Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Uniquely Mexico

After having been away from Mexico for 17 months I am re-learning some of the interesting differences between our two countries. I have several cruising seasons worth of learning experience but still some things surprise and delight me and others feel a bit frustrating. I thought you might be interested in a little insight into what it is like to live here.

Human gate guard/manual gate
1) Manual labor: As we drove to Guaymas last week we passed a large industrial complex with a security gate. At the gate is a guy who checks ID’s on people who are entering the complex and – manually – opens the gate to allow the cars to pass. No high tech gate cards or automated gate. An actual person who is paid a wage! This is common practice here. People doing work that has often been automated (or outsourced) in the States.

No prices!
2) Gas Stations: Anywhere you drive in Mexico you will be purchasing gas from a Pemex Station. Fuel in Mexico is government controlled here. None of the signs have prices on them because the price is the same everywhere. So… no need to drive around trying to find the cheapest gas.  Note: It is always cheaper than in the States.

This woman is selling newspapers at the traffic light.

Juggler in Bucerias entertaining the traffic while they wait for the light.
3) Intersections: Wherever there is a traffic light there is activity. While driving in the traffic can be entertaining in and of itself, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Often there is a guy who walks up and washes your windshield in hopes of getting a few pesos for doing so. Someone may be going from car to car selling newspapers or flowers or food (often food they made at home). As you are waiting for the light to change you may be entertained by a juggler or musician performing in the intersection in hopes of earning a tip. A couple days ago in Guaymas we even saw a guy juggling fire sticks!


4) Topes (pronounced toe-pays): Topes are speed bumps. Very, very large speed bumps. If you do not slow almost to a stop you will surely be launched as if shot from a cannon. Unless your car has low clearance which can lead to many other dire consequences. You will find topes not only in neighborhoods but on highways as well. The fact that you have to slow to the speed of a person with a walker is often an open invitation for local people to try to sell you something (pork rinds, cheese, shrimp, etc.) or collect donations for the local charity. We always keep a few loose pesos in the car just for that reason. 

Here's the tricky part: Sometimes the topes are brightly painted (usually yellow). Sometimes they are the same color as the road making them almost impossible to see. Sometimes there is a sign but no tope. Sometimes there is a tope with no sign. Pay very close attention!

Portable car wash machine in the Walmart parking lot.

5) Car wash opportunities: While there are car washes here, there are few, if any, do it yourself models and I have yet to see an automated one. Most often you will find a slab of cement with a plastic awning or tarp over it and a couple of guys who do the washing BY HAND. It is also common to find guys with a bucket and a rag outside grocery stores and restaurants who will clean your car while you are inside. The roads here are pretty dusty so car washes are a regular necessity. The cost is about 60 pesos (currently $4.60 US). Well worth it, and they usually do a beautiful job.

Car being washed while the owner shops.
6) Loud Music: Everywhere you go there is noise. Pretty much every shopping center and market place blasts very loud music the entire time they are open. I find it incredibly amusing that much Mexican music has its roots in Polka! Since I have Norwegian ancestry, it always makes me want to break out in dance!

7) Uniforms: One of the things I think is especially nice here is that employees everywhere wear uniforms and are always clean and well groomed. Even the parking lot attendants and floor sweepers are nicely dressed. ALL the school children wear uniforms. Just imagine how much easier it must be to concentrate on learning when you don’t have to be concerned about whether you are wearing the latest fashion. If only the schools in the U.S. had those same standards.

8) Grooming: I have to say that Mexican women really know how to shine! They are always dressed to kill, complete with perfect hair, make-up and nails. In addition, they seem to be exceptionally comfortable with their bodies – no matter what shape it is in. Even when they are just “hangin’ out” they look good. I have NEVER seen a Mexican woman in pajamas at the grocery store. They have a real pride in themselves that is sorely lacking in the U.S.

9) Guns: Owning a gun is absolutely, completely illegal in Mexico. While people do have guns here, they are the police and the criminals. It is as common as dirt to see an official pickup truck driving through town with 4 or 5 uniformed men in the back carrying serious automatic weapons. Contrary to what the American media says, I feel quite safe here. I am not interested in buying drugs (which will make you a target from both good & bad guys) and it is nice to know that if I wander into a restaurant or movie theatre I don’t have to worry if the guy next to me is “packing” and just found out his wife is leaving him.

10) Interesting Food Tidbits:

Milk that doesn't need refrigeration until opened.
               Boxed Milk: While it is possible to buy refrigerated milk in plastic cartons, the majority of the milk here comes in very convenient 1 liter boxes that do not have to be refrigerated until opened. It really helps when you need to have a good supply and are cursed with a small fridge! There are lots of other items that come this way as well: juices, sauces, etc. Not only are they easier to store but they are recyclable.

Eggs on the grocery shelf.
               Eggs: All my life I have been warned about eggs making you sick if they are left out. Here is the shocker! If the eggs have never been refrigerated they do not have to be refrigerated! I purchase my eggs here by the flat (30) and store them under the settee. I have to turn them fairly regularly or the yolks get stuck in one end but other than that they are just fine. Once they are in the fridge, though, they must stay there until used. In five years I have only come across two bad eggs and they were pretty easy to discover as soon as I cracked the shell. Eew!!

               Bread: I don’t know which ingredient they don’t put into bread here that they do in the U.S. (or vice versa) but as soon as you pick it up it begins to fall apart and by the time you finish your burger the bread is a pile of crumbs on the plate. On the other hand, the one and only loaf of Bimbo Bread (like Wonder Bread) I ever purchased was still good after 2 months!

This is what brown sugar looks like in Mexico.

               Brown Sugar: For the longest time I thought you just plain couldn’t buy brown sugar in Mexico. I now know that you have to buy it in the produce department and it comes in a kind of spool shape. I have no idea how to use it so I bring my own from home!
No Crisco - lard!

               Crisco: Can’t find it here. Period. The one time I needed Crisco I hunted everywhere and finally discovered that what they use here is lard and it comes in a plastic bag that, once opened, is not recloseable. Of course, if you aren't using the entire bag, you now have a very messy glob to deal with. Again…I bring my Crisco from home!

               Paper Products: Toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, Kleenex…all are flimsy and inferior to what we are used to. Paper plates cannot be found here. It would appear that the U.S. has dumped all its leftover Styrofoam south of the border. Since we try to be somewhat “green” I bring paper plates from home for those few occasions when I don’t use regular dishes.

               Cheetos: OK. I happen to like Cheetos! But…I like the original flavor, crunchy style. It is not possible to buy those here. Oddly, all the Cheetos I’ve come across in Mexico have chili powder or some type of “hot” flavoring on them. So…the Cheetos, too, come from home with us. Fortunately, I can make a bag last for months! I rarely eat more than a handful at a time. And “no one” else in my family likes them.

Freon in re-sealable bags!
In addition to the things you can’t find here, there are others you’d never see in the States. Who would imagine you could buy Freon in re-sealable bags in the grocery store?

It is so interesting to travel to other countries and see the differences as well as the similarities we have.

The one constant is that people are people everywhere.  


beisbolfan2007 said...

Very interesting! Thanks, Sandy!

Ivan Pylat said...
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