I have lived in Merida for a long time – in fact, close to 4 decades now. Because I am active in the local and international communities, write this blog and also my books, I often meet new residents in Yucatan. Sometimes they take me aside and confide that their adaptation to the new culture is not as seamless as they would have hoped.
“How did you manage?” they often ask. While it is hard to remember the specific steps, I think there are three key issues to overcome, if you are to successfully adapt to life in Mexico.
- It is paramount to truly embrace the diversity and let go of the notion that the way you
functioned in the place you came from, will also be the best way here.
People will behave differently and their reactions will not always be what you expect. Customs are confusing sometimes, and you can’t be afraid to ask what to expect and what is expected of you.
For example, I know a recently-arrived American husband and wife who were given an invitation to their housekeeper’s daughter’s Quince Años. At first both were flabbergasted to hear how elaborate the event would be, and their bodies ached in anticipation of such a late-night.
They didn’t stay in that mind-set though; they
asked around, found out how they should dress and what an appropriate gift would be. They took a long siesta the afternoon of the party. They smiled gamely and used their limited vocabulary when they were seated at a table with people who spoke no English. They ate the tacos and drank everything that was offered. They danced; they kissed back everyone who kissed them, and they were by no means the first guests to leave. The next day they felt honored to have attended – not pleased with themselves – but truly grateful to have been included.
- Learning the language really is imperative. You don’t have to memorize that intimidating “500 Spanish Verbs” book, but your social contacts will be so limited if you only socialize with English-speakers.
One of my good friends calls herself an “eternal intermediate.” Although she and her husband didn’t speak a lick of Spanish when they arrived in Merida, they now mange to accomplish all their errands, have made delightful friends from Merida’s artistic community, and can even answer the phone with ease.
It is all about attitude, they say – and they are absolutely right.
Spanish is NOT a difficult language to learn – not even at “a certain age,” but it does require consistency to reach a fairly fluent level. But who’s in a rush? Take it easy and you’ll get there.
- Accepting that trade-offs are necessary. You cannot enjoy the spontaneity of this culture and then get furious with the unpunctuality.
There are certain aspects of life in Mexico that are easy to accept. It is wonderful when someone calls out-of-the-blue and asks, “Can you come to dinner?” “When?” you ask. “Right now!” they reply. You grab a bottle of wine to give the host, and off you go to spend a delightful evening with wonderful food and drink and a roomful of interesting people.
How does this happen? It just does… when you show an open attitude and eagerness to learnabout the area. Mexican people are gracious and welcoming to internationals that pursue their company.
But of course, there are instances when you’re expecting a tradesman, a friend or whoever, and they don’t show… You have to understand that this too, is “just the way it is.”
When I came to live in Merida, I did not know what to expect. At the time, I didn’t realize that exchanging a comfortable but predicable life in Canada, for a sometimes-puzzling, but definitely exhilarating one in Mexico would be the best decision I ever made.