Closed Doors? Not for late-comers!

Closed Doors? Not for late-comers!

One thing I love about Mexican culture is that it is totally accepted, and often expected, that you will show up late. To a party, to a meeting, to work, to a gathering or get-together … it really doesn’t matter. Everyone shows up late. Late can mean 10 minutes, which is a standard minimum, or it can stretch to more than an hour, which is often the case for social gatherings.

I have selectively adapted to this practice, and I love it. Well, maybe it´s not adaptation so much as acceptance of a trait I already possess. I have always been a late person. (I believe people are born with internal clocks set to arrive early, be there on time, or show up late – I fall into the latter group.) So now that I live in a culture that accepts my lateness, I feel more free to be who I truly am. Late.

In the US, many people are also late. (My dad, for instance, is a habitually late person – I am sure I inherited this trait from him.) But in a land that takes many cultural traits from the strict and timely Germans, it is just not socially accepted. And often people actually get annoyed and angry with those who arrive late. (Imagine!) I like to refer to these people as late-haters. (You know who you are … perhaps you should take up Sudoku so you can keep yourself occupied while waiting.)

Luckily, in Mexico, even among gringos, it is totally cool to arrive after the specified time. In fact, I have observed that foreigners are actually some of the worst culprits of the late phenomenon. Are we all just reveling in the newfound social acceptance for a characteristic that we secretly love? Does Latin America specifically attract people whose internal clocks are set to slow time? Or do people adopt the practice once they arrive and get frustrated when they have to wait forever for others to show up, or find themselves in awkward situations as the first guests to a party with a host they barely know? In my case, I finally feel free to be the late person I always was. So there you have it — a good thing about living in Mexico! (After my last post I feel the need to proactively seek out positive aspects of Mexico, as I am here for at least another year or so … )

One of my favorite places to go in Mexico is to the park on a Sunday afternoon. You see all kinds of people there doing all sorts of “typical” mexican park activities … eating, playing, laughing, relaxing, doing absolutely nothing …

A bite to eat

A bite to eat

I first discovered the Latino Love for the park back in the US when I used to teach classes of English as a Second Language to groups of Latinos. During our classes on Monday nights I would get them to speak the few words of English they knew by asking them what they did over the weekend. Week after week, the response was always “I go park .” My goal was to get them to say went instead of go. Even after 8 weeks most continued to say go. oh well. at least they knew the word for park!

Going the Distance, Going for Speed ...

Going the Distance, Going for Speed ...

And I learned that the park is a comfortable outdoors space where even people without resources to have a yard can go and enjoy the feeling of having some personal green space. In Mexico, the typical use of the park is for picnics, and families tend to spend a good portion of the day relaxing, eating, talking and laughing, playing games and enjoying the sunny afternoon outside together.

Kids fascinated by the life-sized Toy Soldier

Kids fascinated by the life-sized Toy Soldier

But in Mexico the whole concept of a park comes a little closer to a “theme park,” as we say in the US. With clowns, toys, ice cream, remote-control boats, electric mini cars for rent, super-developed play areas for kids, and more, the basic green space urban park is transformed into a verifiable fun house for kids and families. Add a big bottle of Coca-cola, some chicken, tortillas and salsa, and you have the recipe for a Sunday of relaxing family fun!

Ice Cream in the Park

Ice Cream in the Park

 

(Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press)

(Eduardo Verdugo/Associated Press)

On my walk to a meeting this morning I passed the Canadian Embassy. It´s a rather ugly building with way too much security fencing around it for such a friendly country. I have walked passed it many times and never noticed it, to be honest. (Security fencing is rather common in Mexico.) But today I had to stop my walk and gawk. There was a line spreading three blocks long of people with yellow manila envelopes in hand. They are Mexicans applying for visas. Turns out Canada, the ever-welcoming, open-to-all-immigrants land to the far North has just changed their laws and now requires visas for all Mexicans entering their cold country. Crazy.

I wonder, is it a matter of national security? Are Mexicans flying to Canada and then sneaking south across the border to the US? (Hey, not a bad idea … in the summer.) I suppose I should read some articles on the matter … Apparently it´s in response to a rising number of false refugee status claims. 

So this got me thinking about how so many people want to go somewhere else. In Mexico, most want to go to the US. It is seen as “the promised land” for so many. Where you can work your butt off and make lots of money and buy lots of things and live in a house with a yard. and drive a nice car. and be in debt. and pay a lot in taxes. and live in a crappy neighborhood. and face possibly even more crime than in Mexico. But hey, it´s the American Dream! 

 

The American Dream

The American Dream

 

 

And then I thought about how I am sort-of doing the opposite. Trying to live the Mexican Dream. You know it … on a beach, margarita in hand, not a care in the world, getting a tan. Only my Mexican Dream reality is a little different, a little more concrete and a little less sand, a little more work and a definite dearth of siestas, and my Margarita is a short chubby Mexican lady who cleans my house … hey, at least one part of the dream is pretty fabulous! (gotta love the maid) But I still keep dreaming and hoping that my Latin Utopia will appear before my eyes someday. 

 

The Mexican Dream

The Mexican Dream

I guess we all have our Personal Utopia. I somehow got lost in a Gabriel García Marquez novel, searching for a lost romantic life on a beach in Latin America with soft salsa music playing in the background. My parents are obsessed with Alaska … the land of big open spaces, few people and great fishing. A significant other is eternally fascinated with Switzerland – the mountains with all that snow for skiing, the way everything just works on time, the perfectness of it all. And you? Where is your personal utopia??

Covering up for safety!

Covering up for safety!

I am sure that everyone has seen the news about the Influenza outbreak in Mexico. I am sure the images of mouths covered are not new. But from the perspective of someone living here, I have to say, it is quite a sight to see.  I feel like I am in a science fiction movie. People are staying in their houses … no school, no work in offices, no restaurants, no concerts or movies, few people out and about … and everyone walking around with their nose and mouth covered.  In general, very creepy. For a few days the city was literally shut down … though apparently pharmacies, hospitals and the television and movie rental industries have made out quite well.

Old and young alike ...

Old and young alike ...

I am still not sure just how dangerous this thing is, or if it really merits any sort of action beyond normal health precautions, but I will say that the Mexican response to the “crisis” has been incredible. With just a few announcements by the government and health officials, the city of over 20 million people effectively shut down all movement. Everyone got a tapa-bocas (mouth cover), and people took all necessary precautions against a veritable plague. Though it is not the plague. It is the flu. Which kills thousands of people annually. So I am stuck wondering, is all this really necessary?? And if not, who is behind this? The biggest city in Mexico will have lost precious time and productivity and economic activity for over a week, which cant be good for the already weak economy. And not to mention the post-traumatic stress syndrome of the country after having the living daylights scared out of 23 million people. At least there wont be any protests because everyone will be too afraid to be in a large crowd.

I really wonder what the after-effects will be from such an event. Or, perhaps Mexico will be its glorious self and return to normal in a week, with not a trace of the craziness except for millions of blue tapa bocas laying around. We’ll see!

Mexican Pride - Chiles Enogados

Mexican Pride - Chiles Enogados

Every time I talk to people in the US, I am shocked to hear how horrible it seems the economic situation is there. I get the feeling the US is falling apart, with everyone losing their jobs, people afraid to make any big purchases or changes, and a government debt climbing higher than the human brain can even comprehend. It sounds like doomsday. But the ironic thing is, when I talk to people South of the border, they all seem incredibly worried about me, being in Mexico! In this great article by Enrique Krauze in the New York Times, the author shares my sentiment:

The opinion that Mexico is breaking down seems to be shared by much of the American news media, not to mention the Americans I meet by chance and who, at the first opportunity, ask me whether Mexico will “fall apart.”

Flash to Mexico. While the news shows stories of narcotraficantes killing each other, the peso has devalued nearly 50% compared to the Dollar, and the US is sending notices that Mexico is now too dangerous for travel, life on the ground in Mexico City is fabulous. (Expats agree … frustrating at times, but certainly safe.) I can honestly say, I have noticed no changes in everyday life in Mexico City due to the recession.  And it is not just me, I have talked to many people – Mexicans and foreigners, from the upper and lower-classes, who agree. Sure, international businesses are troubled, but on the street it is a different story. Why? In spite of all the dangers, negative press, and the reality of the 50% devaluation of the Peso, “this is nothing compared to the crises of ___(insert year here)___.”  You see, Mexicans have lived through a lot of shit. And they have survived. So this crises, this is an American Crisis. But this is not a Mexican crises.

Mexican Tradition - hanging by the bootstraps

Mexican Tradition - hanging by the bootstraps

 

Again, quoting from Enrique Krauze, NY Times, “Thanks to all this, Mexico has demonstrated an impressive capacity to overcome crises, of which we’ve had our fair share. They include the government’s repression of the student movement of 1968; a currency devaluation in 1976; an economic crisis in 1982; the threefold disaster of 1994 with the Zapatista rebel uprising, the murder of the P.R.I. candidate for president and a devastating collapse of the peso; and the serious post-election conflicts of 2006.

Life in Mexico may not be what it is in the US. Nor has it ever been. But people here live in the reality that it is better than it could be, which gives them a positive outlook strong enough to overcome many crises, no matter how grande. Perhaps the Americans North of the border should take an example from the Mexicans for once … Tranquilo! No te preocupes, todo está bien! … Relax! Don’t worry, it’s all good! 
Try to be grateful for all that you have, and stop spending what you dont have!