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Our First Anniversary Part 2: Get Used To It!

There were so many pleasant surprises in Tequis.  In so many instances, our expectations were met or exceeded.  For instance, The town is very clean, especially for a town catering to tourists. There are no nightmare public toilets. Most facilities are modern and clean.

And despite the number of dogs on the streets, there are not a lot of them starving.  The locals take care of them.  There is a no kill pet shelter here and it’s employees actively look for guardians for adoptive pets. We met them in centro, where they ask for donations for the shelter by offering to create a local wine bottle with your personal photo on it. Their website is always posting to match prospective pet owners with pets available for adoption.

I hate to mention feckless incompetent dictator wannabes but I feel I must speak up for the gracious way we are treated by the local population.  Despite the evil and tyrannical way the U.S. government currently treats the people of Mexico as well as it’s history of screwing the Mexican people in almost every joint occurrence, and the constant news of the racist actions taken against people of color by many people in the U.S., we have experienced absolutely no repercussions or instances of discrimination. The Mexican people understand how corruption can take over a government, and how it is not necessarily a reflection of the will of the people. In other words, they give us the benefit of the doubt. When the current U.S. regime began it’s tirades against the people of Mexico, the Mexican president took the opportunity to sign legislation that gave all expats living in Mexico access to their socialized medicine system, to prove once again the gracious class of the country. They understand that those of us here do not agree with the U.S. government, and that many of us are here for that reason alone.

Speaking of the Mexican socialized medical system, I have had the opportunity on several occasions to put it to the test. Frankly, I was shocked at the level of competency for such a low cost! There is no waiting, doctors spend on average 45 minutes to one hour with each patient. Facilities offer the most modern equipment and testing. Visits to the clinic cost us $2.50. To see a specialist we pay between $15 and $20. Once we are signed up for IMSS, most of our medical needs and drugs will be covered by our $300 – 400 annual fee.

Most drugs are available without prescription, so constant visits to renew lifetime medications are eliminated. Doctors will write down what you need, and you keep that one “prescription” for all refills. Or you can simply present the box from the last prescription filled. Alternative medicine is also utilized more in Mexico. It is not unusual to find doctors that practice both to some extent.

Dentists are equally as competent, and extremely inexpensive. Cleanings are $20, fillings $20, porcelain crowns $50, root canals $45. Your dentist will do all the work. Dental assistants only fetch for the dentists.

Firemen, or “bomberos” in Tequis and in San Juan del Rio are all volunteer! Kudos to those who are willing to risk life and limb for no pay!

Let’s talk about shopping. San Juan del Rio has a modern mall or “galeria” that rivals any in the U.S. And it has a KFC and a Burger King. AND a Krispy Kreme Donut shop! But we also have a good local chain for fried chicken called “Fren Chicken”. It’s very crunchy and juicy on the inside, and not the least bit spicy hot unless you ask for the seasoning. They also have great spit roasted or grilled chicken that costs less than cooking the same at home.

Large grocery stores are plentiful. But you must get used to different packaging and names of products. You can buy just about anything you are used to here, but some items are just not found where you expect them. For instance, baking soda can only be purchased at the pharmacy, and is usually an item that you must ask the pharmacist for.

Many stores are not self serve. Hardware stores, for instance, depend on the “take a number” system of serving customers. They are good at matching your needs to their products, but it is so time consuming compared to shopping at your local Home Depot. Home Depot has a store in San Juan del Rio, but the U.S. companies operating here usually charge more here than they do in the states for the same products. There are always Mexican alternatives at a much reduced cost in the local tiendas, superstores and markets.

Mexico has their own division of Amazon.com. But even better, Mexico has their own version of this online giant called Mercado Libre. Between the two, there is nothing you cannot buy.

There are definitely some things you just have to accept, and get used to them. Some have workarounds that might satisfy your needs or desires, but a lot of it is just going to require your acclimation. For instance, Mexicans are used to different flavors than those expats are unfamiliar with. Lime juice is used on almost every dish, included as flavoring in chips, corn chips, even cheetos. Even the mayo and soy sauce is laden with lime flavors.  Almost every dish one orders includes small limes to use for flavoring.

Mexicans also love hotdogs, or wieners as they are called here. A hotdog in Mexico comes with a bun and various dressing. If you want a package of hotdogs, you must call them wieners. And you will find every grocery has large cases, aisles in fact, dedicated to serving up every brand known to man. They are used in as many dishes as the limes! In scrambled eggs, tacos, ON PIZZA! Yes, it is a very popular pizza topping, as is hot sauce! We have been told Mexicans put hot sauce or seasoning on their fruits and snacks. One pizza restaurant uses no pizza sauce, just supplies a container of hot sauce to apply to your taste. Unfortunately, my taste is for none.

Mexico produces some of the best chocolate in the world.  And Mexicans love chocolate, just not used in the way we are used to. Mole sauce is a wonderful concoction that takes days to make using cocoa and chilies. And hot chocolate is an art in Mexico. But forget finding an abundance of milk chocolate candies to satisfy your sweet tooth. With the grocery stores having no air conditioning, what little amount of U.S. made milk chocolate candies they do carry have been melted at some point. And you will only find the worst rated milk chocolate in the world in our area…Hershey’s.  Or one of the best and most expensive . . .Ferrero Rocher.

When it comes to sweets, you will have a huge adjustment to make. Mexico discourages candy and junk foods by levying a sugar tax on those goods and sodas of 16%. A U.S. made candy bar will cost over $1. Locally produced desserts are also quite different, and most are not very sweet by U.S. standards. Cakes are always loaded with fruit embellishments and fillings, or syrups poured on the cakes before frosting. The syrup can make for a rather soggy cake, not always the most pleasant consistency. Glazed fruit desserts and jello desserts of all kinds are the most popular sweets for the local palette. But if you just need that sugar fix, don’t forget the Krispy Kreme is only about 20 miles away!

Another very difficult adjustment has been learning to enjoy warm drinks. At best, drinks are refrigerated in the bottle they come in, but still served without ice. Even in private homes, this is often the case. The worst had to be the warm lemonade served to me at a restaurant. It was fresh squeezed but very warm. Talk about puckering up!

And there will be items you cannot find. They can be ordered, but locally they are unheard of. Things like real sponges, square plastic dishpan, oven thermometer, dog toys, water filters that fit on the sink, large size clothing, cheddar cheese, corned beef and pastrami deli meats, the list goes on. You just have to get used to different things.

And when you are finished with your shopping, and head to the cashier, you will find that most local tiendas do not take plastic. This is a cash society, and while they have the ability technologically, the cost is prohibitive in this economy. This is a pay as you go society where most monthly bills are usually paid in person. Managing your cash can be cumbersome. This is changing somewhat, as the major banks are now offering their own debit cards, and credit is being offered by some establishments. Of course, this is not an issue for the big box stores and chains.

While we are talking about shopping, I would be remiss if I did not address a longstanding problem for most expats, particularly since the disastrous fall of the U.S. economy in 2008. We all know that the “American Dream” was never the reality it was proclaimed but after the Great Recession it is obviously nonexistent. So many older citizens were disastrously affected, losing all or most of their retirement savings. Many arriving in Mexico today will not have the income of those who have lived here in the past. Unfortunately, the locals all still believe in that dream, and think that most of us here are “wealthy Americans”. And they still do business with us as they did expats of the past. We call it the “rich American syndrome”. It’s symptoms include elevated prices on just about everything if it is obvious you are an expat. Sometimes it’s just a little bit, other times hundreds of dollars difference in rent, or high priced items. For those instances, we walk away. To some degree, it is to be expected, and we don’t complain. Our social security income alone is more than what half the population makes. With both Social Security pensions, we will live in the upper middle class lifestyle. So I guess it’s all relative. At any rate, you may as well go with the flow and pay up. Eventually, as you become more familiar to the local residents and shopkeepers, you will be treated like one of them when you shop. At my local tiendas, I am treated just like everyone else as a recognized member of my neighborhood. And those with whom I shop most often, I am treated as a preferred customer, given fresher choices unavailable to everyone. But with my landlord, I must just accept that for now, I will pay more than any other tenant for my housing. At least it is just a $25 difference, and still far below what I would pay in the U.S.

Any move to a different locale will require some change. We look at the process as an adventure. We don’t question or compare. It is what it is. And most of the time it is the most wonderful place to live regardless!

Our First Anniversary Part 3: There Is Not Much Ugly

Our First Anniversary Part 1: Pleasant Surprises and The Realities




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