Since we landed a month ago, Chris and I noticed many differences between Mexico and Canada. There are things that are obvious and that we could deal with easily, but other things were more… subtle. To make sure you know what you are getting into, we made a list of what to expect.
1. People are very helpful
I didn’t think Mexicans were mean before coming here, but I did hear a lot of things on television. Once I set foot in Mexico, I realized it was all wrong. Whatever they sayed and showed on TV, it might represent 5% of the country. Don’t expect everybody to try to pickpocket you, they won’t. Some might try, of course, but if you need help, Mexicans will be there for you. I have two stories to back this up, both involving food. In the first one, we were trying to make pizza and were looking for yeast. Sayulita doesn’t have that many grocery stores and most of them only have basic food. So after searching everywhere twice, we couldn’t find any yeast. We decided to ask restaurants, since they definitely had some. They ended up giving us yeast for free and telling us where we should by some (which is in another town, apparently!). The second time, we were looking for cayenne pepper. Same thing happened, we couldn’t find any. That’s when a man pointed out to us that we could use chili pepper seeds and they would give the flavor we wanted to our chili.
Even when we were looking for an apartment to rent, everybody we talked too tried to help us as much as they could. Maybe that’s only because Sayulita is a small town, but even in Mexico City and Puebla, people were so nice and friendly with us.
2. The Center/South of Mexico is safer than you think
You’ll see a lot on TV about drug cartels and kidnapping, but really, that only happens in a few places. Not all of Mexico is plagued with crime and violence. We’ve been here for more than a month now and nothing has happened. I’m actually surprises to feel so comfortable in a country that I once feared. The trick is to simply ask locals and make sure you know where you shouldn’t go. Because yes, there are parts of Mexico City you don’t want to see. As long as you know where they are, everything is going to be fine.
My other tips are to stay alert and leave that fancy watch/necklace of yours at home. If you show you have money, people could get jealous. Just blend in the crowd as much as you can and you’ll have a great time!
3. Most people don’t speak English
Don’t expect everybody you talk to to understand you. If you don’t know any Spanish, I would consider investing in a basic phrase book before leaving for Mexico. You don’t have to speak the language perfectly: people can communicate without having to talk, but it’s good to understand some basics. You might want to ask some questions and you’ll only end up being frustrated if nobody understands you.
Also, locals are going to be nicer with you if they see that you respect them and try to speak their languages. It might not be easy, but it’s definitely worth it! Trust me, as a French speaker, someone saying “Merci” to me instead of “Thank You” when they are in Quebec makes a big difference.
4. It’s not as cheap as you think
… except if you eat tacos every day. But let’s be honest: tacos every day is not a great idea. They might be cheap, but there is only a certain amount of corn tortilla a body is able to take before getting sick of it. If you get tired of Mexican food, that’s when you’ll end up paying more (or equal to Canada/USA). We were expecting our food bill to drop considerably and it hasn’t happened yet.
What is cheaper than Canada, though, is rent. We have a great apartment close to the beach and a few minutes outside of town and we only pay 7 000 pesos ($450USD) a month for it. The internet is not as fast as we would like and the hot water is scarce, but it’s comfortable and big enough for the both of us. (And it doesn’t have any rats, even though we had a few cockroaches.)
5. People will try to sell stuff… wherever you are
It’s not always fun to have to turn someone around three times when you’re sitting in a restaurant, but it does happen. All you want to do is enjoy your meal with your friends/family and they keep coming back. I know it can be annoying, but those people need money and it’s socially acceptable in Mexico. So just be patient and if you don’t want them to approach you, make sure you don’t have any eye contact with them. It should do the trick.
6. Hot water is not standard
In Canada, you can’t find a house without hot water. Mexico is different: hot water is a luxury. If you like your shower ultra-warm like I do, you might have to change your plans. Make sure before booking and hotel/hostel that they do advertise hot water. Hotels should be fine as most hostels, but make sure you double-check. If like us, you’re going to rent an apartment, then you might be stuck with “warm” water, which tends to be more cold than warm. On most days it’s fine, since Sayulita is pretty hot, but on colder days, I wish I could warm myself up in the shower and not feel like I’m doing the Ice Bucket Challenge all over again.
7. Mexicans party late
And by late, I mean the party doesn’t start until 2-3 am. Which sucks, because I’m a weak Canadian girl who is always asleep by midnight. I wish I was as strong as Mexicans are! They also like their parties loud, which we discovered during the Carnival in Sayulita: there was a stage right in front of our house, just across the street. I tried to sleep with the vibration of the music coursing through my body. Not that easy. Lucky for us, it only lasted a few days.
But now and then, there is music coming out of nowhere and we just have to accept the fact that this is how Mexicans do it!
8. Everything they eat is in a tortilla
I mentioned it quickly in #4, but it deserves its own section. Tortillas are everywhere. If you don’t like them but still want a taste of Mexican Cuisine: good luck! I wasn’t a fan of corn tortillas at first, but I got used to them living here for a while. Whether you’re eating tacos, burritos, quesadilla, chilaquiles or enchiladas; everything comes with tortillas!
There’s a few exceptions, of course, but prepare yourself mentally. That’s a lot of corn! 🙂
9. Don’t just a street by its exterior
I’m Canadian, so I’m used to seeing houses with a front lawn, big windows and a nice façade. So when I take walks in Mexico, I’m always so surprised at how few people show of their houses. Everything is behind a big concrete wall and most of the windows have bars on them. I know it’s for safety reasons, but it just felt so… boring. And for some reason, I assumed that the house behind the concrete wall was as monotonous as the wall itself.
That’s where I had everything wrong! The inside of houses in Mexico are amazing! It’s just that you can’t see it all the potential from the street. You have to go inside to realize that Mexicans have great architecture and that they don’t live in dull houses.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, I say don’t judge a street by its exterior!
10. You have to ask for the bill at restaurants
This is more a friendly tip than something to expect, but I thought it was important to share. I know in Canada, waiters are going to give you your bill when you’re done eating. In Mexico, it would be considered rude. You always have to ask for the bill, otherwise you’ll be waiting for a long time.
So when you’re done eating and you’re ready to leave, just wave at the waiter and ask “La cuenta, por favor!”
I hope this short guide was helpful! I know there was a lot of things that I didn’t expect from Mexico. It’s a good thing none of them stopped me from coming here, because I’m actually having a great time!
What are your expectations about Mexico? Do you believe it’s safe or do you still think it’s dangerous?