Throughout my long and tumultuous life I have acquired a set of rules to govern my actions as I stumble towards my uncertain future.
For instance, early in life I learned never to shoot pool or play poker with anyone nicknamed after a city or state. Another hard and fast rule for me is to never trust a man with a comb over; the tendency to deceive is eminently transparent.
Also, never pursue a relationship with someone whose problems are greater than your own; life is hard enough already. Always remember life is reality and television isn’t.
And there are more, but you get the idea. Be that as it may, moving to a completely different culture has required some additional guidelines. So now I would like to share some of the rules I have adapted to my life here in Mexico.
As in life, the rules are multilayered; there are overall rules and rules for specific activities. An extremely important overall rule for a sagacious life in Mexico is that if you accomplish only one thing in a day, the day is to be considered a success.
This is especially true if you are dealing with any type of Mexican bureaucracy. I find this rule extremely important, because a person’s mental health can be severely impacted by the unrealistic expectations one can have about life in this culture.
Another unequivocal rule that is requisite for personal sanity in this country: always remember the only thing which is assured for the average expat is bewilderment. There are degrees of bewilderment which range from overwhelmingly stupefied, to subtly humorous.
All expats have their own stories about bewildering episodes of life in Mexico; it’s an unavoidable part of the adventure.
The specific activity of driving has many guidelines, most of which are crucial to the preservation of life and limb. If the vehicle in front of you swings to the right, it means it is about to make a left turn. And vice versa.
When you see a set of hazard lights blinking, it frequently indicates the driver is about to execute an incautious or reckless action that could be hazardous to all within range.
Now here is where its gets tricky: if you see a right or left-turn signal be aware that it’s most likely the blinking hazard lights, with one bulb out. All the vehicles on the road larger and heavier than yours have an implied right of way, especially the buses, so drive accordingly.
All intersections are ambush zones, with calamitous probabilities descending from all sides. Mexican road signs can often be obsolete or misleading, and street names can change without warning. Given a little time, all those who drive in this country will have a long list of their own road rules.
Shopping is an activity we do on almost a daily basis, and has its own criteria. If you see something you think you might want to buy, do it now, it may never be available again.
Never assume that the same items will be available where you last purchased them. Prices for similar or even identical items at different stores can possess disparities in price that are mind numbing; so shop around.
Just because an item carries a familiar brand name doesn’t mean it’s not a clever, or not so clever, counterfeit. Always shop with pesos to avoid getting burned by an unfair exchange rate.
An ATM at a bank is less likely to eat your card or steal your money than those situated outside of banks. Learn to count your change backwards.
Restaurants also have their own set of rules by which the vigilant Anglo should abide. Avoid eating in a place where you are the only patron. Always check the menu as well as the prices before you take a seat. If you have waited longer than 30 minutes before a waiter has come to your table, it’s time to find another restaurant.
Beware of deep-fried sushi. Always check the charges and the math on the bill; creative accounting is common in this country. Never let your credit card out of your sight when paying your bill.
Spicy means seriously hot, seriously. Any eatery with a gratuity built into the price of the meal should be avoided. Besides being a calculated rip-off it’s in defiance of Mexican law. Be cautious with seafood if you are more than a day’s drive from the ocean.
Given the vast number of people who have their hands out in this country, you need to know upon whom to bestow the benevolence of your largess. My rule of thumb is anyone missing one or more limbs, or missing their eyesight, should always get something.
Those who display the effects of debilitating diseases obviously need the kindness of others to survive. However, the people who have perfected the anima of the woefully downtrodden, and who constantly shuffle through the tourist areas, are suspicious at best; tactical discretion advised.
The last rule of life in Mexico is the most important of all: never miss an opportunity to have a good time. The denizens of this country endeavor to celebrate all manner of historic or commemorative events.
Mexico observes 43 holidays each year and some last several days, many have fireworks and almost all include the consumption of adult beverages.
Throw in sunsets and birthdays (yours, friends, dead presidents, British nobility) and hardly a day will go by without an excuse to kick back and reflect on how fortuitous we are to be here at this place in time and not in the frozen wastelands of the far north.
Bodie Kellogg 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. If you wish to give him cold beer, large sacks of money or a piece of your mind, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.