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Culture Shock

8 Jun

We had been on vacation in Mexico for less than a week and I was already having some culture shock. It’s funny, because I know Mexican culture and have lived here. For some strange reason I am having more culture shock now than when I came to live in Mexico.

1. The Definition of Hot I’m sweating. It’s hot. It’s really really hot. Air conditioning is rare, and when one finds it in Mexico it is warm compared to Midwestern United States freezing indoors. Yesterday was hot like any other day and the whole family is clothed as little as possible. We go out for a paleta, or Mexican style Popsicle, and I spot numerous people in long sleeved shirts, layered clothing, and *gasp* a fuzzy winter cap. It’s somewhere around 90 degrees. If it gets any hotter I’m going to have to take my skin off. I remember having students (in the mountains in the US) who would come to school in shorts on a day that was 40 degrees and sunny.

I remember Mexicans being a little more tolerant of heat than myself, but to wear layers when it is summer was a shock. I do remember students (in Mexico) coming to school in the winter wearing scarves and hats and gloves when it was about 50 degrees, but not this summer-time bundling up.

2. The Definition of Hurry – I’m pretty familiar with the Mexican way of telling time, and I actually got so used to it that I love it and wish I could adhere to it more living in the United States. Hadassah’s Mexican birthday party (on Sunday) is quoted in the invitation to start at 2pm. I’m fully expecting guests to still be arriving at 5pm and am totally fine with that.

Yesterday we had just gotten in the car and needed to turn around in the very narrow street. We were slowly turning the car around when I spotted a car turn down the street. “AGHHHH!!!!” I yelled with a fright. “Hurryyyyy! Here comes a car!!!!” In the US I would get in to quite a tizzy about this situation and probably crash in to something due to the stress and pressure of having to turn around as fast as possible. Suddenly a lightbulb went on in my head. “Oh wait,” I said to everyone in the car, “I forgot! We are in Mexico! We don’t have to worry about blocking the street! It is totally normal!” Phew!

Even though this was something normal for me when I was a resident in Mexico, I had forgotten it. Later while we were driving around, we passed a car that was stopped in the middle of the road. The occupants were hanging out and looked completely relaxed. Relax, relax, relax!

3. Pollution really is seasonal. Guadalajara is a city with over six million people, and the city was poorly planned. One is bound to run in to funky smells here and there. Last time we were in Mexico (it was December), every time we blew our noses it was black. Yuck. At that time I was surprised at the amount o pollution my nose was filtering. It was pretty gross. When preparing for our trip this time, I was expecting to see the same nastiness when blowing my nose. I have been pleasantly surprised that I have normal looking snot, and my need to blow my nose has been very rare, whereas at home in the mountains I have to blow my nose multiple times a day.

4. Prices. In general, electronics and luxury items in Mexico have always seemed to me very expensive, while basic things like food and shelter are pretty cheap. For example, my mother-in-law just got back from the market. She bought a giant bucket of raspberries for about $1.50. That same bucket would have cost about $20 in the US, or $10 when they are on sale for 2×1. I think these norms still hold true, however I was completely shocked to see a gallon of whole milk going for 48 pesos, which is currently about $4 with the (currently really good for us) exchange rate. Maybe Mexicans can go to a market or dairy farm and find milk cheaper, and maybe I didn’t notice the expensive milk when I lived here because my milk intake is limited, but a gallon of whole milk is about $3. That is a pretty big difference. It surprised me quite a bit. This is a good point in favor of late weaning!

5. People with disabilities.
Fernando used to be a teacher in a school for children with disabilities, so I had seen lots of people with disabilities. However, after being back in the US and visiting Mexico, I almost got choked up several times seeing people out and about with their family members with disabilities. I feel like in the US, people with disabilities are either: 1. Hidden away in a home somewhere and/or only socialize with therapists and workers, or 2. Abortion is legal and common in the US, and I am betting I don’t see as many people with disabilities because we promote killing them off through abortion.

The second point is what instantly came to mind, which is probably why I became weepy. These family members in Mexico are precious and loved. It has been so beautiful to see. We went to a pretty posh mall and as I was sitting on a bench feeding Emmanuel, a couple wheeled by in wheel chairs. I could tell instantly they were on a date. They were both dressed so nicely and the girl had pretty makeup on. She didn’t have use of her arms or legs, and her date was wheeling himself and her. It was the cutest and most beautiful thing. Talk about chivalry! It has been such an eye-opening culture shock.

6. There are really really really poor people in Mexico. After living in Mexico for several years, I grew accustomed to my cosmopolitan city. Yes, there are bad things about Mexico, but there are so many good things! And yes, I went to people’s houses that didn’t have flushing toilets, and I thought that was close (somewhat) to the lowest class of poverty.

I gasped when flying in to Puerto Vallarta and spotted a neighborhood of shanties. Obviously I was in the air and didn’t get a great look, but I was disturbed at what I saw. To my surprise, when we drove out of Puerto Vallarta we passed this very same neighborhood. To say the abodes were shacks is actually a generous definition. I don’t even know what the places were made of, but it looked to me like newspaper, and maybe some cardboard. It was such a foreign concept for my eyes to behold that I still am struggling to process it. How do these people eat? What do they eat? Do they have a bathroom? How do they live? After being a resident in Mexico I don’t understand how those living quarters could be a necessity. Yes, Mexico is a third world country, but I wonder if they couldn’t go carry bags for Americans, put all their money together, and rent a place together. It is a side of Mexico I never saw and do not yet understand, but I was left with a hunger to investigate.

7. I am a heathen and Mexicans are not. This is something I actually noticed while living in Mexico and I am frustrated I still havent learned the secret. Napkins in Mexico seem to be the same standard size everywhere I go. About 3 inches x 3 inches. In addition, they are very thin. Mexican food can get messy. Tacos are finger food, along with fruta picada con limón, or chopped fruit with lime and chile, and various botanas like potato chips with hot sauce.

Any time I dine with Mexicans, they manage to use one of these tiny napkins throughout the duration of the whole meal, while I literally have a pile of 20 used napkins in a small mountain next to me. My only conclusion is that I eat like a caveman. I set a goal on my napkin use. While I lived here I improved greatly, but I have regressed since living in the US.

So far this is some of my culture shock and I am looking forward to the rest of our stay.




20 Apr

I penned this while living in Mexico six years ago.  When you visit or take up residence in a new country, there are things big and small that capture your attention.  When I would go to the supermarket in Mexico to pick up milk, I did not grab it from the freezer section… it was boxed at room temperature and was the most common way to buy milk. While supermarkets in the US have soy and almond milk in the aisles, I bet having regular milk in the aisles would baffle many Americans.



“Tossing. Turning. Sweating. A desire to sleep.

From time to time we all suffer from a shade of insomnia. Whether it is a stressful situation at work, drowning worries about the future, or a bubbling excitement that robs you of the joy of counting sheep, these sleepless attacks manifest in the lives of every individual. So, perhaps this is common knowledge. But, the very particular reasons of insomnia that hit me most likely remain a mystery for you. Unless you keep reading…

Then, you will find yourself enlightened…

My biggest reason for being an insomniac, as I have confessed in my IA meetings, is an overwhelming hunger for knowledge. Yes, it’s true, I am somewhat addicted to learning. We all have questions pop into our heads and cause us to wonder, but my questions burn into my brain and call out to be answered. If you were in my position, you would also be forced to answer that call.

How many pathogens are present in the table salsas I eat when I go to a restaurant here in my lovely town of Guadalajara? If you ever come visit, don’t let the statistic of about forty percent scare you too much…

How healthy are those mangoes I eat every week? (Okay, not the greatest, but they are pretty much amazing)

And, my most recent question: How in the world can I drink regular milk that comes in a box and is not refrigerated? It has been a mystery to me for years, and it recently rose to the level of questioning of “plaguing my thoughts” this past week. Hence, my new discovery that I want to share with the world. Box milk is amazing! It is heated with ultra high pasteurization, which completely sterilizes the milk (sterile = completely free of microorganisms) and packaged in a sterile environment. Milk in the US is pasteurized, but that doesn’t kill all the bacteria (oh yes, there are still microbes in your dear, refrigerated, pasteurized milk!). In taking all that into consideration, it is a shame to think that Americans, for psychological problems, could never switch to box milk (if I am wrong, please sign a petition or comment or something). The biggest plus for box milk? Less waste. Less extravagance. But, wait – we don’t know how to be anything but extravagant, do we?

Start questioning. Join the insomniac club with me. If you do, maybe you’d find that twenty percent of the salsas in Texas also carry pathogens…


Adachi, Javier A. et al. “Enteric Pathogens in Mexican Sauces of Popular Restaurants in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Houston, Texas.” Annals of Internal Medicine. Vol 132. No 12. 18 June 2002. 884-887.”