Choosing a Place to Retire: Qualitative Checklist Required

I’m not sure I’d choose to move to Cuernavaca if I had it all to do over again. (Though I don’t have another place that I’m convinced I’d rather be). It’s just that I didn’t list out enough criteria to use to be sure that Cuernavaca was the right place for me. Now that I’ve lived here for a while, I am starting to see how much we have to consider before we choose a new home for ourselves. I hope you can gain from my experience as you plan to retire in Mexico.

I didn’t ask myself questions, such as…

What do I spend most of my free time doing?

What activities do I find most refreshing or satisfying?

What items/activities do I feel I couldn’t live without?

What am I most excited to leave behind when I go to Mexico?

What do I really like and what gets on my last nerve about my current town?

Beware of Vacation Mode

When you visit Mexico in search of your retirement location, it’s easy not to notice if you are still in the “vacation” mode to some extent. We can all “go without” certain preferred things for a while and not even miss them, but when the daily grind begins to wear on us, then we really seek them out. The opposite can be true. When we get to Mexico we enjoy the new activities so much, we don’t notice the ones we might miss later. It’s easy to read along, thinking “yeah, yeah, yeah” but not really understand.

I like to give my readers examples so that they can really feel what it might be like to retire in Mexico. Imagine you are a champion league bowler. You also love the beach. When you visit Mexico you follow your heart and choose a small, quiet beach town so that you can enjoy walks on the beach daily. After you finally make your dream come true and retire in Mexico you find you really miss the ego boost you used to get on Saturday nights bowling strike after strike. You do walk on the beach every day, but let’s face it. There is no ego boost from strolling along in the sun.

Details, Details, Relationships, and Stress Reduction

I’ve been in Mexico for six, no, 7 years and I still miss having a bath tub! When I moved I knew that I loved taking baths and knew I wouldn’t be able to afford to have a tub in my home in Mexico, but I guess I thought I’d get over it eventually. I’m not getting over it. It’s not just that I love taking baths, it’s that it’s a strategy I used to use for stress reduction. Ooops. I underestimated the importance of having a bath tub. Other things hadn’t even occurred to me. I love to walk and really, really, no matter how much I wrack my mind, can’t find good (free and safe) places to get out and get relaxed and refreshed in Cuernavaca. This seems like a small thing, but it’s not. It’s about getting cabin fever, about feeling trapped.

What about rare, but important treats? For example, imagine that you love to see art films with your oldest child? What if he/she were to visit you after you retire in Mexico and you couldn’t take in one single film? Would you still have a rewarding visit? This is a drastic example, but I think it helps to illustrate how some things are so ingrained in our experience in our current lives, that we may not even think to consider if we can still enjoy them when we move.

Ease Into it Baby: Retire in Mexico Like You’d Get into a Hot Tub

Mexico is just so different from the U.S. and Canada. I just can’t put it into words and you can’t picture it until you live there. Then you’ll know what I mean. This is why you’ve really got to ease yourself into your retirement in Mexico. Make extended stays. Rent, don’t buy at first. Finally, when getting on the plane to head back to Mexico feels like going home, then you can buy or build your dream home.

Gender Relationships in Mexico: Is it Really Sexism?

This is a question that I’ve pondered many times over the years as I’m living in Mexico. It’s not something that I can make generalizations about, since generalizations are, by nature, inaccurate. I can say that the way men and women relate to each other in Mexico is totally different than in the U.S. and Canada.

I can’t make generalizations about Mexico, but I can try to put into words something about my own experiences, which are mine and it’s my prerogative to describe the way I wish. (That’s for all those starry-eyed-Mexico-defenders who hate it when anyone writes anything that can be perceived as critical of Mexico when we all know darn well that the U.S. isn’t perfect either.)

My Background Gender Experiences in the Pacific Northwest

Before I moved to Mexico I worked as a biological technician on wild-fish related projects. Most of the people I worked with were men. Some of my co-workers expected me to fail at backing a trailer, operating a boat, etc. They didn’t provide adequate instruction, due to this, and so I didn’t learn to do those things as well as I’d like to have. Yes, sexism existed for me. On the other hand, I’ve been remembering that some of my co-workers really knew how to walk the talk of working together equally (but fairly). Three men, particularly, gained a place in my heart forever because they were truly, honestly, open to me for who I was, with no sexual undertones.

My Perspective After 6 Years in Mexico

I’m loosing contact with men. I say hello to friend’s spouses, but that’s it. There is such a culture of respectfully avoiding someone else’s spouse in Mexico, that it would be rude to try to converse with someone else’s husband. At work, people expect me to do well, but I’m teaching. I have no desire to try to work in a male-dominated field such as engineering or biology as I did back home. I often feel like Mexican men take pleasure an any “evidence” they see of their “natural superiority.”

I’m really curious to know if men are generally paid more for the same work at our school. I wish I could analyze the payroll by gender, but I don’t have access to that information. As a woman teacher I am expected to enjoy teaching children and people seem surprised when I say I really can’t stand it. By the same token, I’ve seen a man be pushed out out teaching little children because the people hiring him couldn’t imagine it.

Our neighbors always display the someone-else’s-spouse-avoidance. My neighbor, who is 40 years older than me, won’t talk to me more than a couple of sentences if there isn’t a witness around. He will not come near my front door if my husband isn’t their. Women neighbors come to the gate, call my name, then ask for my husband if they need to talk to him. They don’t call him directly. Once, one did call him directly, but he told me later that she asked if I’m jealous and if I’d get mad. Aparently, she isn’t well-schooled in the trust-your-husband-to-be-a-responsible-person theory. My friends say “hi” to my husband and that’s it. I have one friend who does talk to my husband on the phone at length–she’s Italian.

It starts early, of course. For example, people joke to tiny children, asking them if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend yet (which, to me, implies that that’s the only relationship they could possibly have with someone of the opposite sex.)

So, lately I’ve been getting nostalgic about my old co-workers. [Let me warn you. When you move to another culture, you tend to get very nostalgic about lots of things.]

A Tribute to Three Good Men

I worked with these men on two different crews out of the same office. We developed a relationship of mutual trust and understanding that was a source of security for me (and which I have not experienced in Mexico, but have gotten close to with other men at other jobs in the U.S.).

I would have gone places with these guys that I would never go with any co-worker in Mexico. I would have gone on a flat-bottomed, underpowered electrofisher boat in an unfamiliar section of the Columbia River with fluctuating water levels after dark with these guys and not been scared–oh wait. We did that. I would have constructed heavy, clunky equipment and tried to anchor it in cold, flowing water with only a wrench and a mallet–oh wait. We did that. I would have spent hours alone in the woods or on H. N. Reservation with no road to walk out on–oh wait. We did that. I would eat out together ever day we were on the road and always ask what kind of lettuce was in the salad–oh yes, I did that. These guys were real saints. They never teased me about having to pee every 45 minutes, though I think one of them got his revenge by putting all the sampling equipment into a huge, double long cooler that was impossible for me to carry, or maybe he just couldn’t imagine not being as big as Paul Bunyan. One of them taught me to drive a 4-wheeler and sat behind me, putting along in first gear, for a couple of miles, and never cracked one girly joke. No one ever dissed my driving and they never retaliated when I told them there was too much testosterone around during the days we were filling, tying, loading, and stacking sand bags (I wasn’t a saint. They’d be the first ones to tell you that), though they may have reminded me not to sexually harass them.

Sanity Man*, Mr. Pontificate, and Go-go-go I think of you often. Sanity Man, I wish we could have worked in a team of two more often because I would have learned to operate a boat and back a trailer like a whiz if those other (alcoholics) hadn’t been around scoffing, hurrying, and judging me. Thanks for making me feel like a normal human being. Mr. Pontificate I learned a lot from you–about how to be a good biologist, and (other’s may be surprised) I’m a better wife, thanks to your sharing about being a good husband. I need a few more rides out to H. Creek now that I’m a parent because I’d love to know what you’ve got figured out about being a parent. Go-go-go I loved figuring out how we were going to get things done together. I really got to participate in creative, problem solving with you. Also, thanks for letting me take lunch breaks 😉 Some of my favorite field-blooper stories that I still tell my husband while on long road trips come from our adventures. Remember that “monster” we saw — but didn’t see — in the dense understory in that wetland on Willipa NWR?

Back to Reality in Mexico

The other day I was in the back seat of a taxi with my son. My husband and the taxi driver were making general conversation in the front seat. The taxi driver said something that I found interesting and I made a comment. I got no response. They just didn’t expect me to say anything. I’m sick of it. My husband tells me that he just didn’t hear me, but I say that just goes to show that there was no expectation that I would converse.

My husband has been arguing at length with a neighbor who has this whole theory that women can’t weld. He uses as evidence, the fact that you never see a woman welding (in Mexico, of course. Ironic he picked welding for his example, considering the widespread “Rosie the Riveter” posters up in the U.S.). My husband tells him that if someone would teach her, she could weld, but so far the logic of that one hasn’t won my neighbor over. Go-go-go would have gladly taught me to weld, though I chose not to because I didn’t want to be welding up fish traps for the next spawning season. Recently, I re-strung an outdoor chair with plastic when the seat got brittle and broke from so much sun exposure. My Mexican neighbors, men and women alike, expressed real surprise that I could do it. Sheesh.

On the other hand, in Mexico I’ve felt no pressure to carry extremely heavy things since moving to Mexico and I feel that I’m expected to be a woman–which I am. Sometimes in the U.S. women feel pressure to be like men.

So, this blog entry could be discounted as a thinly disguised therapy session for a woman who is nostalgic about her good old days, or it could be seen as an interesting insight into a huge topic that even anthropologists would be crazy to try to figure out. I hope you learned more about Mexico than you did about me.

*Their names have been changed to protect their identities.

Mr. Pontificate, I’m sure you’ll know who you are. If you read this, pass it on to Sanity Man and Go-go-go.

Want to Retire in Mexico, but not Sure You Can Trust My Book Engough to Buy it?

Expat Exchange just published their own review of Mexico: The Trick is Living Here. You can read the review, by Betsy Burlingame on Expat Exchange’s web site.

I’m a happy author because so many people, like Betsy, have taken time out of their busy schedules to read my book and they are willing to recommend the book to others who would like to live in Mexico!

If you want to find some of the other reviews written about Mexico: The Trick is Living Here you can type the key word “review” into that little search box to your right (below the menu) on my web site.