Nobody Knows the Spanish I Speak is a zany memoir by Mark Saunders (Fuze Publishing, LLC, McLean, VA, ISBN 978-0-9841412-8-9), who, with his wife Arlene Krasner, moved to San Miguel de Allende (SMA) shortly after falling in love with the place. The book’s tag line is “Drop out. Sell everything. Move to Mexico. Sounded like a good plan.” Not!
Saunders’ writing is tongue-in-cheek witty, with a sprinkle of irreverent, brash, and self-deprecating thrown in for good measure. Overall, it is an entertaining and fast read. The book could be a primer for Baby Boomers on the eve of retirement who believe that relocating to Mexico is the answer to a less-than-adequate retirement income. Saunders’ sardonic underlying message is a “don’t do what we did” warning to greenhorns who think they can move to Mexico on a wing and a prayer (or maybe in a 10-year old high-performance Audi Quattro) without adequate preparation (or an expert, specialized mechanic in tow).
Saunders’ memoir focuses on the couple’s experience moving from Portland, Oregon, to SMA, with their standard poodle and cat. (He’s originally from Sacramento, California, and she grew up in New York City.) Wooed by blue skies and balmy days, bolstered by a vigorous ex-pat community, their story will resonate with anyone considering living anywhere in Mexico as an alternative to the northern part of North America. Anecdotes and vignettes of mishaps, miscommunication, and missives fill the pages.
And, Saunders is unabashed while dissecting the realities of living in Mexico for uninitiated American and Canadian expats: constant dust, barking dogs, lack of central heat and air, long queues to pay bills (which must be done in person) and at banks, past due utility bills and interrupted utility services, cars in need of repair, bodies in need of repair, the meaning of “manana,” and the ubiquitous language barrier.
Most importantly, Saunders raises important questions underlying the humorous pokes at himself, at “gringolandia” [a place where a lot of expats live in Mexico], and his situation.
Subtextual Questions — Self-examination BEFORE you move:
- What are your primary reasons for the move?
- What is your experience living in another culture?
- How adaptable are you?
- How dedicated will you be to learn or improve your Spanish? How much patience do you have?
- Do you need the same conveniences and lifestyle (food, entertainment, shopping, etc.) in Mexico as you had living in the U.S.?
- Do you expect to live among English speakers?
- How well can you negotiate through problems?
- What special health care issues do you have that may require medical attention?
The book is sprinkled with Saunders’ own drawings and cartoons depicting daily gringo/a challenges and misadventures. The ending is pure redemption and I won’t give it away! And remember, a sense of humor will take you a long way.
Here are my 9 Tips for Living in Mexico.
If you are an expat living in Mexico, will you share your advice with us for making the transition smoothly? If you are a Mexican who wants to add your suggestions about ways to make the landing softer, please do so!