Even though I’ve been living in Mexico for a full year now, there are definitely things about this country that I cannot accept as normal.
Don’t get me wrong… there are more than enough positive things about Mexico to make visiting and relocating here a good idea. The fact that many things cost about one quarter what they do in Canada is a big plus. The food is richer and more satisfying, with fewer preservatives and fillers than the processed food typical in Canada. The people are friendlier; greeting people as you pass in the street is pretty normal here. Expected even. In Canada, if you say ‘good morning’ to a complete stranger on the street, there is a better than average chance they will look at you like you have two heads or something. In bigger cities especially, people rush past each other on the sidewalk without even making eye contact.
But with all the positive things about Mexico, there are some negative things that I still have trouble with. The list isn’t long, but these things are definitely a problem. Many locals even acknowledge that these problems exist.
When we first moved to Mexico almost a year ago, we didn’t take a lot of time looking around Querétaro before choosing to settle in a privada located in the Sonterra Fraccionamiento, located on the west side of the city.
For the first while, we were thinking we’d made a mistake in taking up residence so far from the city. The drive to get to any significant shops was about 20 minutes, which seemed like a long time. In Calgary, we were just five minutes from major grocery stores and malls. In Sonterra, there are a few small restaurants, a produce store, general store and a bakery (and an OXXO, of course), but not much in the way of large-scale shopping.
Back in Canada, paying for utilities like internet, electricity and gas wasn’t a difficult process. Most of the time, these things happen automatically from your bank account or on a credit card, so you don’t even really think about them.
Any utility I had used in the past 10 years in Canada usually had their own app, allowed payment through my bank online, or had their own online portal for making payment quick and easy. I’d come to expect that kind of simple and straightforward service when paying for utilities.
Last month, I had relatives from Canada visiting my family here in Querétaro. We had a grand time driving all over the place and visiting tourist hotspots that we just haven’t had time to explore ourselves since arriving. The downside, of course, is the high cost of fuel that comes with so much travelling.
From my experiences in visiting Mexico many years ago, I recall a very different situation. At the time, Pemex (the federally-owned monopoly for all gasoline distribution in the country) benefited from government subsidies, which ensured that fuel prices stayed low. If memory serves, back in 2013 fuel prices here were equivalent to about $0.70 CAD per litre. That was far lower than what we were seeing in Canada at the time.
Pemex ran into serious financial problems and the government entity became a major drain on resources. To remedy the situation, the government decided to remove the gasoline subsidy, causing prices for the commodity to spike to the highest prices ever seen. The hue and cry resulting from the higher cost was predictable.
What people like to eat as a snack food varies wildly according to regional preferences and personal taste. What passes for good eats in some places in the world is considered quite repellant in others. Often, whether or not something seems tasty to you depends on what kind of food you had where you grew up. Comfort food means a lot of different things to different people.
In Korea, for example, dog is on the menu. Koreans consider it to be a delicacy, and there are restaurants that specialize in serving it. There are even canine farms where certain species of dogs are raised specifically for the food industry. In North America, thinking about eating dog is more than just unpopular. It is considered downright barbaric. Who would ever think about eating man’s best friend, right?
With our daily life in Querétaro now pretty much dialed in, I find that I am once again finding myself face-to-face with my old nemesis: Routine.
For most people, routine is just a part of daily life. Many people value routine to keep them focused and productive. I personally avoid it at all costs. Routine and I have never been on friendly terms. In fact, I will often go out of my way to avoid repetitively doing the same thing over and over again. As you can imagine, this makes may parts of life difficult. Let’s face it: There are a lot of things in our regular daily lives that require sticking to a routine.
Back in September, I decided that it was time to get more into the local food scene here in Santiago de Querétaro. There seem to be so many great eateries that choosing which ones to explore can be a challenge. Particularly along the narrow streets of the historic downtown, the choices are as varied as your imagination. Every block has countless cafes and restaurants, each with its own charm and tempting menu.
Besides the number of options making decisions difficult, the potential risk of food-borne bacteria in less than tidy kitchens makes just ‘guessing’ as to the cleanliness of a restaurant a high risk decision. The high daytime temperatures in the city mean that food prep surfaces need to be kept sterile, with food turnaround times kept very short. How, exactly, should a newcomer to the city figure out which places are clean and safe?
I do not subscribe to the ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ philosophy. As far as I am concerned, what doesn’t necessarily kill you CAN still leave you weak, nauseated and diarrhetic. Better to know the place is safe before throwing caution to the wind.
With each passing week, I get more and more comfortable with living in Mexico. I remember that when we first arrived, a drive across the city for a quick trip to the market was almost always a white-knuckle experience that left me exhausted and mentally distressed.
Besides the concerns with the hazardous road conditions, damaging wear and tear on my car and the fear of getting stopped by police who are attracted to the foreign license plate for a possible payday, there was just the general ‘newness’ of being in-country that made me feel anxious most of the time.
Now, almost six months into our stay, I just don’t feel like any of those things are as relevant anymore. What’s weird is that nothing has really changed. The road conditions aren’t any better, my car has squeaks, rattles and scratches it didn’t have before we left Canada, and although police are everywhere (with their lights permanently switched on) the risk of being involved in a traffic stop seems less likely. As with most new experiences in life, the ‘newness’ wears off and you start focusing on more important things.
One of the many ‘unknowns’ for us in relocating to Mexico was the type of food available in grocery stores. We weren’t sure what to expect as far as the varieties of foods available, the quality of them, or the cost. We knew food in Mexico was ‘cheaper’, but didn’t have much information to validate that. It was the kind of knowledge best gained by personal experience.
In Canada, it was always fun to try and find ‘authentic’ Mexican food. Everyone generally acknowledged that ‘Taco Bell’ just doesn’t cut it when it comes to the true taste of Mexico. ‘Authentic’ choices were few and far between. Let’s be honest: The so-called ‘nacho cheese’ sold in glass jars in Canada is completely misleading as being representative of Mexican food. (Ironically, here in Mexico, grocery stores market processed cheese slices as ‘queso Americano’. I guess they had to blame SOMEBODY for that terrible fake plastic cheese.)