Even as 9 year permanent residents of Mexico, there are certain things about our lives here that still cause us to pause, laugh, or perhaps even gasp in both intrigue and bewilderment.
Take for example:
1. Three lanes on a two-lane highway
Navigating oneself on the highways often feels a little “Russian Roulettey” with the nebulous middle and undesignated third lane on a two-lane road, created by nothing more than the driver’s road knowledge (or lack thereof), risk-taking and willingness to tempt fate’s hand.
Riding as a passenger usually has me alternating between breath holding and blurting out various obscenities in an attempt to best deal with and ideally survive the situation at hand.
You can imagine how much my husband Frank loves this when he’s behind the wheel!
2. Ice Cream, Knife Sharpener or Trash Truck?
I wasn’t too sure at first if the loud, clanging noise was the ice cream vendor, the knife sharpener (he actually blows a whistle) or what, until I asked a nearby shop owner who informed me that it was the trash truck—on its way down a narrow, one-way, cobblestone street with pedestrians on both sides.
3. From Farm to Market
A walk through a tianguis—an outdoor market filled with a potpourri of every imaginable regional fruit, vegetable, handmade craft and meat—certainly leaves no doubt as to the origin and same-day-freshness of the carne asada tacos you might find yourself eating at one of the many open-air stalls–likely having been delivered that very morning from a nearby rancho.
If you are accustomed to purchasing your t-bone steak or chicken bits all cleaned up, trimmed and nicely packaged–or if you are a vegan–prepare yourself for a bit of a surprise while meandering through one of these vibrant and dynamic markets.
It is not uncommon to see an entire cow or pig head sitting on the corner of a butcher’s stand, along with various other parts of the animal that in the States are normally discarded and not necessarily considered edible, let alone desirable to look at on full display.
When I took my Mom through the mercado during one of her visits with us, she was quite startled to come face-to-face with a large cow’s head, eyeballs and all, sans the skin. I suppose if one were playing with the idea of veganism, a walk through a tianguis just might seal the deal. For carnivores, it is an important reminder to support farmers who are raising their animals in the most ethical conditions possible.
4. Consume Today or Let Ripen
It’s the small things in life…
Many thanks to the supermarkets for separating their avocados into consumo para hoy (consume today) and a para madurar (let ripen) piles. Also, when going into a Mom & Pop’s frutería, you might have to ask for the avocados as they are usually behind the counter, hidden away and protected from public fondling.
5. Round and Round The Glorieta We Go
Glorietas…those perplexing roundabout traffic circles that serve as an intersection for oncoming vehicles from all four different directions, often converging at the same time. If you are not careful, alert and prepared as you enter this whirlpool of automobiles, you just might find yourself getting stuck, going around and around, like on a spin toy at a child’s playground, feverishly trying to calculate the right moment to jump off and get out!
I have learned that I must enter the glorietas with confidence, ready to kick ass and take on the fast and furious obstacle-like course of oncoming cars, trucks and motorcycles. I do find myself holding my breath until I have successfully exited the glorieta and am, hopefully, headed in the right direction!
6. The Mysteries of A Left-Turn Signal
It is not safe to assume that a blinking left turn signal means that a left turn is about to be executed by the driver in front. Quite the contrary, it often means “go ahead, it is safe to pass me now—on the left”.
However, don’t assume that either, for a pass on the left, when in fact a left turn is in the making can be a risky assumption. Additionally, in Mexico, it is common road etiquette to pull to the right-hand side, before making a left turn.
Are you following all of this?
Keep in mind too, while you are mentally and tactically navigating the road conditions, that there are often burros, cows, horses and dogs on the shoulders that one must avoid for both their safety and yours.
Similar to the dynamics of a glorieta, stay alert, aware of your surroundings and able to respond quickly and safely!
7. Metric, Who?
Algebra and metric conversions, admittedly, are not my strong suit. Fahrenheit to celsius, inches to cm, kilos instead of pounds…it’s enough to make a girl dizzy!
Upon my first few trips to the local butchers, I held my breath, wide-eyed, waiting to see what the two kilos of salchicha that I had just ordered would amount to. Fortunate for me, my family loves Mexican sausages and over four pounds of them could easily fit into our fridge and freezer!
Time to get to work and study this helpful chart!
8. Translate with Caution
9. Where There’s a Will…
Determined, resourceful, ingenious, skillful are all adjectives I would freely use to describe the Mexican people. Whether it is reusing, reconfiguring and repurposing or coming up with the most interesting ways to assign function and form to something that might otherwise be thrown out or thought impossible, the Mexican ingenuity truly embodies the “where there’s a will, there’s a way” expression.
During one of my morning walks around Parque Benito Juarez, I saw this woman in the photo below balancing what appeared to be a very heavy load on her head, navigating her way down the slippery cobblestone streets in flip flops! Impressive indeed!
10. Is That Side Mirror Really Necessary?
To avoid collisions and keep your side mirror intact as part of your car, pull it in on narrow, cobblestone streets. Trust me, you’ll be happy you did if you deem it a necessary part of your car.
11. Hard-Working Burros
In many parts of México, burros are used for field work, transportation and delivery. It is not uncommon to be out and about and come across a pair of them hard at work.
12. A Different Kind of Saint
One morning after dropping our twins off at school, Frank stopped by the tortillería to pick up a medio kilo of flour tortillas. Next door was a small furniture store that had this little treasure on display out in front:
I’m sure you can use your imagination to to guess what this darling little saint statue looked like from behind. I’m thinking the creator of this treasure had a laugh or two.
13. Pig on A Leash
This was a first.
14. Trampoline on Third Floor Terraza
Yes, and yikes! No playdates for my kids at this house!
While not an exhaustive list, these are some of the more noteworthy sightings and experiences I have had in these past 6 years. I am grateful that I get to live in a country that keeps my senses alive and teaches me to take things in stride.
Have you ever experienced or witnessed something in Mexico that has made you wonder, pause, or question in fascination, confusion, amusement, and gratitude?
I would love to hear about it in the comments section below!
Last but not least, today’s Spanish Lesson:
The Spanish Teacher in me just can’t help herself! You will notice that many of the words throughout this article are cognates–words that sound alike or are possibly spelled exactly alike as their English counterpart. Another reason that Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn—truly!
1. Carretera: highway
2. Tianguis: open-air market
3. Centro: center
4. Mercado: market
5. Consumo para hoy: consume today
6. Para Madurar: need to ripen
7. Frutería: fruit shop
8. Glorieta: roundabout
9. Salchicha: sausage
10. Tortillería: tortilla shop
11. Medio: half
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All photos taken by Katie M. O’Grady
Hi Katie, I enjoy reading your blog. It brings back memories of when we first came to SMA in 1997. How things have changed as a function of the population growth.
One “thing” that we have needed to adjust to is that virtually no one stops at a stop sign. That can be dangerous until you assume that no one will stop at a marked intersection. It is summed up by one native…” Stop signs, senor ,are only a suggestion!!!” Perhaps that says it all.
Thank you so much.
Wow, would have loved to have seen SMA in 1997!
Yes, you are right…stopping is a nebulous thing, but fortunately, we have experienced courteous drivers that for the most part yield when it is their turn to do so, and definitely for pedestrians.
As to the local’s explanation regarding stop signs, it makes me think of the one given as to why there are fireworks on any given day of the week….”Because it’s Tuesday.” Hehehe…pretty good reason, I’d say!
Seems the Stop signs may have been a waste of money! Here In Patzcuaro, there are no signs, no lights, yet all seems to move smoothly and aggression is not apparent…!
Sounds pretty much the same as life here in San Miguel!
Other than a few here and there, stop signs and stop lights, are NOT the norm… and life seems to go on just fine!
Hand signals: a hand coming out the right hand passenger side of a car frantically waving up and down means…. We are about to cut across 6 lanes of traffic.
I asked a Mexican driver… Why don’t you use your turn signals? He said, “Because it wears out the battery.”
You should of seen SMA in 1967…. even more interesting.
As for Meat Markets, locals tell me yellow chickens are better than others… however early one morning as I was going through the market I saw chicken vendors rubbing yellow dye on the chickens they were getting ready to sale. Caveat Emptor !!
Thanks for a good laugh!
I will for sure be keeping an eye out for those yellow chickens!
Do you have any pics of SMA from 1967?
We sold out and are living in Quintana Roo now for two and a half years. I am interested in others who have made the plunge as well.
We love the Quintana Roo area—honeymooned there in 2001 and will be returning this Semana Santa with our 10-year- old twins…
From where did you move?
Hi. Nice blog but I would recommend not to talk about your personal experience as a rule for all Mexico. Where I live, you will never see donkeys by the roads nor mules being used whatsoever. People who are planning on moving here and read this piece will have the idea ALL Mexico is like this which is very untrue.
Thank you for the compliment.
I only write from my personal experience. I imagine that is the nature of a travel blog in general, and certainly it pertains to my choice of writing style for the blog that I author.
If you spend some time looking at my various posts, you will see that everything is written from a first-person, personal, experience-based viewpoint and I never once assume that ALL of Mexico is exactly what I share to be my/my family’s reality.
Perhaps not all Mexican towns are inhabited by burros, but in the 2 towns that we have lived in, they certainly are.
As for the other items mentioned in this particular post, I would be curious to know where you live….Have you not seen any outdoor markets, glorietas or road/driving conditions that I mention?
Hi Kate my name is Laura my husband John and I thinking of moving to Mexico because my husband is in a lot of pain and in America he having So, much problems
getting the right amount meds for him to live out his life every day my husband is in so,much pain . the question I want to ask You is it easy in Mexico to get a good amount of pain medicine every day my husband is on three Roxy’s 30 milligrams a day i would like to know if is really worth moving to Mexico and live there so my husband could live without being in pain so much. I THANK You for Ypu time and understanding please text me back Laura
I am so sorry to hear that your husband is in so much pain. I know firsthand what a true struggle that is.
Regarding your access to medicinals that your husband needs for his particular circumstances in Mexico, I would recommend that you contact a pain specialist to discuss his needs. If you would like me to discuss this further with you with the names and contact information of doctors that I used for both my spinal surgery and abdominal surgery, I am happy to provide that for you. firstname.lastname@example.org
What else is a blog but a personal experience?
I can’t imagine that anyone would consider all of Mexico is populated by burros in the streets just as people don’t perceive the SoCal high-school experience to be represented by Ridgement High.
Personally, I wouldn’t read blogs if it wasn’t for the personal touch.
Does anyone else worry about the chickens being left out at room temp? I am always being told that chicken can be very dangerous if its not very carefully handled…can get salmonella very quickly.
Still, love Mexico and enjoyed your blog…
I hear ya! That is an understandable concern.
I think one of the keys is hitting up these markets early morning when everything is fresh and just set out. We normally purchase our chicken from a local butcher where it has been in a refrigerated case, but if I were to buy from a tianguis, I would definitely do so early morning.
Interesting about the chickens — Definitely buy early morning — but I was told by a National to buy the ones without the yellow, as they are the freshest. hmmmmm?
Yes, at the tianguis I would say early morning shopping/eating is the best!
As for the chickens, I have heard that their yellow color can be due to a marigold diet, but who know?! 😉
The police driving around with their lights on all the time. Especially driving right behind me! I’m still conditioned to pull over immediately. But when I do they just pass me… So far. 😛
Yes, Margaret, hahaha, that can be unsettling! My firefighter hubby’s got that one wired…. I always feel a sense of panic, but he just calmly stays the course and let’s them pass by.
When we traveled across the US we found the “glorietas” in many states. It’s the new traffic device. Same everywhere….takes a definite slowing down and caution, but it is faster than stopping and waiting and stopping and waiting.
Yes, even in my Mom’s small town in La Jolla they installed some a few years ago, but drivers seem to be very challenged understanding the flow of traffic around one. I wonder if they are included in the new driver’s ed books.
It is always an adventure to shop for food for our vacation rentals! It’s part of the experience really…one thing that was a big surprise for me when I first went shopping even in “mega” supermarkets is that the eggs are not refrigerated! Being the germophobe that I am, I had to do a little research and talk to some locals to gain a comfort level on why this is OK when it is not Ok to leave eggs unrefrigerated in the US.
Enjoying reading this blog and looking ahead to a possible retirement in Mexico in a few years!
Oh yes, the eggs….totally get it.
I must be making some major adjustments however, as I am now accustomed to and fine with the eggs out on the counter.
Walking through the outdoor markets however, and seeing the whole cow´s head, skinned with eyeballs still intact, definitely gets my attention though!
Would love to have you join our Los O´Gradys in Mexico Facebook Page as well as subscribe to the blog!
Love your Blog. I share many of your observations. I love Mexico. The Chapala region is fantastic because of the weather and the people. Keep up with the informational and sometimes numerous,descriptive BLOGS!
Thank you for “loving my blog”… 😉
Truly so nice to receive such positive feedback!
Are you in The Chapala area?
And I get it…. I love Mexico too!
I love reading about your life in SMA. The mention about line etiquette caught my attention as it kind of bothers me also. An amiga who is well versed in life in Mexico said that one can say “La cola!” with a smile. It literally means the queue and usually results in the person who is not being polite to wait their turn. I did this and it worked.
Love your name! 😉
And yes, agreed, a nice and firm smile accompanied with a “la cola” would likely suffice in a situation like that!
I will try that next time! Thanks for the suggestion.
I have read several of ur blogs. You are a very talented writer! How about 4 people on a motorcycle, carrying hardware, Driver is the only one required to wear a helmet! Dad drives, baby next, older Kid, And last but not least, Mom! She is holding the hardware! We have horses walking around with no riders, guess they know where they are going! Jugglers at the Stoplights! The Amish looking sweet kids, selling cookies that taste like punishment!
Thank you for the kind words about my writing. It is nice to have such encouraging feedback over something that I love so much to do.
And yes, I have seen the very exact scene that you describe–an entire family on one little motorcycle and only the driver wearing a helmet! Oh goodness….
You sound like you are in the Vallarta area? The horses, jugglers and Amish families…I remember it all well..
Enjoy your day!
Nailed it, Katie. Personally, I love that magic middle lane, because drivers (theoretically) need to work together and communicate on the roads. Whereas back in Canada or the US, drivers are über-protective of their road space and often don’t allow others to pass or merge. Big thumbs up for the aguacate ripeness awareness too. Out Soriana doesn’t do that but of course all the tianguis vendors do.
Thank you Renee!
And yes, agreed, driving conditions are very different north of the border! Our recent trip back in August was a painful reminder!
loved your posting almost as much as I love the gracious people of Mexico!
Now that speaks volumes and is a huge compliment—thank you Debbie!
Traveling to and from SMA by car was a real challenge for us last year (we drove down for the week of Independence Day). From going through customs to getting down the road, it was all a challenge. I only speak a little Spanish (and wish there was an “Idiot’s Guide to traveling to and from Mexico”). The two speed limit signs and the left turn indicators were mucho confusing. Then there were the police security stops which were a bit intimidating since there were many guns present. Everyone was very nice all along the way. In San Miguel we parked our large car and opted for Taxis. It was much easier. I love reading of your travels and hope to meet up some day. Thank you and please keep it up!
That is a great idea…. an “Idiot’s Guide to Traveling Mexico”—ha!
Of course the time of year you came is especially crazy in this narrow-streeted colonial town.
Oh my goodness…you also came across the two different speed limit signs? Sorry, I can’t help but laugh and am very glad you were all safe!
And you played it smart by parking the car…much easier to get around here by foot or taxi.
Thanks for sharing….enjoyed the giggles!
Here’s to our paths crossing!
Interesting, sometimes humorous. Had my fill of Mexico in about three hours years ago. Think I’ll confine my international travels to Europe and my residency to the good ol USA (wave flag).
I get it Pat…Mexico is not for everybody. Thank you for the laugh, but I understand and respect that what is good for one is not for another. Each to his own.
Where in Europe do you travel to and are fond of?
Love your blog! It is strange, but I am an American who has lived in France for more than forty years and I find there are similarities in differences that we see, right down to the animals complete with heads at the market and people cutting in line. If you or any of your readers are interested in Franco-American cultural differences and want to know more, check out our site, http://www.understandfrance.org or read my books on the subject! In the meantime, I will continue to follow your blog with great interest. It is lively, entertaining and informative and what I like most is your open mind and sense of fun.
Harriet Welty Rochefort
I am so looking forward to learning about France via your site, thank you!
I was in Paris for a weekend in my early 20’s, and have great memories of cafés, late night clubbing and delicious food!
Interesting isn’t it, the cross-cultural connections and similarities? Perhaps via forums like ours, people can come to embrace our shared commonalities as humans on this earth. Borders do not need to divide us.
Katie O’Grady 🙂
Very cool! We are expats in Mexico too. We moved here from KY two years ago with our four children. We live in Uruapan, Michoacan. San Miguel is lovely. We were there for a short weekend and I loved it. I am glad to have found your blog. Wish you the best!
I hear Michoacan is beautiful as well! In fact, one of the amazing earth angels and doctors that gave me my life back here in Celaya–45 minutes outside of San Miguel—is from there and I dream of going one day.
I’m excited to check out your blog too—looks great!
So fun to cross paths with other adventure-driven families!
Thanks for popping in to say hello.
I loved reading this post! I am a Mexico City resident, and believe me, some of the things you listed are also a bit exotic for me! No doubt, life in a small town is very different from life in a big city, in any country. However, I am glad you are happy and having fun in Mexico. Saludos! 🙂
Thanks for popping in!
I do agree that some of the things I have experienced and write about are likely particular to small town/colonial living…all fascinating, entertaining “features” that for sure keep my senses alive!
Indeed we are happy and loving México! 🙂
I liked the words at the end today, I just started a using a tutor twice a week to learn before we move there in three years, I think its hard to learn, a lot of words easy to figure out but I really am struggling
Thanks for the feedback and I’m glad you found the vocabulary lesson useful. A reminder to me to include more of that in my future posts!
I think it is wonderful that you have begun lessons 3 years out from your move—good for you! Also, listening to Spanish-speaking radio and tv shows, checking out elementary level books from the library, conversing whenever and wherever you can…all these things help.
Perhaps you would find my article, ¿Habla español? 5 Surefire Ways to Learn Spanish helpful.
These pictures certainly tickled my funny bone! Ya gotta love Mexico! On my way to San Miguel de Allende on Thursday for 2 weeks of school. I am so excited to be there for Dia de los Muertos!
So glad you enjoyed them!
Enjoy your 2 weeks in SMA, the city of eternal beauty…what a wonderful time of year for you to be there.