I need to correct a likely misperception. I believe many people think I live in “Mexico” … beaches, burritos, Corona & tequila, short dark-haired men with big mustaches on donkeys, Ranchera music – you all know the stereotypes. Those who know me better think I live in “Mexico City” … dangerous, overly-populated, smog-filled, scary, corrupt, foreboding – again, common stereotypes of the city, frequently portrayed in Hollywood movies as the “big, bad city,” where no one really wants to visit. (okay, there´s a few of you crazies out there!)

 

A perfect park in Mexico City

Mexico, and Mexico City, is far from the stereotype, and my life here is even more distant. While there is a lot of traffic, and smog, and Ranchero music, not everyone has to suffer from it. 🙂 Some of us live in a different kind of Mexico City. The world of Young Urban Professional Expats (the new YUPE). For better or worse, this is the world I live in. While most Mexicans are fighting crowds on the Metro or crowded streets in traffic, I am walking a few lovely, tree-lined blocks to work. While many Mexicans run the risk of encountering dangerous people daily, my world is filled with security guards and doormen and drivers, watching out for any shady behavior. While in much of this city and country it can be risky to eat on the street if you are a foreigner with a sensitive stomach, in my neighborhood you can order at any restaurant without a second thought. This is the bubble formed by the wealthy of Mexico City, who want all the comforts and dont want to see, hear or experience how the other 80% live. I suppose this is not an unusual phenomenon, but it the differences between neighborhoods are even more marked here in Mexico than in many other places.

 

Mexico City "Tree Advertising"

Now, before you start to judge me, let me tell you how I feel about all this. I hate it. While many people would love to live in the bubble I do, I really cant stand it. I dont mind being able to walk to work, for sure. But I hate that I live in a world filled with fake beauty, where people show off and mask the realities of life. I hate that while I live in a country filled with so much cultural richness, with art and history and natural beauty, I have little contact with the everyday Mexican reality in the majority of the socio-economic levels. And most of all, it makes me sad to think that there are so many Expats that see only this Truman Show world, that never venture for a ride on the Metro, visit the more mainstream “barrios,” eat at sketchy taco stands, wonder at the incredible street art or laugh with people while dancing to Ranchero music at 3am.

 

Alibrijes in Mexico City

For my part, I will continue living in my Truman Show neighborhood, but make every escape possible to visit other parts of the city, know other parts of Mexican society, and experience different cuisines. And I will try to understand better the lives of all the people who make this Truman Show neighborhood possible … all the guards, doormen, waiters, hosts, cleaners, taxi drivers, and “Ricos Tamales Oaxacaños” street-vendors. The next series of blog entries will be dedicated to observations of micro-cultures of the people who work in my neighborhood.

Looking for fast internet? The Corner Taco Stand.

Looking for fast internet? The Corner Taco Stand.

Today I had the fortune to visit a different neighborhood, leaving the richy-rich area which has gradually engulfed my life in recent months. I happily took the opportunity to walk a few blocks before hailing a cab from the street. NOTE: CABS ON THE STREET IN MEXICO ARE PERFECTLY SAFE, IN MY OPINION. (But if you happen to hail a sketchy cab and get robbed one day, I am not taking responsibility. It is best to check out the driver and assure they have proper identification painted on the cab.)

So, today I strolled down Insurgentes, a big busy street with lots of action, and happened first upon a large, sprawling display of pirated movies with a police man standing guard. I couldn’t figure out if the policeman was selling the pirated movies or waiting around to arrest someone for buying one, or perhaps he was just visiting with his girlfriend who happens to sell pirated movies. I was tempted to look through the selection and pick out one or two, but decided against it, what with the armed policeman confusion and all.

I strolled on, trying to decide what I might like to eat. (My second favorite past-time, after aimlessly strolling the streets of Mexico City, involves discovering new and fun places to eat on the street.) I used to feel a little uneasy about eating on the street – not for fear of getting sick, but rather because I didn’t know the proper way to go about eating on the street.

  • Do I sit on the little stool or stand?
  • Which of the 5 people behind the counter do I order my food from?
  • And how do I know how much it costs? (prices are rarely posted)
  • And what should I order? what is best?
  • And what do I do with my dirty plate?
  • Then, who do I pay?

So many doubts. So many little unknowns making the experience more stressful than it was worth. But as a good anthropologist, I realized that with a bit of observation, a few shameless questions and some trial and error, I could get the custom down pat.

Now, after living in Mexico City for nearly 3 years in total, I am almost an expert street-stand taco customer. Here´s my technique.

  • First, I look for a busy stand with local customers. Locals always know best.
  • Second, I look for a stand with other women. It may sound strange, but I feel a little intimidated with a bunch of dudes staring at me while I eat.
  • Third, I make sure there is a big dude behind the stand making tacos – I personally believe chefs should not be skinny.
  • Fourth, I do a brief check to see if the place looks semi-clean. Presence of napkins and clean plates is a must.
  • Fifth, I make sure I have enough money so I don’t have to worry about the cost. Pay at the end.
  • And lastly, I try to smile or say something to my fellow taco-stand-eaters. It makes the whole experience nicer.

So, I followed my personal street taco eating guidelines, found a busy, semi-clean looking taco stand with lots of woman and a nice, chubby Mexican dude behind the counter. I sat down to order my tacos and almost fell off my little stool when I realized that sitting on the stand before me was a modern laptop, tapped into some wireless connection (surely “borrowed”), playing the real-time version of the Mexico-US soccer game from the Coca-Cola website. Amazing. I have never seen such a delightful mixture of technology with tradition. Good greasy street food with a fast wireless connection. Deep-fried tortillas filled with sketchy meat happily married to a shiny silver Dell laptop with streaming video. I think Mexico just might be headed in the right direction after all.

Evidence of love

Evidence of love

There are some sights that literally tickle me inside. Make me laugh to myself, smile girlishly, turn a slight shade of pink in the cheeks. One of them is a frequently occurring sight in Mexico.

Couples Kissing. Legs intertwined, making out, unashamed, in front of the world. Physically lip-locked and emotionally tied-up in each other as if they were the last two people left on earth. Oblivious to others walking by, and as most grew up in this environment here, most passersby also seem to be oblivious to them.

But not me. No, I didn’t grow up in a society of public making-out. I am not accustomed to seeing it on literally every park bench in the city. It still shocks me, even after more than two years of turning my head twice, I have not become accustomed to the habit. I might just be one of the only people in Mexico who feels a hint of shyness when I see two people swapping spit.  But I have to secretly admit that I really don’t mind.  I actually like looking twice and giggling to myself. And hearing that old familiar phrase in my head, “Get a room!” But perhaps it is nice that they DON’T get a room. Perhaps it is wonderful that here in Mexico people are unashamed of showing the physical manifestation of their love. The very visible sign of pure, honest lust for another. I suppose that is a beautiful thing.