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