- Speak the language. Learn to speak the language. Try to learn to speak the language. Keep trying. Hire a tutor. Take a class. Don’t give up and expect Spanish-speakers to understand you! Otherwise, you will stay isolated within the gringo community.
- Before driving to Mexico, sell your high-performance vehicle in the U.S. and buy something simple that Mexican mechanics know how to repair, like a Ford, a Nissan, or a Honda. I recently sold my 10-year old Saab 900s and bought a 2003 Honda CRV in preparation for my Oaxaca move.
- Visit many times (at least three or four) for at least several weeks at a time before you make the commitment to even rent in a particular location. Stay with friends. Talk to people. Get the “lay of the land.” Don’t let the romantic notion of living in Mexico — where it is warm, friendly and inexpensive — turn your head too quickly.
- Rent, don’t buy or build immediately. Start out with several weeks in the winter. Then, come in the off-season – during the rains or in the hot and dusty months. Know what you are getting into regarding the climate. It’s not pure blue sky and balmy days year ‘round.
- Create a base of friends and a support system before you make the move. Get connected with local cultural organizations or volunteer groups. For example, expats gather at the Oaxaca Lending Library for educational infrastructure, connection, and doing good in the world of Oaxaca.
- Expand your multicultural lifestyle and friendship circles – get to know the locals to appreciate and share history, culture, wisdom. Understand that you are a guest in someone else’s country. Treat all with respect and kindness.
- Understand that cultural competency means accepting things the way they are rather than trying to change them or make things “better” (in our own image of what is right). Mexicans know what is best for them in their country — they have been living this way for thousands of years. There is a lot we can learn from them without trying to “fix” it to suit U.S. standards.
- Stay open to adventure, to change, to the unpredictability of what each day might bring, to opportunity and who you might meet, what unusual delicacy you might taste, an impromptu invitation.
- Relax and enjoy yourself. Saving money should not be your primary motivation for moving to Mexico. It should be to expand your cultural competency, improve your language skills, and to stretch yourself through exploration and discovery.
Want to add your tips in the Comment section?
Want to Live in Mexico? Advice from a Wisecracker!
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:
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!
Posted in Books & Resources, Cultural Commentary, Travel & Tourism
Tagged blogsherpa, books, culture, emigration, expatriate, humor, lifestyle, Mark Saunders, Mexico, Oaxaca, postaweek2011, San Miguel de Allende