From Ecuador to Mexico — Reader’s Review of Mexico: the Trick is Living Here July 3
I’m a 57 year-old former Iowan who, along with my fiancÃ©, Deb, is planning to move from Cuenca, Ecuador to Puebla, Mexico in the very near future. Living in Latin America has been more than a little rough on Deb and I and she thought that getting Mexico: the Trick is Living Here would be a good idea. She reasoned that any help we could find to ease the transition from a lifetime of living in the U.S. to the Mexican experience would be worthwhile. We’ve both been to Mexico as a tourists several times and have lived in Ecuador for nearly a year so I considered that the book might be a good idea but hardly a necessity. The book, I reckoned, probably couldn’t offer much practical advice for me.
Boy, was I wrong!
Julia Taylor (with help from her [Mexican] husband) has written an e-book on settling down in Mexico that is much more than a handbook for foreign travel. It’s a well-written and very personal guide for settling down to a long-term residency. The book is written in such a personal style in fact, that I’m perfectly comfortable referring to the author as Julia. Once I’d started reading the book it was difficult to stop. Were it a paper-and-print book there’d be dog-eared pages and whole sections highlighted for future reference. As it is, it being an e-book is a blessing for the reader since relevant passages can be easily retrieved, copied … and then printed [for personal use only]. In fact, we’ve customized the Rental Property Checklist (p. 119) in just this way so as to have it handy in the future when it’ll be most helpful.
Julia has already analyzed the pros and cons of whether one should rent, buy or build; is a house or an apartment more appropriate; in which type of neighborhood should the home be located; by what criteria should the landlord be evaluated? Having established this kind of framework in advance has given us a much better place to start when beginning the search process. Noticing neighborhood business locations is especially important when our method of transportation will be on foot. Back in Iowa a six-block road trip to the store was common and advanced planning for routine marketing wasn’t necessary. Recognizing the value of having and cultivating observant neighbors as a security measure is always a good thing but as expats in Mexico, it’ll be especially valuable. These are only a couple important tips that we’ve found in her book. But before I get too far along, let me back up a little.
Deb and I are approaching retirement age but not ready yet to give up the stimulation we’ve grown accustomed to in the U.S. We both hope to stay active, either through work or volunteering, as part of our future life-style in Mexico. That will require a certain amount of integration into the culture that we’ll find ourselves. We are both facing major life-style changes. I’m returning to a profession as TEFL instructor that was sidelined years ago. Deb’s career in the U.S. won’t translate too readily into the Latin culture. We are both eager to practice and improve our Spanish. Being practical is a trait we share and added income from active employment will also be welcomed. Knowing not only where we can contribute but how will be an important part of how we see ourselves and, just as important, how our vecinos view us.
Julia gives us detailed step-by-step instructions on diverse but inevitable situations. These include importing our cars, auto insurance that is not only necessary but required, licensing of both ourselves and the car and what to expect in the event of even a fender bender. She pays special attention to negotiating in traffic, which includes how to ‘nudge’ and how to get through ‘turnabouts’. Even though I don’t intend on driving in Mexico (a fact for which I’m even more grateful after reading this), this section kept my attention and gave me a lesson on the Mexican psyche and driving concepts that I’d never considered.
Likewise, while I have the good fortune not to have to experience the constant scheduling and indignities of bathroom etiquette for women, I hope that I’m a better person and a more understanding companion for having been exposed to what half of the world’s population has to endure. Julia covers what is often left unspoken thoroughly and tastefully. It’s easy for me to say but it’s no less a fact that sometimes life just isn’t fair.
While our specific situations don’t include a need for advice on Canadian documentation or how to register newborns, Julia includes very readable and needed sections on these topics. She also includes help in meeting such universal needs as telephone and gas service, water and taxis (including helpful phrases such as, “Cuanto cobra para ir aâ€¦”). There are useful sections on weather, festivals and celebrations, riding the bus, appropriate (and inappropriate) gestures and other diplomatic social skills that will set us apart from other less informed foreigners.
Her section on food and the fruits that we can expect to find is very welcome and is meaningful to everyone. Julia has taken much of the mystery away from the incredible variety of fruits available in Mexico and experimenting with new food will be more of an enjoyable adventure than a rite of passage to be suffered through.
Having lived in Ecuador for most of the last year, Deb and I are both familiar with the market experience and it was especially gratifying to notice that what we’d thought were our own personal reactions to certain realities of the market are in fact, common to other U.S. and Canadian shoppers. While the state of the floors in the market may not be any less unsanitary or distasteful, we can at least recognize it as commonplace, non-threatening and part of the overall market experience. Just don’t eat off the floor.
On a personal note, we have been offered (with exceptional terms) several potential homes in and around Puebla and because of this book we’re much better able to evaluate each offering with an eye to our future safety, comfort and well-being. Julia has shared her insight into what (and how) real estate is presented and what we should look for. We’ve got a checklist now and before even arriving in Mexico have asked pertinent questions regarding these properties. Even over the Internet we’re better able to assess the real value of what on the surface may seem to be outstanding deals. When we finally come face to face with what may be our future home, we’ll be more objective and better prepared to calculate the worth of what is being offered.
What Julia Taylor has done is put together a how-to book dedicated to relocating to Mexico. It is chock-full of useful advice and tidbits that are not found in travel guides and handbooks. She relates how we, as foreigners from the north, can learn and accept the cultural differences within which we’ll find ourselves down the road. By giving us a practical heads-up she’s paving the way for our healthy and safe entry into the Mexican culture. She also encourages us to be better neighbors and responsible members of our future communities.
The book doesn’t include every specific detail that is germane to Deb and my personal situations. It does contain enough specific material though to be spot-on relevant on a personal level. In addition to this there is a universal appeal and usefulness about the entire book to make it a valuable resource for anyone considering a move to Mexico.
Above all Julia recognizes the most important asset that we can all carry with us. In the early pages of her book, she offers what she calls, “The key to it all: Interpersonal Relationships”. The secret to a successful transition into a foreign culture is the willingness to cultivate human connections and become a part of our new community. If this is done successfully, and Julia Taylor certainly points the way for us, when faced with an unknown hurdle and we ask questions, we’re much more likely to get (and recognize) accurate and helpful information. This reminder to break out of our engrained isolation may be the most valuable piece of advice the author offers us. After having read Mexico: the Trick is Living Here, Deb and I are both better prepared to face our next challenges in Puebla, Mexico.
–Scott Hanel & Deb Neighbor
Cuenca, Ecuador June, 2008