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!
Long Day, Soft Landing to Oaxaca, Mexico — City Mouse, Country Mouse
Life is bimodal. I’m a city mouse in Durham, North Carolina, and a country mouse in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca. Federico says I’m an honorary Zapoteca although I can only say hello and raise a toast in his native language. For the time being, I travel back and forth, with roots in both places with small spaces.
Durham condo life in a restored tobacco warehouse downtown
This is my second day back at the casita in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico. It was perfect timing to return. North Carolina was becoming so hot and sultry that it was impossible for me to walk just a mile to the downtown from my loft condo and live without air conditioning. I’ve only lived in the South for 30 years, unlike my native Tar Heel friend Hettie who can’t stand any temperature under 72 degrees F.
Country mouse comes home to Teotitlan del Valle
For the last two nights here, I’ve been sleeping with windows open, fresh air, cool breezes, temps in the mid-70’s. Close to heaven, so to speak.
Tia and Mamacita, always happy to walk with me
The three dogs didn’t skip a beat after my being absent for three months. I was greeted with licks and nudges for petting. Yesterday, I spent most of the time taking photos and nesting in the terrace hammock looking at views, pinching myself.
First limes ever this season, rooftop garden
My house sitter and dog caretaker Janie surprised me with an amazing cactus garden she designed and planted in front of the casita, and vases everywhere filled with fresh flowers. Quite a homecoming!
Fresh flowers everywhere, a welcome home gift from Janie
This is my thirteenth year here. For some reason, I expected culture disconnect but I eased right back into being here. I took the dogs for a two-mile walk out to the far reaches of the village borderlands.
Toros resting in the shade, walk through the campo
Today, after an hour stroll around our daily morning farmer’s market, I set to work in the kitchen making Korean kimchi, adapting the recipe to locally available ingredients.
In the country surrounded by green mountains, fertile valleys
I am far from the craziness of US politics but BuzzFeed keeps buzzing and the New York Times online is within reach. There will be a march here in Oaxaca on Thursday, July 5, 2018 at 2 p.m. at the US Consular Agency to protest government zero tolerance policies that ban Latino immigrants and separate families — starting at IAGO. I’ll be there.
Efficient city kitchen, Durham, NC — Mexico touches everywhere
Country kitchen clutter, Oaxaca, Mexico — US touches everywhere
I wondered when I entered Mexico through Immigration on Thursday night if I might be treated differently, more disdainfully and with suspicion because of these US policies. But, Mexicans are kinder and gentler and I was welcomed back, again.
South Bend, Indiana friends of more than 30 years
This past week was a time of reconnecting with long-time friends in South Bend, Indiana, some of whom I haven’t seen in 30 years. It’s where I lived, raised my family and started my university career.
In the Teotitlan market, $2 USD for a dozen roses
After taking a bus and then taxi from South Bend to Chicago O’Hare, I boarded Aeromexico to connect in Mexico City and take the last flight of the day to Oaxaca. This was a smooth and easy way to get from the US to Mexico. Thankfully, there were no hurricanes.
Mex dogs chilling on the patio. In Durham, outdoor life is on the streets.
My only advice in Mexico City is get to Gate 75 early and watch/listen for the boarding announcements. Most commuter flights within Mexico leave from this gate. They board and depart faster than you can say Buenas Noches.
Janie helps Juanita make fresh beet, carrot, pineapple juice cocktail, 30 pesitos
At the South Bend Farmers Market, breakfast for $4.95 … still
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Teotitlan del Valle, Travel & Tourism
Tagged #resist, Durham, expat, immigrant, lifestyle, Mexico, North Carolina, Oaxaca