Throughout my long and tumultuous life, I have acquired a set of rules to govern my actions as I stumble into my uncertain future. For instance, early in life, I learned never to play pool or poker with anyone nicknamed after a city or state.
Another hard-and-fast rule for me (and for many women, I am reliably informed) is to never trust a man with a comb-over; right from the start, he is trying to fool you. Never pursue a relationship with someone whose personal baggage is greater than your own. Unless, of course, their baggage is a matched set Gucci and yours is simply a collection of plastic grocery sacks.
Well, you get the idea. So now I would like to share some of the rules I have adapted to make my life in Mexico muy simpático (very nice). These are admittedly unwritten but nonetheless clear and firm overall rules, rules for specific activities. Knowing and keeping within these rules helps to make your life in Mexico paradisiacal.
An extremely important overall rule for expats is to completely rid yourself of capricious expectations, which almost always lead to future disappointments. The most common question I hear from the uninitiated is “Why do they [Mexicans] do it that way?” First-world efficiency is sorely lacking here, which makes many interactions or encounters seem painfully cumbersome to gringos.
This rule — ridding oneself of capricious expectations — is important because a person’s mental health can be severely impacted by clinging to the typical expat assumption that many things can be accomplished in a single day.
So, as an expat, I have learned that a person needs to develop a mindset where the accomplishment of only one thing a day is viewed as a resounding success. And in our household, such an achievement is appropriately recognized and is — generally by sundown, if not before — rewarded with a generous shot of tequila.
The activity of driving in Mexico has specific guidelines crucial to life and limb, such as if a vehicle swings to the right it means that it is about to make a left turn. Yes. And vice versa. This is because many drivers think they are towing an imaginary trailer. When you see a set of hazard lights blinking, it frequently means, “Watch out, I am about to do something really stupid.”
Now, here is where it gets tricky because if you see a right- or left-turn signal, you need to be aware that you could very well be looking at blinking hazard lights with one bulb out; proceed with caution.
It is very important to understand that all the vehicles on the road larger and heavier than yours have an implied right of way, especially the buses. Drive accordingly. Never let go of the knowledge that all intersections are ambush zones with calamitous probabilities descending from all sides. If you make a successful foray out and back through Mexican traffic, returning with neither bodily nor vehicular damage, you should reward your success with a shot of tequila.
Shopping is an activity we do on almost a daily basis, and it has its own criterion. A strong and important rule is that if you see something you might want to buy, do it now; it may never be available again.
The cost for similar or even identical items at different stores can possess disparities in price that are mind-numbing. I can purchase a liter of a decent vanilla at a discount store for 37 pesos. The exact same vanilla can be as much as 250 pesos in the tourist areas. And this is just a simple liter of vanilla.
Such issues may be irrelevant to the tourists, but for those of us who are viviendo la buena vida (living the good life), shop carefully. Gringo prices can impinge upon all aspects of shopping and can do so the minute an Anglo steps across the threshold.
After a day of shopping, if you feel triumphant in the deals you have made, feel proud of your prowess in your retail quest, you may celebrate with a shot of tequila.
With the numerous number of people in this culture who will proffer an impoverished hand, you need to have some idea upon whom to bestow the benevolence of your largess. I have learned that you cannot help everyone who asks. My rule of thumb is to give blind people and anyone missing a limb 10 to 15 pesos.
However, I think the legless guys on the wheeled platforms should always get more than someone missing a hand or arm. We have a local platform panhandler who always has a smile and shows serious gratitude for the pesos placed into his sweat-stained baseball cap.
Amputees and those who display the effects of debilitating diseases obviously need the kindness of others to survive, and even a few pesos will momentarily brighten their day. However, there are some who have perfected the persona of the woefully downtrodden, complete with bandaged legs and arms, so tactical discretion is advised.
Again, if your judgment was good and you feel virtuous because you have done a kindness for someone less fortunate than yourself, your reward is a shot of tequila.
The last and most important rule of life in México is to never miss the sunset.
The perfect sunset can be viewed across the mighty waters of the oceans and bays, from the ridges and peaks of the numerous mountains, or just in your back patio with friends and your potted plants.
A good sunset viewing requires enough time to reflect on how fortuitous we are to be here at this place and time — even with COVID — and not in the frozen wastelands of the far north. This is also the perfect time to count up how many shots of tequila you have earned and savor your rewards of the day.
The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half-wild dog. He can be reached at [email protected].