Monday, June 24, 2024

24 Smiles Vs 3: The real difference between Mexico and the US

Is Mexico a happy country? Safety and smiles are how I view my life here after seven years. You may find that strange, so let me share this little story that sums up perfectly why this is my view and how it relates to the common misconception that Mexico is unsafe.

My friend is a wellness coach up in Vermont, who specializes in helping women with autoimmune issues. Interested in all things that can help her clients she asked me to do a little experiment with her by smiling after reading a study on how smiling is a mood enhancer. It not only lifts your mood but elevates a positive mindset and helps deal with anxiety and depression. Something a lot of her clientele deal with after being diagnosed with autoimmune issues. 

If you smile at a Mexican in the supermarket, will they smile back? (Moisés Pablo/Cuartoscuro)

The task was simple. Go to the supermarket to pick up a couple of things and smile at every person you pass. She was in Vermont and I was in Cozumel, so we decided to see how smiling would affect our mood — but also to see how many people smiled back, something which also greatly improves happiness. After all, if you smile and no one smiles back that’s a bit of a bummer, right?

The result? The warmth of the Mexican people won. I received 24 smiles, 2 hand holds, a couple of hugs and a kiss. The kiss was from a sweet abuela (grandmother) who also gave me a blessing. You’ve got to love abuelas, they’re the best.  

The results from Vermont were very different. After smiling at every person, she passed the grand total of smiles returned was three. Most people wouldn’t even meet her gaze and afterwards while discussing the differences joked she should move to Mexico.

Does this surprise you? Honestly, I’m not surprised if it does because as the Mexico Correspondent for International Living, the number one question I get asked from people thinking of moving to Mexico is “Is Mexico Safe?”

Despite adversity, Mexicans generally remain happy and upbeat, a testament to the people of the country. (Crisanta Espinosa Aguilar/Cuartoscuro)

For me, as a single woman who travels by herself and lives by herself, my answer is yes. Provided you use common sense of course. I mean, if you walk down a dark alley at two in the morning blind drunk then I wouldn’t vouch for your safety. But that is the same in every country in the world. 

My experience living in Mexico has been positive. The warmth of the people delights me daily so if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to dispel a myth about the safety in Mexico.

Remember the famous old newspaper saying “If it bleeds, it leads”? The same applies to television and that is why the US 24-hour news cycle is fond of sensationalism. A lot of times when people think of Mexico they think of cartel shootouts in the street like it’s still the Wild West. It’s not.

Plus, please also remember Mexico is huge. With 31 states (Mexico City is still not technically a state), it’s three times the size of Texas and a vast majority is a far cry from the Wild West. In all 31 states, you’ll find warm local communities full of friendly locals who are quick to smile and help in any way they can. That’s real smiles too, not just a quick passing obligatory smirk. I’m talking about eye contact, genuine big smiles with those little eye crinkles at the corner and usually with a buenos diás (good morning) or buenos tardes (good afternoon) attached to it. How happy Mexico can make you is tangible.

Smiles in Mexico are genuine and heartfelt, like its people.
Smiles in Mexico are genuine and heartfelt, like its people. (Dassaev Téllez Adame/Cuartoscuro)

I’m also talking first-hand experiences of acts of kindness and warmth shown toward me daily. From a bus driver who shared his lunch with me at a roadside stop to a gorgeous old granny in the supermarket who gave me half of her parsley because I needed it for a recipe. I have thousands of stories just like this showing the warmth of the people. 

So, when I fly to the US to speak at conferences and someone in the audience inevitably asks me if Mexico is safe, I tell them the story of a man who chased me down the street once. The only time I have ever been chased in Mexico.

Do you know why? To give me back a 200 peso note dropped in the supermarket. He was behind me in the line and as soon as he’d purchased his groceries he came jostling up the road, jogging with arms fully laden with heavy bags to chase me down and return my money. Sweet? Yes incredibly. Do I mind being chased down the street? No, not at all. I wish more people would chase me down the street and give me money. 

For those of you wondering, yes, he was wearing a big smile as well. That is why I live here. It’s also why Mexico is one of the top countries worldwide that people move to. It’s also why Mexico already has millions of expats from all over the world living throughout the country

Safety and smiles. To me, that is Mexico — one of the happiest countries I have ever experienced. 

Mexico Correspondent for International Living, Bel is an experienced writer, author, photographer and videographer with 500+ articles published both in print and across digital platforms. Living in the Mexican Caribbean for over 7 years now she’s in love with Mexico and has no plans to go anywhere anytime soon. 

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