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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Mexico City, Mexico

Sep 05, 2016

Mexico City, Mexico

An expat from New York City describes the culture shock she experienced living in Mexico City. She appreciates that people in Mexico City able to enjoy the moment instead of hurrying through life.

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Mexico City

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Yes. Before and after the move.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Yes, I spoke Spanish fluently.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

No. I was born and raised in New York City. Every day in NYC is more of a cultural shock than any typical day in Mexico City! Most North American expatriots like to present a Pollyannaish view of Mexico to convey how much more culturally accepting they are then any of their conationals at home. Such is not the case with me.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

It was like going into a time barrier, back to the 1940's. Young men who would be decked out in new sneakers and clothing with exaggerated masculinity in NY or LA were on bicycles selling fruit here or selling newspapers in the street. Only once did I hear a man raise his voice and only once did I see a man in a shipping office lose his temper. He was immediately surrounded by armed-guards. Just imagine that in the u.s.?

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

The folks in this city were not very friendly, compared to those in the Dominican republic, Haiti, Cuba or Jamaica. Occasionally, you'd get someone who was fascinated with foreigners to be your friend, but usually it was just 'hello' and 'good-bye'. I felt like an outsider and a freak. Spanish spoken with a thick accent drew countless stares and nervous glances, and then I began to long for my native city, which has so many immigrants in it that no one even cares!

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Anger at being ripped off at a laundromat and having all of my clothes dry cleaned when I specified that I only wanted them washed and folded.. I was also tricked into becoming a principal at an elementary school when all I had wanted was to be a 4th grade teacher. All of the women whom I worked with their were extremely oppositional or passive aggressive, although there was one who was kind.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Having to conceal the fact when and if you dislike someone. Not being able to throw temper tantrums in public without facing possible legal problems. Being able to enjoy the moment without being paralyzed by thoughts of what you have to do in an hour or tomorrow! Being obligated to greet each and every person who you come into verbal contact with, saying 'buenos' or 'buenas', which would be unheard of in the U.S.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Not reading newspaper editorials that dare to criticize any Mexican political officials. Plus, very few people say what is on their minds, sort of the opposite of African-Americans, West Indians, or Jews in the United States. It is a xenophobic culture, for the most part, sort of like the Chinese culture. Mexicans are far, far more relaxed when and if they are amongst their own kind, although there are occasional and definite exceptions.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Not really.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

You can live here relatively cheaply if you are not in a tourist and/or expatriot area. Forget about Cabo San Lucas or San Miguel de Allende. Learn the language and live as a Mexican does. The taxis are cheap. If you don't want to hail them off of the street, call a private company. Don't be afraid to be the center of attention.

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