I Live in Mexico and This is My New Years Eve 2007

When You Retire in Mexico You Probably Won’t Be Eating Out on New Year’s Eve but You May be Wearing Red Underwear

I have red underwear on. No, I don’t usually tell my readers about my underwear, but today this is a culturally significant detail. On New Year’s Eve many Mexicans wear colored underwear to bring them luck in the upcoming year. Red is for more love in the next year (I’m hoping that one pair of underwear per couple is enough because my spouse opted out of the underwear thing this year!), yellow for more money, and white is for something that I’ve forgotten. The underwear is supposed to be new according to one of my neighbors, but mine is “just like new” because I haven’t worn them since last December 31st (Now you know what color my underwear is not on any given day throughout the year.) so I figure that 99% of the luck is still in them.

We will go to our neighbor’s house after his daughter arrives from mass which was given at 9 p.m. in my neighborhood, but is at midnight at many churches. She has grapes so that we can pop 12 grapes, one for each month of the upcoming year, into our mouths making wishes as fast as we can. My suitcase is out and ready to go. Right after we pop the grapes into our mouths we will take our suitcases to the end of the street and back so that we can travel a lot in 2008. Other neighbors will be out doing the same thing and this will be our chance to tell them Happy New Year and even give them their New Year’s hugs.

We saw on the news that in some places people make a stuffed person – – kind of like a scarecrow, and burn him to represent the year that is gone. My husband remembered this tradition from his childhood but no one that we know in Cuernavaca is doing it. I guess we can imagine why.

We’ve had one big adventure this evening in which we could not buy a pizza, nor fried chicken, but did get some expensive sweet bread. At 8:15ish we went out to get a delicious pizza from Costco (hey, we are in Mexico, that’s where it’s good) and found it locked up tight. We saw lots of cars parked in the nearby Mega grocery store, owned by the same franchise and went to see if they were still open. One of our neighbors had told us as we were leaving that we were probably too late because the grocery stores were going to close at 8:00 p.m. We sat in the truck and watched two young men saunter side by side to the automatic sliding glass doors. Would they get in? Would they get in? …NOPE! They stopped short, noses near the unmoving glass panels. They looked around, looked forlornly inside the store and were forced to turn around. Soon after, another man hurried up to the door, almost banging into it when it didn’t open. He did the universal Mexican downward arm gesture for “¡Chin!” (which loosely translates as Darn!) and stomped off. We rolled out of the parking lot amid a stream of unsuspecting shoppers who were also arriving too late.

We thought maybe Dominos. It’s not our favorite pizza here in Cuernavaca, but we had to have something to take with us to the neighbors! Closed. In fact, the only place that was open on the usually busy street we drove up was Kentucky Fried Chicken. That seemed like an appropriate thing to bring to a get together so we pulled in. The line almost stretched out the door. The parking lot attendant told us that he was full and helped us find a place to wait for a spot to open up. There were families hanging out in the parking lot. We got out of the truck and went inside but we only saw people coming in. No one was going out.

I remembered that the fancy sweet bread store, Globo, had been open on Christmas Day when other places were closed so we went there and at long last had something to bring with us when we go tonight!

What’s the lesson in this? When you retire in Mexico, make sure you have all of your New Year’s Eve supplies well in advance.

Happy New Year!

Get To Know Your Vendor When You Retire in Mexico

This evening as I was slicing and sauteing some mushrooms that my husband and I bought in the market we started to talk about the stand where we had purchased the mushrooms. My husband ended up putting something into words that I hadn’t put together as well. It seemed like a great tip for everyone who lives or retires in Mexico so I decided to pass it on in my blog.

While it’s not true in many markets throughout Mexico, the market in Cuernavaca is a hotbed of rigged scales and cheating. When we first moved here we would sometimes complain to the vendors about their scales but they would always defend their ways and we would have to walk away from the foods we were about to buy. Now, as time has gone on we have found some stands at which we shop regularly. As a regular customer many vendors will treat you better than as a first time buyer.

My husband and I have gone around this many times. It seems backwards. It would make more sense to treat new customers fairly so that they return to your stand, but that’s not the thinking here. The mentality here seems to be that you should make as much as you can on a stranger. Then when you recognize someone and know that they come often, weigh things correctly and give correctly rounded prices for the weight.

So, here is the conclusion: become a regular customer when you retire in Mexico. Be polite and friendly and come back to the same person. You can very subtly demonstrate that you are calculating what the price should be to help them along, but the operative word there is subtly. Hopefully they will remember you (this won’t be so hard since you are a foreigner and relatively memorable) and start to weigh you foods correctly and do the math correctly. Give them a few weeks to a couple of months and see how they do. It is important to do the math in your head quickly. This is something my husband is better at than I am. For example, if you see 400 grams on the scale and the price is 23 pesos a kilo the cost for the food should be 9 pesos and 20 cents (properly rounded up to 50 cents) not 11.50, which would be the price for 1/2 a kilo and not 11 pesos, which is just cheating.

If you aren’t very good at doing math in your head another “trick” you can use when you retire in Mexico is to find vendors who use electric scales and set them up where you can easily see the weight and price that they enter into it. Many markets will have all electric scales, but like I said, not so in Cuernavaca.

My Gifts-Free Christmas in Mexico 2007

I guess we all know that Christmas gifts create suspense and fun at Christmas time, but I don’t think we see gifts as entirely a good thing. We tend to get frustrated with the way they seem to take over Christmas; the way they seem to create such a focus on being materialistic. First, you have to get out to purchase the gifts. This can take hours – – days really. Then you have to wrap them. Timing is important because you’ve got to purchase and wrap some gifts for loved ones far away in order to mail them off in time. You spend time standing in line waiting to spend even more money on postage! Then there are those people that you either want to or have to give a gift, but can’t for the life of you figure out what to give them.

Admit it. You’ve probably dreamed of a gift-less Christmas. This dream lasts a few minutes until you think about how people might take it wrong if you suddenly cease and desist. How might you feel when others give you gifts and you lamely explain, “I wanted to try a non-materialistic Christmas this year so I have nothing for you… but thanks for the loot.” To solve that problem you could send out a letter in advance announcing your intent. Maybe you could suggest donations to a particular charity in your honor… No. That ends up being even more materialistic because it implies an obligation that is usually left completely unspoken in our culture. It’s about here that most of us give up and get back to making our lists and checking them twice.

Well, We’ve done a number of gift-free Christmases now that we live in Mexico and I can tell you what it’s like not to give gifts at Christmas. It’s boring. On Christmas Eve there is no suspense. On Christmas morning there is nothing to do except eat breakfast. There aren’t any new toys to play with all day. In the days leading up to Christmas there’s no sneaking around and hiding things. There’s no wrapping gifts, carefully sticking tape down. There’s no curling of ribbon and no writing of gift labels. Christmas feels like Independence Day or Saint Patrick’s day or Labor Day.

This year I thought it through again. First of all, Christmas is supposed to be a spiritual celebration. Second of all, our son isn’t even two yet. What does he know? He’s already got so many toys we can’t stack them all up on his shelf to clean the floor. Not to mention that money is tight and consumer goods expensive in Mexico. I don’t need anything. My husband doesn’t need anything. Besides, if we got a gift we don’t have any place to put it. Our closet-less house is already driving us nuts and we are continuously trying to find things to get rid of to create more room. So, I just didn’t do gifts. My husband, who grew up without gifts of any kind (it wasn’t his religion, it was poverty), didn’t even notice. In fact, gift exchanges drive him more than nuts because he has no practice at giving and receiving gifts and he either feels inadequate or unworthy or both.

Still, what was one of the most fun moments for us after all? The moment when I found the toy that my mom had sent down with me after Thanksgiving to give to my son for Christmas. I had stashed it away to save for Christmas then forgotten about it. We all played with it for hours and had a lot of fun. He’d already played with it at Thanksgiving, but he wasn’t complaining. He didn’t miss the wrapping paper because he’s never seen a wrapped gift in his life. He just liked the newness and having us play with him. We also enjoyed the few small things sent down by my aunts.

Living in Mexico is helping me to appreciate my materialistic Christmas traditions after all.