatively, for swimming, find yourself a nice cenote somewhere closer.

  • Well I shall see when I spend my week in Merida. It is only natural that another country will, of course, not accept you, yet perhaps I should have used another descriptive word. I hope to just enjoy the atmosphere, foods, culture, ruins and whatever. It will be a one time opportunity for me. You are right that I will stand out foreigners stand out in the USA do they not? We are all the same for that matter. Any how it shall be interesting and fun. I shall bring my journal.

    • I wouldn’t go so far as to say you won’t be accepted….I am sure that 99.9% of the Mexicans you meet will make you very welcome!

      I think foreigners stand out far less in the US though. The States is a true melting pot of many different international cultures, languages, colours and religions. Mexico is much less so.

  • I myself have yet to experience the “exotic” foreigner as Kim writes of. I have lived my trip through reading books on Mexico, research on the Internet, practicing my Spanish — what Spanish I confess! I strive for the colors, the peoples culture, history and most of all just melding into the Mexican people — feeling a new taste for adventure….will I over-stay my one week visit and become intoxicated as others?

    • Unless you look Mexican, you will never truly ‘meld’ into the background. You will always stand out, and more to the point, the Mexican people you meet will keep you aware of the fact. In my opinion, anyway!

  • Frankly, one of the things I like about Mexico is being the exotic foreigner with the funny accent. I love being totally different than everyone else. I’m not sure if that would wear thin with time, but one day I hope to find out.

    Here in Boston I feel like I’m just another generic white guy.

    Also in Mexico City I feel about 20 years younger, which is also a nice feeling.

    And while I like my home here in Boston, I’m a native of California, and have never really had that same “at home” feeling here overall. Psychographically, Boston is a VERY different place than California.

    So I guess I’m already primed to live somewhere that I don’t entirely fit in.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where no one who’s ancestors didn’t come over on the Mayflower here REALLY fits in

    • I do know what you mean. It is nice to be different, so long as that’s in a positive way. In Mexico it usually means just that. We could start off a debate on racism in Mexico….positive discrimination is just as bad as the other variety really.

  • It was very enjoyable reading your blog. I understand how you feel. We try to adjust to a new country and yet we are never really countrymen but is not the world like that? England and the USA? My friend and I are coming to Merida to look at real estate for him to retire I come along for the experience. I am very much looking for to the adventure, i.e. to get out of the states for a week. Perhaps I will fall in love Merida like you…I read it is a city of culture, history and life. Thank you and the best to you and your wife in what you choose.

  • Luck is what the Brits are going to need when the “tricolor“ visits Wembley this May 24. After that match you really gonna love Mexico! I’m gonna hear you singing rancheras Gary, I’m gonna hear you !

    😀 …..just warming up the pre-game.

    • In your dreams! Mexico’s record in England so far…..Played 5, Won 0, Drawn 0, Lost 5! The best result was just a 2-0 beating. The last result was 4-0. Their worst effort saw the Three Lions thump them 8-0. Rooney will hit a hattrick. Maybe two…. 🙂

  • Hey – our experiences and feelings are so similar it is uncanny – I have been here almost 5 years, am contemplating returning home to London after another year and have never made the crossover to Mexico being home – London is clearly home and whilst I love living, working and travelling here the kind of temporary limbo which keeps extending is more than unsettling…

    • Someone else posted a comment on another thread which perhaps summed it up best for me. I feel ‘at home here’, even if I don’t feel it is home. If that makes sense! When do you reach your five year Mexiversary?

  • You know I’ll follow your London blog 🙂 I love to read blogs from people all over the place.. Yours will prove that much more interesting, because it may enlighten us about your reintegration process and what your new perspectives may be. Makes for an interesting blog!

  • I hope you write from England. I love London, and I have fantasies about living in the UK, and being in London as often as I want! I live in Honduras, a poor, undeveloped place. I love it, and actually it feels like home… most of the time. But I have to say I will always feel as if New Orleans is my true home. Write, Write, Write, right? Please write… begging tone in my words here…

  • Let’s go ahead and swap Mexico City for London. I will tell you what we get to keep here: tacos al pastor, our prices in pesos, and Estadio Azteca. Now, you must bring all of London with you, including your wages in pounds, your policemen and the entire rosters of Arsenal F.C. and Chelsea with fresh-printed Mexican passports, just in case we need them for the World Cup…

    How about that?

    • Daniel…the fresh roster bit really made me laugh. But. Being that I’m part of the “if you’re going to play for the national team…I’d much rather/you must be a born and bred Mexican/Frenchie/whathaveyou” I can’t fully agree with you on that one! Tempting though. Very tempting.

      • Bring over just the Liverpool team. That way I can finally enjoy watching them thrash the opposition week in, week out, on their way to multiple doubles and trebles!

    • Keep the Mexican people, taco stalls and restaurants, keep an element of manaña, keep the chicks and salsa dancing – import London’s architecture, the river, the international cuisine, the health service, the buses and most of all bring in the footy!

      Keep the Olympic stadium but the Azteca gets replaced with Wembley. I went to see the new Wembley last February. Up close and personal, it is mind blowing. Especially the proportions…

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