Thursday, May 21, 2009

What's it like to live in Cancun?

I'm quite sure I am not the only Mexican blogger to get emails asking what it's like to live here. Some of the emails have legitimate and logical questions, while others are just jam packed full of fantasies of days floating on the sea with cabana boys and piña coladas. The general questions are the hardest to answer, "What's it like? How does it feel? Is it hard to adjust?". Those kinds of questions would be answered differently by any ex-pat that lives here. Everyone's circumstances are different, the reason for living in Mexico, age, economic status, marital status, parental status and mental health status add up to a wide range of experiences. What might be great for me is hell on earth for someone else. Sometimes the things that my friends cannot tolerate don't bother me at all and the things that make me pull out my hair are just fine by my friends.

I find it amusing when people ask me what they should do to plan to come here. Me? You're asking me? I came on vacation with a back pack and just didn't catch my flight home, what do I know about planning? I'm not the most organized woman on the planet, I don't overthink things (heck, sometimes I don't think at all!) and if I had sat down and thought about moving here, it probably never would have happened. Don't ask me about financial planning, it's not part of my vocabulary. Big money purchases like a house or a business? Not my area of expertise. Ask me how to pack the car for a last minute road trip to a new beach, I'm your girl. Ask about immigration, I've got lots to say about that. But boy oh boy, ask me if you'll like it or how to micromanage the move and I'll redirect you to someone more qualified than I.

Some things to ask yourself before you decide to move to Mexico....

1. Am I running away from something or towards something?
2. Do I have the ability to erase all expectations and be happy with what comes?
3. Do I have the patience of a saint?
4. Do I have the ability to learn a new language? (I think this is essential to living in another country)
5. Will I ever be able to stop speaking with the words "us" and "them" in reference to the people of Mexico?
6. Am I picky about the products that I buy? Will I be happy to use the products and brands that are available and not cry over not being able to find my deodorant?
7. Will I be able to deal with the difficulties in getting seemingly simple tasks accomplished in a place where these simple tasks are done differently and in another language? Can I order a pizza/internet/prescription/haircut in Spanish?

Knowing that you want to reside "somewhere else" is one thing. It's easy to see the great things about living in Quintana Roo, it's a beautiful place, a paradise visited by millions every year. Recognizing that living here is a totally different thing than vacationing here is a whole other matter. It's not necessarily easy breezy all the day long. Ex-pats who have been here a long time have seen the bright eyed newbies come and go. These newbies usually last about six months, proclaiming they're here forever, saying they understand the differences and that things might be tough but that they've studied and read everything and have their lists so they're ready. They've got their plan and they're sticking to it. Most plans don't work out as well as intended, people are either too rigid to go with the flow of change or can't get past the frustration stage of expatriation. Those who last longer than six months may be very different in many ways, but it seems that common factors to success in living in Mexico are open minds, patience and the love of a challenge. Doesn't mean that we don't bitch and moan about some things, but at the end of the day we say "ni modo" and carry on.

So, you up for the challenge? Would you consider living in Mexico or another country? If you already live here, is there anything you'd like to add? Love to hear your thoughts on the matter.


Gaelyn said...

It's a beautiful place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Great post.

Steve Cotton said...

Well, we shall see if I am one of the planners who crashes in the first 6 months. I am certainly off to a rocky -- or adventurous, depending on how you look at it --start.

Anonymous said...

Im dying to move.......we are seriously thinking of moving to PR....the only difference is that we dont have to deal with immigrtaion since they are still a commonwealth of the US......but we both speak the language....and we have a house there.....a very old fixer upper.....but still a house. Plus i think its a great opportunity for my daughter to REALLY know her culture. Anyways Kelly you really inspire me!!!!! You ROCK!!!

mare ad mare said...

I've lived in the U.S (the south, so it IS a different country - and language !) and Germany.
I never had any intention of staying in either place for life, I always wanted to come back to Canada. So that didn't help some of things you mentioned.
When I moved to Germany, it was for work and had little time to really get acquainted (I was still traveling a bunch!) but did manage to pick up some of the language. The product issue was one issue, but the biggest problem for us was the pace of things - everything happened slowly, and was WAY over-regulated, that no independent thought or analysis was allowed. THAT drove me nuts..
If you're interested - I summarized some of my time there in another post (focusing on the good stuff, but mentioning some of the differences and frustrations)

To really live in another country, and love it - you have to give yourself to it and not look back. As you've done.
It's not easy - so congrats on that!
Great post.

Islagringo said...

There is another form of expat here. One you probably rarely encounter. The ones that live here for a long time, continue to carry the US vs THEM attitude for life, never bother to learn or speak the language and bitch about the Mexican way daily. So how do they survive and get along for so many years here? Easy. Money. They simply pay somebody to do everything that needs to be done. They never venture into the Mexican community except the interaction they may, or may not, have with their gardners, maids and lawyers.

Kelly said...

I would love to live in Mexico - whether I could or not is another story. I hope to start a Master's degree in Public Administration and would like to do a concentration in Mexican-American relations or Border Studies. I'm also working really hard on learning Spanish (somehow 3 semisters of college Spanish didn't stick) maybe someday! Until then, I'm content to visit as often as I can, read blogs like yours, and try to find a way to learn Spanish!

Kelly said...

Also, Erica - my mom lived in Puerto Rico for awhile, and it seems like the lack of immigration issues (for Americans) really eases the transition. She thoroughly enjoyed her time there, I hope, if you move, that you will too!

Amanda said...

Yes, I'm up to the challenge! Well, for a short while, anyway. I'm still unsure where I want to be permanently. Your list is quite good. One thing that relates to your list, but isn't explicitly mentioned is that when you move to a different country, you have to be willing not to compare it with your home country. When I was in Germany, a friend of mine really wound herself up by, "Well, in America, we have this" or "We do it differently (better) in America" and so forth. She was unhappy and wanted to go home for the majority of our time there.

I don't know if I'll end up in Mexico, but I do know that I definitely want to live abroad for at least a year after I finish up grad school. I actually look forward to the challenge of living somewhere that requires me to speak a foreign language. :)

Sara said...

I just wrote a post about this too, about people emailing me for advice on living in Chile. I love the ones as you call them "bright eyed newbies" who come and think they know everything. They will often tell me that I am wrong. Many times they insist on speakin in Spanish all of the time. (Oh and by the way, nothing draws my attention faster than a obvious crowd of gringos shouting at eachother in horribly accented Spanish). I love how all of them are at first enchanted with Chile and Chileans and the food and the weather and then slowly but surely they fall out of "love" with the country and either leave feeling betrayed or get over it and become like me. Don't get me wrong, I still have my idealistic "WELL IN THE US THIS WOULDN'T HAPPEN!!!" days, but they are fewer and farther between. For the most part, I've done like you said and have gotten used to the things I can get here, what life is like here, the people and have stopped stressing out about it.

Theresa in Mèrida said...

You're preaching to the choir here! It's different, some things better, some worse, mostly just different. I am amazed at the people who want to come down here and work, but don't seem to understand that they won't be getting paid the same as when they were nob.

minshap said...

Questions 1 and 2 on your list are the most intriguing - at least for me... when I decided to come to Mexico, several people told me I was running away from my life in the place where I was. I told them they could look at it that way if they wanted, but for me, it was a question of running towards something new! I had no expectations about what I would find; each day presented interesting challenges, spontaneity, and wonder. The only thing I knew for certain was that I was truly immersed in the adventure of Life, and that's what had been lacking in the life I was leading before coming to Mexico.

ElleCancun said...

Couldn't agree more!! I miss the "wierd" things.... Softlips chapstick, Heinz beans (kidney and baked), Good old Canadian Caesar!!!!

Won't lie that I haven't bitched a few times here n' there, but I truly do respect that I am the one in another country, and do realize I can't expect it to change for me! Even though we know some things could be soooo much easier... LOL!!

Anonymous said...

I will live part of the year in Mexico once I retire. I would used to think that I would move to Isla and live there full time. I now know that I won’t do that because I want to be close to my daughter especially after her 2nd near death episode. Oh and someday in the not too far off future I will be a grandmother. My daughter and her husband live only 8 houses away from me. I will do my homework before I make the part time move to Isla. I have friends keeping an eye out for an apartment for me to rent so I can gradually stay longer and linger on the island until I do retire.

Jonna said...

The ones I see fail are those that beat themselves against a wall trying to make it different or logical or efficient. They don't realize that they are trying to make the world here more like the world they left. They never see that there is a logic and efficiency of a different kind in play.

Eventually they get bitter and the us vs them comments or the snide remarks come more often. Then, if they are lucky or have left themselves an escape hatch, they return north. If they sold the farm and have no other option, they stay here and stay bitter. Those are the really poisonous ones, but I feel sorry for them. Somewhere along the line, they didn't see things clearly or they made a foolish decision and now they are stuck. The moral is the same one your mom told you, 'don't burn your bridges'.

Frankly Ronda said...

Since our plan was always to just be here one year, I am not sure which bucket we fall into but ... I agree with your post.

If you are someone who expects everything to be "just so" and logical and organized then only vacation here.

If you consider unexpected results an adventure and can say "all well" easily then welcome!

Matt Swift said...

I would move to Mexico if it wasn't for the fact that I'll be taking care of my sisters in a few years, and a non-english-speaking country would be awful for two english-speaking girls with Downs.
I bet I could even get my current job transferred there too...

Rosas Clan in Tulum said...

Great post as usual honey. I definatly hit a block around 5 months. But the pluses out weighed the negatives for me.

One thing my friend who lives an hour outside if Merida told me... "if you focus on the things that are different, or that you cannot find- you will lose your mind, but if you focus on the fact that you can get 3 pineapples for under 2 bucks... you will be happy" That has been so true for me.

If you are going to move to another country- you have to leave the idea that you are going to find the USA in that country.

Sher said...

Hi Cancun Canuck,
You really covered it all very well in this blog...that list of questions for people to ask themselves before moving to any other country is brilliant!

We have an update about WBSD you can read here:

We also have a reporter for WBSD–Thandelike–you can read about her on the post, too. Here’s the bio to include for Thandelike (along with a backlink): Anastasia Ashman is an American cultural producer based in Istanbul, and is a creator of Expat Harem, the anthology by foreign women about modern Turkey. Her Tweetstream focuses on women, travel and history and she shares resources for writers/travelers, expats, Turkophiles & culturati of all stripes.

If it would be easier to email about WBSD, please send me a note!

Have a great day,
Sher :0)

CancunCanuck said...

Ack, I just wrote a HUGE reply and everything froze, how frustrating! Let's see if I can recapture what I wanted to say to all of you....

Gaelyn- So many beautiful places in the world that I would love to visit but can not see myself living in. Thus, the beauty of vacation. :)

Steve- I think you've got the necessary skills and open mindedness necessary to discard your plans when the situation warrants. The first few months are always the hardest. You've just gone through a huge change, not only in changing locales, but in retiring as well, you are bound to have some ups and downs and some depression as well. Lean on your blogging buddies to get you through the rough stuff, having a support system of folks who have had similar experiences is a huge help. Lots of luck amigo, we're here for you.

Erica- Go for it! What have you got to lose really? Doing it while baby girl is still small will be easier than when she has friendships and ties to school etc.. You rock too, let me here that you are on your way, lol!

mare ad mare- I think you've made an addition to the list, people who move for work purposes and not necessarily of their own volition. Being forced into expatriation, even temporarily brings its own set of challenges. I think your family is blessed to have had the opportunity, the good, the bad and the ugly, the girls will never forget their experience.

IslaGringo- Oh yes, the rich folk in their ivory towers. I don't have much exposure to them, we have very, very little in common. I prefer to hang with the "po' folk", lol!

Kelly- Wow, great plans, much luck to you! I think the best way to learn Spanish is to find bilingual people to practice with. Go out for coffee or a beer (or four) and just talk about "nothing". I learned most of my Spanish in taxis, forced into conversation with the chatty drivers helped me a lot!

Amanda Lynn- From what I know of you, I think you are a perfect candidate for a move. You are correct that constantly making comparisons is akin to sabotaging yourself, you'll never embrace what you've got when all you can think about is what you left behind.

Sara- The "enchantment" period or "Isn't it all so quaint?" time goes fast. Once reality strikes, you've got to stop the comparisons and take your new country for what it is or you're just going to find yourself with a one way ticket back to your home country.

Theresa- Oh yes, the people who think working here is the same as their own country are definitely deluded. All expectations about rights and pay have to be thrown out the window. I also have to roll my eyes at the "get rich quick" people, their grand ideas about starting a business here quickly fade when they realize they don't know a darned thing about how business is done here.

CancunCanuck said...

(Ok, had to split my comment into two parts, I do blather on!)

minshap- I know that you are a great example of "doing it right". Embrace the new, the good and the bad and take each day as an exciting challenge! Like you, Mexico gave me many things that had been missing in my life in Canada, I'll be forever grateful for what this experience has taught me, I am a better person for all the experiences.

On Mexican Time- We all bitch and moan sometimes, so do the natives of this country. Life is not perfect here. It's the people that at the end of the day cannot just let it roll that end up quite miserable.

jackieinpdx- I think you are being very realistic and that is going to certainly be a benefit to you. Making a part time move is definitely easier than picking up and transferring your whole life. I wish you all the best!!

Jonna- Wise words dear woman. Missing the logic and efficiency that is here can lead you to much frustration, you've just got to learn to roll with it. You probably know more than many with your experiences in building your new home! You are a very good example of how to do it right, I hope that anyone looking to make the move reads your blog for great insights into real estate and "process"! You certainly are more of an expert than I!

American Mommy- I think that you have done an absolutely wonderful job of making the best of your time here. Your posts are always looking at the positive side of even negative situations. I think you've given your children a great gift, not only experiencing another country, culture and language, but skills in dealing with change, conflict and controversy as well. Kudos to you!

Matt- I think you would make a fantastic ex-pat. If I may be so bold as to offer an unsolicited opinion, why don't you take the time to do it now? It doesn't have to be forever and when the time comes that your sisters need you, you can always return and be a better caregiver. "Better" in that you had the time to do something great for you, grown as a person with experiences to share. I'd hate to think that you put something on hold for what might not happen for a few years yet. You are young and vibrant and for now your life is your own! (Love ya, sorry if I overstepped).

Rosas Clan- Love that phrase "3 pineapples for 2 bucks", it could become the ex-pat mantra, lol! The "block" or the depression is very, very common, I'm glad you got through it and found a way to embrace all the fab things you've got going for yourself. Kudos to you!

Sher- Thanks for the update, glad to be involved! I'll try to get a post up this week to spread the word about the project. You can always email me at cancuncanuck at hotmail dot com if you like. Thanks!

IslaZina said...

I got a slight case of regrets only once in my five years here and quickly got over it. Getting over stuff quickly here is a key, I think, because you have to get over the slowness and lack of precision so often. You have to reform any Type A in you to really make it here and enjoy life. And further unsolicited advide: Learn Spanish! Luego luego. Great entry!

Michele in Playa said...

Well, almost five years later and we're still here. Some days, I feel like I'm still a newbie! There will always be so much to learn.

CancunCanuck said...

IslaZina- If were to have no bad moments, I don't think we could fully appreciate the good ones. And I totally agree, Type A personalities don't usually thrive here, they just don't know how to let go and let it roll! Definitely learn Spanish, it improves the experience immensely and takes away a lot of the "us" and "them" syndrome.

Michele- I think your family fully embraced the journey, you are involved in the community and your love for Playa shows. I don't think we'll ever stop learning, at least I hope not, it's half the fun!

Teresa said...

You have written another great post! For sure if I had money I would donate part of it to your blog! I must say that for me the first six months were the hardest, there were many times that I just wanted to say screw it all and go back home. Thank goodness I am not a type A and totally love my new life now. I talk to my friends back home all of the time and after listening to their stories about what is going on I say gracious a Dios, that I live in Mexico!

On another note I would really appreciate it if you could find it in your heart to add me to your blog roll. As I have mentioned before you are my inspiration!

CancunCanuck said...

Teresa- Awww, you make a girl blush, such kind words! I can't believe that I didn't have you on the blog roll, please accept my apologies, the over sight has been fixed and you are officially un "Otro Blogo". :)

Kristin Valdiviezo said...

I love living in Mexico and I am not evennext to the beach! My husband is Mexican, so it is easier I think. Wal-Mart is expensive, Soriana rocks! My shampoo is expensive, so is my bodywash, so now I buy bar soap from the tienda across the street. Some people are nice to me, others are just scared cause I'm white...I am only 24 with a 3 year old, and mmy hubby and we plan on living here forever! If you like an adventure, and you don't mind having to do laundry outside, or turning on the water heater before you take a shower, or putting toilet paper in the trash...then hell yes Mexico is for you! Can't wait to moveto the Beach!

CancunCanuck said...

Familia- Hola and welcome, thanks for stopping by! Sounds like you've got a fantastic attitude about living here, excellent! You're little guy is a cutie, looking forward to reading more from you. Nice to "e-meet" you. :)

Unknown said...

Hi, I currently live in Tampa and am a Miami native of Cuban heritage. I am 42 years old and thanks to a back injury in 2002, work virtually from home since 2007. I am thankful for that injury, because had it not been for that, I would not have stopped my 70 hour work-a-holic life as a Litigation Paralegal, to smell the roses. I now have time to be here when my son comes home from school, a privilege my daughters did not have growing up. I also travel to Mexico about 5-6 times a year. At first, my husband was hesitant because he had never been there and imagined it quite different. All he had to go on was my stories of the last time I was there and that was when I was pregnant with my 22 year old daughter. But, I finally convinced him to go after visiting Spain several times and nearly getting kidnapped at 2 in the afternoon in Madrid. Well, needless to say he absolutely loved it, as I knew he would. We are now planning to make a permanent move there hopefully, by this coming summer (2010). My youngest is 10 and he is the only one of the 3 that is still at home. He is also young enough that, the change probably would not affect him much (before he is a teenager). His 1st grade teacher is planning on making the move with us, as well. She is looking to start some type of completely American School there and I think that would really interest alot of the ex-pats. She has certifications for Autistic Spectrum children also. I am sure there are people who need that type of curriculum, but it doesn't seem like it is available there. I am going to have my son attend virtual school online as we are going to keep an address here in Florida and it is free. My friends in Cancun have been scouting for rentals for me and I have been looking online also, as I don't believe we want to buy anything until we know exactly what part of the city best accommodates us. I love it there and I often bring back items from the stores there to use here, so that will definitely not be an issue. As the days approach summer in weather that is in the 30's to 50's F, my aching back and I can't wait for the slow and regenerative life that awaits us there. My husband is Cuban and we have run into alot of his friends that are musicians there and already have plenty of friends waiting for us, both in Cancun and Merida. I was torn between living in Merida or Cancun, but having an airport that is only 15-20 minutes from a plane ride to Florida if I am needed here, far outweighs the savings in rentals any day. I look forward to joining your blog and maybe setting up an Ex-pat club when I move there, to maybe go for coffee once in a while. Maybe we can all trade secrets to living in paradise.

D is for Dengue, Depression and Dread

I'm currently sitting in my Cancun apartment, staving off the Covid 19 panic and using all my Jungle Kelly powers to maintain my cal...