Over the years it seems I keep getting asked the same question. “Aren’t you afraid to live in Mexico”?
It used to surprise me, then I started reading American news sites and saw the misleading articles. But people believe it, true or not. My old friends back in the states think I’m some sort of “outlaw”, Mexican Sombrero and all. But, like most perceptions it’s nothing like that at all. Here in Puerto Vallarta there are neighborhoods just like the suburbs in the States. Kids get on busses and go to school in uniforms. Parents take their kids to school also, make them lunches, except for the fact they’re all in Mexico, it could be any neighborhood anywhere.
A few years back I was living solidly in “Gringo Landia” aka Marina Vallarta. Rent was heading up and I wanted to live in a Mexican Neighborhood to see what it was like. A friend turned me on to a small, second floor two bed, one bath apartment for the unbelievable price of $4,500 pesos a month. In pesos right now that would come down to $225 dollars a month. I over looked a park, walking distance to any bus or shopping need. Was clean, Safe and nice enough for a single guy like myself. So I moved in. I lived there for three years and was immersed into the Mexican Culture. Being a white guy with blue eyes and grey / blonde hair I was naturally not from the “neighborhood”. People would actually stare at me walking around the neighborhood or Barrio in Spanish. People love the fact my Spanish wasn’t half bad and we could converse. But remembering my Spanish is “half bad and half good” we can continue
Now you could walk to a Butcher shop, a small neighborhood store, a hardware store and this beautiful little “fruitaria” which had the best produce you have ever seen. They made these fresh juices in front of the store and to say this was incredible would be an understatement. At the time my Spanglish was obvious. But I’d go to the stores, the Fruitaria and just love it all.
Now if you’ve ever submerged yourself in a new culture, sometimes you get things wrong. A simple mispronunciation can change the meaning of everything at times. On this one particular day, I decided to get some fresh Orange Juice, squeezed in front of me. It’s amazing, not like that “frozen concentrated pure sugar” they call juice in the States. The lady in front of nw ordered, she wanted the juice with pulp or Pulpa en Spanish. Now in Spanish you change the endings of some words, many words actually, that you change the ending to an “A” if talking with a lady. Or an “O” if talking with a man or male. So when it was my turn I told the nice lady behind the counter in my best Spanish, I wanted a liter of Orange Juice or Jugo de Naranja. I followed the earlier ladies lead and asked for “Pulpo”! Changing the “A” to a “O” by mis-calculation, thinking I was being respectful and speaking correctly as a man. Wrong!
Well the ladies looked at each other then gave me this strange look and started laughing. Not just the ladies behind the counter, but the people standing around me which were waiting for their turn as well. They were all laughing, but in a cute kind of way where you know you said something funny. So they checked with me again, I did say “Pulpo” when I should have said “Pulpa”. Pulpa is Pulp, Pulpo is Octopus! I told the ladies I wanted Orange Juice with Octopus!
This little older gentleman who could speak English, a little English I should say. Told me that I had just asked for Orange Juice with Octopus! Well at that point I felt pretty stupid, but everyone around just appreciated that I was a gringo speaking Spanish and it turned into a funny yet warm moment. After that it was all smiles and chuckles.
I finally walked away with my Orange Juice with pulp, but when I turned back to see the people, each one waved goodbye to me. I became a bit of a novelty gringo in the “barrio” and people would come up to me to say hello, to laugh again about that day and since I was the lone Gringo in the barrio they always had questions and stories. Of course the stories, I understood about half what they told me.
This article was written to those who moved to Mexico and had the same type of language barriers. We’ve all been there and will most likely be there again. But as I look back and think of that day, it brings a smile to my face.
Now if this makes me an outlaw or anything else, I kind of doubt it. But if it makes me part of the neighborhood, then I’d do it again. Life in Mexico is much like living in the United States. We all get up in the morning and go to work. Our kids all go to school and have the normal family frictions with love. Pay taxes, work too much and enjoy some free time with the family. These people are not drug dealers or Cartel types. And if you spent the time to immerse yourself in the culture, you too would discover the similarities to any other suburb in Mexico or the United States. But more importantly, you’d see a side of Mexico that is heartwarming, caring. Parents love their children, Dogs bark too much and beer is still a dollar a bottle if you know where to look. Welcome to my world amigos as I’m “Living like a local” and much the better for it!