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Guanajuato: The New San Miguel

Since moving to Mexico, I have been struggling with something I never, in my wildest imaginings, thought would be an issue in living in Mexico. No, it was not the language, the culture, the food, the people, or all things Mexican. Don’t get me wrong. I have had to adjust to Mexico. Everybody does. But, what gave me, gives me, and will probably continue to give me fits is something that might surprise you:

Other gringos!

In my first book, The Plain Truth About Living in ...

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Since moving to Mexico, I have been struggling with something I never, in my wildest imaginings, thought would be an issue in living in Mexico. No, it was not the language, the culture, the food, the people, or all things Mexican. Don’t get me wrong. I have had to adjust to Mexico. Everybody does. But, what gave me, gives me, and will probably continue to give me fits is something that might surprise you:

Other gringos!

In my first book, The Plain Truth About Living in Mexico, I touched on this subject. I have written about this subject in various print and online publications. I write about it from time to time in my column with The American Chronicle. I feel bringing it up again is the proverbial “beating a dead horse” since I’ve written about it so often.

But, good God Miss Molly, I just cannot believe my eyes and ears when I have to deal with the American expat community at large as well as with the one in Guanajuato where my wife and I live. Furthermore, I can scarcely hold back what has happened in the city of Guanajuato proper. I’ve been predicting this for the past four years in my writing.

A little background: When we moved to the central Mexican town of Guanajuato, in the state of Guanajuato, there were maybe 150-200 gringos living in the city we chose as our expatriation home. This was lovely. In the midst of about 175,000 Mexicans, the gringos would be swallowed up and would make what happened in San Miguel de Allende impossible.

San Miguel de Allende is an artsy-fartsy town about an hour away from us. Gringos, mostly rich American ones, have bought the town. They are now the owners of a central Mexican town. You go there as a tourist and think, “Oh my God, what wonderful architecture and quaint little streets.” Then the light of day shines on you when you see American gringos, in their full profanity-laden Texan drawl, cursing out some Mexican vendor or chasing a beggar (I witnessed this) for daring to ask her for a peso.

How a genuine central Mexican town changed hands from the Mexican’s into the gringo’s is another story. Frankly, it is a long and tragic one. I outline the history in an up-and-coming manuscript entitled, An American Expat in Mexico’s Heartland: Essays The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. Watch for it in a bookstore near you.

Anyway, if you don’t want to wait for my book to see what happened to San Miguel de Allende to change it, you can find outright by coming to the city in which I live. Right now, as my trembling fingers type these words, and as I wipe the tears from my eyes (and I mean this…this is no joke), my adopted Mexican town of Guanajuato is transforming into an Americanized and Gentrified Gringo Enclave. The plans are set. The wheels have been set into motion. The gringos have some cultural officials in the town in the palms of their hands, and the next San Miguel de Allende is here. Meet Guanajuato--the New San Miguel!

In case you are not in the “Oh, let’s all move to Mexico Expatriation Movement” loop, here is what it is all about:

For one reason or another, Americans are leaving the old Red, White, and Blue to the tune of about 300,000 people a year. Most end up moving to Mexico. Some move here because they see the handwriting on the wall that they will not be able to afford to retire in the States. I get that. Point granted. The modern 21st century American is moving to Mexico for financial reasons. Life has become too hard in America, financially. And, it is cheaper to live here if you try to live as much as possible as a Mexican and not an American. Want to live like a rich American in Mexico? It will cost you through the nose.

But, when Americans move here, for the most part they never cut the strings to America. They come here wanting to live as they did in America. When they find there’s this funny-sounding language called Spanish being spoken, they flip their ever-loving expatriate wigs. In addition, they suddenly find that Mexico is indeed a strange, and sometimes unforgiving, place with all manner of things one has to adjust to. There are not American brands available everywhere (unfortunately that’s changing). There is not always phone service or home Internet service available. And, you have to order your drinking water from some kid in the alley screaming “Water!” at eight in the morning.

Life in Mexico, it turns out, is not like moving to south Florida.

So, the American expat sets about making it like south Florida or any other American retirement community. They want a Disneyland of make-believe America and they will get it with their money.

What you have are thousands of American expats who try, with their money and their lawyers, to set about changing the little Mexican towns, into which Mexico has graciously allowed them to come, into Little Americas. I actually had a woman tell me that “she and her lawyers always win” when she tries to get something here in Mexico changed into something more American.

And, this is phraseology the American expats use: They’ve told me, to my face and via e-mail, they don’t like such-and-such in Mexico so they will change it to conform more to their American tastes.

If American Tastes is what they wanted, why didn’t they stay in America where they could taste America all day and night? Why did they come here?

I’m not only beating the dead horse, I’ve resurrected it.

The bee in my bonnet all these years we’ve lived here is just why do they move here if they are:

1. Never going to learn Spanish.
2. Never going to assimilate the culture.
3. Going to force the city into having American holiday celebrations.
4. Going to force the Mexican locals into accepting American ethics of sexual, philosophical ideology (Think this strange? Check out Puerto Vallarta or San Miguel de Allende’s “Gay Pride Parades.”)
5. Never going to cut the apron strings to America by having free international calling, American holidays celebrated, the importation of American’s pathological ideologies.

What is happening (has happened) in Guanajuato, right underneath our American noses, is that Americans (and mind you it is mostly Americans about whom I am talking) have set about creating:

1. An American Enclave or Sector of residential housing.
2. An American (note I do not say English-speaking) library.
3. Now, they have the full support of the local cultural director to create a little America complete with the celebration of American holidays and concerts for Americans. I am sure Gay Pride Parades are just around the corner once the word gets out.

Essentially, they come with those American dollars and get what they want. Americans are getting what they want in Guanajuato and my poor Mexican friends do not know what a Pandora’s Box is being opened. Soon the culture will become English-speaking and one will be hard-pressed, as in San Miguel de Allende, to find someone speaking Spanish—American Colonization here we come!

Naively, stupidly, innocently, ignorantly, and whatever other “ly” word you can imagine, I believed Americans would not hypocritically come into another country and not practice what they preached about immigration in America.

You know exactly what I mean. Americans scream from the highest rooftops and politicians win or lose elections on the issue that Mexicans who come to America should become bilingual and assimilate into the culture. Surely, you’ve heard that battle cry of the anti-Mexican movement in America.

Yet, when Americans move to Mexico, and I am talking about the MAJORITY, they never learn the language. Language acquisition is the first step to assimilating into the culture.

I am telling you the God’s honest truth—Mexicans in Guanajuato have an anti-gringo sentiment against those who move here and do not learn Spanish. They are not expecting perfect Spanish. They are not expecting Spanish scholarship. They are expecting the attempt. When you make the attempt, the Mexicans do help you and you end up winning their hearts.

But, amazingly, there are gringos here in Guanajuato who cannot, and I am not exaggerating, string enough words of Spanish together to successfully complete the most basic of life tasks in this town. They have to hire someone to speak the language for them.

What gringos in Guanajuato are doing will irrevocably, irreparably, and indescribably alter the town. They will, by instituting American holidays, American cultural centers, American this and American that, change the culture as surely as the Americans have changed San Miguel de Allende forever.

I’ve read so many times on one of the most infamous American conservative news shows that shall remain unnamed (it shared the same name as Mexico’s former President Fox), when Mexicans move to America, they should, at the minimum:

1. Learn English
2. Assimilate into the American culture by learning some of America’s history and adopt her customs.
3. Fly the American and not the Mexican flag and pledge allegiance to the United States of America.

Well folks, when Americans move to Mexico, the vast, vast majority moves into or create American enclaves. These are bubble existences. They are sheltered from the trenches. They would not be able to hold a conversation with the “average Joe Mexican” if their life depended on it.

The other day, I got into a tiff with one of these fake expats who told me “All my friends are Mexican…” All her friends are bilingual, rich Mexicans who live the lifestyle of the upper class Mexican—one in which this woman shares. This woman denied vehemently there is any anti-gringo sentiment in this town.

How could she possibly know when she cannot ask, in Spanish, those who hold that sentiment?

She runs in circles that no common Mexican man or woman in real Mexico would ever travel. And, if she ever lowered herself to get out of that gas-guzzling American car she drives to the Mega Superstore, and if she bothered to mix with real people, she would soon discover another Guanajuato.

But, oh I forgot, she wouldn’t be able to find out a thing even if she came to the trenches since she cannot speak a word of Spanish.

There you have the conundrum.

There you have what keeps me up at night.

There you have what is sending my wife and I searching for another town in which to live—one in which no gringo would dare tread.

Is there such a place?

 

Guanajuato: Too Many False Expectations

A friend of mine told me about a conversation she had with a person she knows in one of the Mexican Prime Living Locations on the west coast of Mexico. This area, one to which many Americans flock, had become too expensive for her to continue living there. When my friend asked her where she might want to move, Guanajuato was her first choice. But, she lamented; she couldn't live in Guanajuato because she doesn't speak Spanish.

Three years ago, while sitting in one of Guana...

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A friend of mine told me about a conversation she had with a person she knows in one of the Mexican Prime Living Locations on the west coast of Mexico. This area, one to which many Americans flock, had become too expensive for her to continue living there. When my friend asked her where she might want to move, Guanajuato was her first choice. But, she lamented; she couldn't live in Guanajuato because she doesn't speak Spanish.

Three years ago, while sitting in one of Guanajuato's plazas and doing nothing much but watching the tourists, a lady from San Miguel de Allende approached us and asked if we lived in Guanajuato. After exchanging pleasantries, she said she was in town looking for cheaper accommodations since the cost of living in San Miguel had become unaffordable for her. Then, almost in tears, she said she would have to retreat back to the States since she could not speak Spanish. She concluded she could not live in anywhere in Mexico other than the exorbitantly priced Gringolandias where she didn't have to speak Spanish.

Four days ago while strolling home from El Centro, we met an American couple from yet another Mexican west coast town that were visiting Guanajuato. They were looking for a cheaper place to live in Mexico because the area where they live has become too expensive for them to keep living comfortably. They were in Guanajuato checking out the lay of the expatriation land. While my wife spoke to the woman, the husband took me aside and spoke to me in hushed tones as if he were revealing national security secrets. He asked furtively, "I suppose we will have to learn Spanish?"

That evening, I was doing some reading on the Mex-Connect forums when I came across an interesting entry. This lady expressed her indignation that while she was in Guanajuato visiting for a week or two, no one would speak English to her. She was, as many Americans seem to be, convinced the locals could speak English but were only pretending not to. She acted as if these Mexicans knew this woman was coming and decided to make a pact in order to torture her by speaking only in their native tongue?

She said, now pay attention to this, "They should speak English."

I would love to tell you this is an isolated nutty woman but I've heard it in person and online too many times for it to be so.

If you really want to see what Americans who do manage to make it to The Mexican Highlands think about the city of Guanajuato, you should read the travel forums. There seems to be a consensus among them that Guanajuatenses are all actually bilingual in English but in some deviously planned plot, all agree never to speak to Americans in English. One lady stood outside a sidewalk restaurant in El Jardin and shouted the "I know you speak English and are pretending you don't" mantra in front of God and all his witnesses—Mexicans and Gringos alike!

The truth is that when we first moved here, we found precious few who spoke English. We set about learning Spanish with a vengeance. Frankly, we couldn't have cared less then nor do we care now if we ever encounter another English speaker. When we encountered trouble, we figured out how to handle it in Spanish. Our reasoning was that Mexicans decided long ago that Spanish was going to be the language they spoke and they have been very happy with the decision ever since.

Of the many reasons I write what I do on expat and Mexico issues (I am most certainly an equal opportunity critic) is for the following reason. The people who make their way to Guanajuato, mostly Americans who come with ridiculous and outrageous expectations, go back to the U.S. as self-proclaimed experts on Mexican culture. They spend the rest of their lives mean-mouthing the city to all their friends, family, and neighbors.

Would you not agree that those who return to the States and then write the following should not be allowed outside America's borders?

"I had to walk an entire block to my hotel and carry my own bags."

"Of all the nerve! I had to walk up some stairs to my room because there was no elevator!"

"I know they all speak English in this hotel and are pretending they don't."

"I screamed (in English, of course, since I don't speak Spanish) at that Mexican kid writing graffiti on the wall. He acted like he didn't understand me. I know he was faking."

These go on and on.

So, how do you get through to these people who are flooding into Guanajuato? You tell the truth.

I tell the truth in my articles so those who do end up coming will not be the types with silly and unrealistic demands. They will be the type who return to America and tell their reasonable friends they had a good time in Guanajuato in spite of the bumps and bruises one is bound to encounter in another culture.

Can you imagine a hoity-toity American coming to Guanajuato and trying to make his or her way through the Pastita barrio to visit the Olga Costa Museum and encountering the not-too-unusual practice of some Mexicans who abandon the issue of their hyper-fertile female dogs alongside a trash dumpster? Dumping puppies at the trash bin will send most Americans I know into a tailspin of apocalyptic proportions. They will not describe Guanajuato kindly in any venue. It's best they know what to expect before they get here.

The Spanish issue is almost an unfathomable one. And, it is sad.

Many could expatriate to Guanajuato if they mastered Spanish. They could live far more cheaply if they could live, shop, and function in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood. Most Americans have absolutely no idea how to begin the process. They resort to taking classes.

One person wrote me and said I had almost convinced him not to come to Guanajuato to study Spanish. That isn't the point at all. Study Spanish in America by using any number of the home study courses before enrolling in a class at home or abroad. The classroom will teach you a lot of things about the language but impart little to no spoken fluency.

Someone wrote and said they had studied Spanish for nearly 20 years but still cannot speak the language.

I rest my case.

 

Guanajuato: Unexplained Mysteries

If you read guidebooks or travel articles about México, you will read that Mexicans are wonderfully accommodating, friendly, warm, and generous to strangers. You will be given the impression these people are the “Salt of the Earth” and maybe even virtually Saints. You will be told things like, “Mexicans are helpful to a fault” and “they will be so patient with you trying to learn Spanish.” While this might be true, I have, of late, begun to doubt the multitude of clichés that...

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If you read guidebooks or travel articles about México, you will read that Mexicans are wonderfully accommodating, friendly, warm, and generous to strangers. You will be given the impression these people are the “Salt of the Earth” and maybe even virtually Saints. You will be told things like, “Mexicans are helpful to a fault” and “they will be so patient with you trying to learn Spanish.” While this might be true, I have, of late, begun to doubt the multitude of clichés that pour forth from all the guidebook and article sources about Mexico.

About 18 months into our expatriation experiment, my wife and I began to wonder what was going on in the heartland of Mexico. The clichés we had read in our pre-expat research were, frankly, beginning to fall apart. The longer we lived here, the more we were beginning to see things that the guidebooks gushed about Mexican’s congeniality weren’t necessarily true. Something wasn’t adding up.

Guanajuato is about as much in the middle of the country as it gets. It is truly the heartland of Mexico. Here life is uber-provincial. The dictionary defines provincial as, “a person of local or restricted interests or outlook; a person lacking urban polish or refinement.” I began hearing this uber-provincial stuff more and more as the years went by. I heard this from not only American, German, and Canadian expatriates but also from Mexicans who grew up in other parts of Mexico and who, for one reason or another, ended up in Guanajuato.

Certain things begin to happen to us that caused us to begin asking questions. After all, we were still very fresh and green expats who didn’t know much. But we began to ask about this or that once things started happening.

I guess it was the first time I was knocked into the street by a Mexican and subsequently hit by a bus that caused me to wonder what was going on. The second time was really what got me to wondering. I was pushed off the sidewalk not once but twice into the path of an oncoming bus and was struck. Not once did anyone stop to see if I was all right. The pushers never bothered to utter one word to me. My wife has also been pushed and shoved off sidewalks. I have a 70-year-old American gringa pal who was pushed into the path of a taxi and was nailed.

One just has to ask what is happening in Guanajuato, Mexico.

I wish I could tell you.

What I began to see long ago was that the Guanajuatenses on the street are practically running to get somewhere but never arrive on time for anything. Although all of Latin American (and Italy) is famous for how they regard time differently than the rest of the world, this has slowly been changing in the more metropolitan areas of Mexico. More and more, Mexicans are beginning to forsake their traditional understanding of what it means to be on time for anything. Not so in Guanajuato. It is just as traditional here as it has been for centuries. Some say the heartland of Mexico is “stuck in the past.”

But, what you have are Guanajuatenses running at the speed of light and, I can assure you, to get nowhere fast. They are absolutely not trying to get somewhere on time. It is a cultural affectation here in Guanajuato. They will never, ever arrive on time for anything. This is a total mystery in and of itself. Why are they running? They never arrive on time for anything so what’s the rush?

So, you may logically ask, why are they running down the sidewalk knocking gringos into the gutter? I wish I could tell you, but I can’t.

I have asked Mexicans because I have the facility in the language to do so. Most of those I have questioned are not from Guanajuato originally. They are here for a job, marriage, or whatever, and have been transplanted from other regions of Mexico.

To my amazement, these Guanajuato transplants have told me that they view the people of Guanajuato as some of the rudest, most ill educated, and most ill reared Mexicans in the country. I have gotten emails from Mexicans and as well as been told in face-to-face interviews that they regard Guanajuatenses Mexicans as anti-social. This is amazing. These are Mexicans from other regions talking about their fellow Mexicans. It very much reminds me of those from the Midwest and western parts of America talking about New York.

Now, I have to take the word of those who tell me this since the only place I’ve ever lived in this country is Guanajuato. But, I am beginning to take their word to heart and believe what they say, hook, line, and sinker. Our experience bears out what our Extra-Guanajuatenses have told us.

Once, I got an email from a Mexican lady in Puerto Vallarta. She had read some of my articles and columns but poo-poo’ed me as a crazy gringo. Then, she and another Mexican girlfriend came traveling through Guanajuato. She said she couldn’t wait to email me and tell me how many times she was shoved off the sidewalk and pushed away from the cashier’s counter in stores.

Just this morning, my wife was in line to buy some very delicious tamales. She placed her order and paid the guy. Before the seller could get out of his mouth, “One moment while I get your food” a Mexican lady, one of our congenial, warm, and kind Guanajuatenses, elbowed my wife out of line and cut in front of her. The seller had to be someone from some other part of Mexico because he noticed what happened and told this woman to get in line.

A month ago, some college student who thought it was appropriate to lay hands on me and shove me a good one shoved me out of the way in a pharmacy! I wish I could tell you that these are all isolated incidents but I would be lying. The guy pushed me as though I was a piece of furniture that was in his way.

The mystery is how Mexicans are supposed to be such kind, generous, and accommodating people to foreigners while in Guanajuato, you are just liable to be pushed into the path of an oncoming bus going at the speed of light. How…how…how is this so?

The other day, we were exiting the post office when we saw one Mexican do something to another Mexican. This kid, in his early twenties, walked by a lady who had set her heavy bolsa (a large shopping bag) on the sidewalk while waiting for a cab. This young man kicked the bolsa into the street. It seemed unintentional. He looked briefly and then walked off. The lady took off after him. While she was trying to corral him, a bus came by and squashed her bolsa and all its contents to smithereens.

My wife once had to catch an elderly lady who was shoved off a 12-inch-high sidewalk by two girls who seemed not to care a wit that they almost killed one of their fellow countrywomen.

Something else that goes on in stores all over the city—another mystery--is something that would get Guanajuatenses killed in America. When you go to meat counter or any place with a counter, Guanajuatenses will shove you out of the way to bark their orders to the hired help, even though the employee was already waiting on you. Don’t miss the picture here. There you are. You’ve just given your order to the butcher for a kilo of hotdogs when some Señora puts her hands on you (or elbows you) and knocks you into the middle of next week so she can be at the front of the line.

This goes on all the time, without fail, day and night—and there’s nothing you can do about it!

NOTHING!

Why they do it I cannot tell you. We have asked and are told that the people of Guanajuato are “malcriados” and “maleducadas” …this means ill-raised and badly-educated.

I think the mystery is how did they earn the warm and inviting reputation that you read in all the guidebooks? They certainly could not have meant the heartland of Mexico, especially not Guanajuato!

Perhaps it’s the other regions about which the guidebooks have been talking.

I do not know!




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