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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Merida, Mexico

Submitted by BigLife399

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

Merida

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

Well, I partially grew up near the Mexican border. I lived in San Diego, California from 1974 through 1981. I spent every weekend in Tijuana and Baja California Norte, and in towns like Rosarito, Ensenada, and others. I also spoke both Spanish and English at home since my parents were Puerto Rican and they and I were born and partially raised in Puerto Rico. So I spoke Spanish. But anyone who has lived in Mexico and Puerto Rico know the kind of Spanish that Mexico speaks and the kind they speak in Puerto Rico is very different. I loved everything about Mexican culture and life. So I never lost that growing up.

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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?

I spoke Spanish my entire life. As well as English. Holding on to Spanish is hard in Southern California for that time period I lived there. There is pressure for Mexican Americans and others from Latin American Spanish speaking nations to assimilate and be English only speakers. That is why many Chicanos in Los Angeles speak household Spanish or informal forms of Spanish. They really should put tremendous energy behind Spanish preservation in their households and read, write and speak it well. It will give them tremendous freedom in all aspects if they ever decide to move to Mexico in retirement or to live and work in Mexico. I find a lot of US citizens are lazy as hell with learning a foreign language. I had to learn English as a child and the teacher in kindergarten in NYC in 1971 was an older near retirement teacher with racist awful attitudes about equating lack of English speaking skills with mental retardation. She sent my mother a letter stating I was not of normal intelligence. Those were the kind of educators back in the day. Thank goodness that is no longer the case. All US citizens should take a page out of the Netherlands or Sweden, etc and learn a foreign language early on. Spanish is logical and so are many other world languages. It makes you a much more flexible person and it is life changing.

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

I expected it. Because it is a shock. The thing that bothers me the most is contaminated undrinkable water. It is dangerous. If you can't buy potable water or you run out? You risk serious water bourne diseases in Mexico drinking from the tap. That should be completely unacceptable and I think the government should make it a top priority to provide clean water at very affordable levels for all residents of Mexico. Otherwise only the better off have decent water purification systems in their house and the poorer ones suffer drinking bad water due to lack of funds. It is highly inhuman and unfair. That shock will never wear off. Also the low wages paid to everyone in Yucatan state. It is sometimes as low as $1 or $2 dollars an hour. That is not a living wage in many nations.

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

I am sure it is bad in terms of certain conveniences you find in the USA. But for me the warmth of the Mexican people, the beauty of the culture, the great food and dances. The ability for me to speak Spanish with them all day without any problem as a native Spanish speaker and knowing a lot of the culture since childhood and bringing my own uniqueness as a member of another Latino culture? It is fairly minimal. I have too many people visiting me all the time. Solitude is nice too you know!

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?

I think for me there was not much of a culture shock. There is the part of trying to be respectful. The Merida people here are used to the Latinos from the Caribbean islands. It has a lot of Cubans living here and Mexico has always been a hub for many other nationalities living here. Mexico is diverse. I never liked class conscious snobs but having Mexicans think I was an upper crust rich American lady was kind of comical!

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.

I never felt homesick for the states. I felt my entire life like an outsider in the USA anyway. I was a minority in the USA. Not a privileged upper class or middle class person. So I did not feel homesick for a land that always sort of left me out. It is more about missing routines. Like going to the movies on Sunday or eating out at a favorite restaurant. But you can easily replace the old routines with new ones....ones in which you feel good about being in Mexico's routines.

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

They are family oriented, like inviting you places to do fun activities and they like to celebrate dates with a lot of joy. Also the laid back lifestyle compared to big cities in the states. I also love to see the traditions being kept up and honored. And I like seeing my son speak Spanish beautifully. I like everything. The architecture, the art, the music, the dancing and the literature and the people telling me their life stories.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

I hate the slowness of the bureaucracy. I don't like the bank fees and exhorbitant fees associated with Mexican banks and US foreign banks in Mexico. I don't like the need to negotiate with others not used to fixed prices because it means I got to figure out what the reasonable price for an item is and then negotiate down. I never liked shopping much so it is not fun to do that for me. But I love buying artistic things that bring me joy to look at it at home. I don't like men ignoring me and asking my husband the question or giving my husband the answer. It is impolite.

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

I said a word in Puerto Rican Spanish that is very commonly used to mean 'to take', and it means to have sex in Mexican Spanish. It made people laugh. But I turned it around and told them but you guys say this word for the meaning of insect and that is a sexual word in Puerto Rico. They would laugh. You got to realize words mean different things in different societies and not to take yourself too seriously.

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

I get impatient with US citizens who come from English speaking only homes, that refuse to learn Spanish or Mayan or any local dialect or language because they can't find the time, or they are too old to learn, or they find it too hard to do, etc. Excuses only. Laziness or shyness. Get over it. Part of moving to a new culture is to be a part of it. Go and make an effort. The Mexicans are very forgiving when you make mistakes. Make the mistakes and grow and learn! You will find your culture shock turning into a very beautiful relationship of respect and cultural exchange based on mutual respect and equality. It is a great thing to develop in yourself and in the other people whom you interact with in your social circles.

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