Like Bringing Ice to Eskimos

Like Bringing Ice to Eskimos-

Bringing Tapatio Hot Sauce to Guadalajara

While my husband was having a “schvitz” at our local temescal (native sweat lodge), he met a man who knew of Mexicans who went to the United States and made it big-time in Mexican food manufacturing. Having gone to high school in California that was “colonia” adjacent, I had come to my love of Mexican-American food naturally and honestly. As my husband and I are of the same “Oye Come Va” era, he is also nostalgic for the Mexican food of our Brady Bunch past.

Here is a partial list of Mexican-American food that I “mule” back from the US to my casita in the sierra that is just like our mythical mamacita would have made.


  1. Crispy corn tortilla shells, Taco Bell Style. I have to hand- carry these as they are fragile. I fill them like they did in our school cafeteria: with ground beef. Their brittle crunchiness is music to my husband’s ears because he loves audio accompaniment to his meals. Taco Tuesday around here is a semi-ecstatic occasion.
  1. Canned red menudo with homily and tripe. When I have a cold, this is my Mexican penicillin. Somehow in my nightie I am able to cut and sprinkle upon its micro-wave readiness oregano, chopped cilantro and onion, dried chilies and lime. I have had canned food confiscated from me at the airport in Cuidad Juarez, so I live in fear that my canned menudo and I may one day be separated.
  1. Tapatio salsa picante (hot sauce). The nickname for people who live in Guadalajara but come for a weekend to their lake house or to visit the town of Chapala or Ajijic is “Tapatio,” as in “There sure is a lot of traffic on the careterra when the Tapatios are in town!” I don’t mess around with other varieties of hot sauce anymore. We are brand loyal to Tapatio hot sauce and I brought back a giant bottle from El Paso, Texas as I did three boxes of the aforementioned crispy taco shells.
  1. Giant flour tortillas for burritos. We were in downtown San Clemente, California the other month when by the murals on the restaurant I was able to identify the owner’s Mexican hometown. Mexican workers sat outside on the benches eating food instructed by the owner’s mother, who sat in the patio receiving the neighbors’ and workers’ respectful regards. The owner told us that 30 years ago, he had never had a burrito. Another US restaurateur told us he had to teach his Mexican kitchen help how to make a burrito. The first step is: get a flour tortilla the size of a cocktail table. Or, as we did one time, bring back an entire burrito from San Diego that weighed over eight pounds to eat after we had landed. We had muled not a burrito but a burro.
  1. Canned enchilada sauce. I have the secret to Mexican cooking. You must have your mother, aunts and sisters with you in the kitchen. The cooks here in Mexican restaurants are all blood-related. You need teamwork to put out the labor-intensive meals that are the hallmark of Mexican cuisine. I thank the Virgin of Guadalupe that red enchilada sauce processed into air-tight containers was invented. The kind of enchiladas we like can be found on any US neighborhood Mexican restaurant combination plate along with a tamale and rice and beans. I have made enchilada sauce from dried chilies out of necessity and cravings, and although I deserve a medal for valiant effort, it is not worth the sink full of grinders, frying pans and strainers and the stove that is splattered and stained.
  1. Ground chili powder. This is easier to find now than it was three years ago, when we first arrived and only whole, dried chilies were available in the stalls. I used to go to a little tienda (store) in Jocotopec (a nearby village) where I could only find one type of chili that was fine enough to not need straining. It took me two years to find other types of powdered chili and I swear, I found them in Mexico in the “international” section on the bottom shelf at Soriana (a Mexican-owned market) in Guadalajara. I bought one of each and used them sparingly. But because my palate needs hot spice and lots and lots of a variety of spices, when we go back to the US, I buy heaping handfuls of powdered California chili, New Mexico chili, paprika, and cayenne pepper, so I can dash away with reckless abandon. I also nab Chinese chilies in oil, Korean chili paste and super-hot Indian chili powder. I buy the giant size bottles of the chili medley for American-style chili con carne and use it as a cheat for my salsa roja.
  1. Dark chocolate. In Mexico they keep chocolate under lock and key (literally). They are in those tamper-proof cases that need a store associate to undo. Chocolate is expensive, rare and sometimes not even that good. Remember, friends, chocolate was first cultivated here in Mexico. And it still seems to be a treat only for the Aztec gods. I bring bricks of dark and bittersweet chocolate from Trader Joe’s in the US and make chocolate desserts that only the few and privileged have tasted here. For a friend’s party that was also a pre-birthday celebration, I made a lemon cake for the fiesta and a near flourless cake for her gift that she could take home. Three times I asked her if she wanted her guests to have a little taste of the chocolate cake, but knowing and missing my triple chocolate cookies, she decisively refused each time to relinquish any to the uninitiated others; she wanted to take the entire dessert home for herself. But I blithely gave them all a portion, promising to figure out how I made the before mentioned cookies that she had really desired. Previously, a different friend said of the same chocolate cookies I gave to him that he cut them into little pieces to extend the pleasure, which for him was more than romantic.
  1. Corn and cornmeal. Another gift from the geniuses of Mexican agricultural is corn. We never eat corn on the cob that is grown here because it is so darned hard! At the weekly outdoor market, I look for packaged corn that is imported from the US. We like sweet and soft corn, like they sell at the roadside stalls up the canyon from where I used to live in Santa Clarita, California, during the summertime. I can’t bring fresh produce into Mexico, but I do bring cornmeal for cornbread and for my fresh pear polenta pie. I also throw it beneath the bread I make before I put it in the oven. Mexican masa is made from corn and is used for corn tortillas or the delicious atole drinks, but is not the same. I once heard that you can get cornmeal here, but it is made for chicken feed and not great for baking.

I made this list in slight fear that others around me here would oppose my loosey-goosey interpretation of Mexican cooking and raise their wooden spoons against me. (I have been bruised on Youtube for a US bought slow cooker for my bean cookery because it was not locally sourced.)  If I can withstand grease splatters, I can withstand their righteous commentary. That’s me. I’m a hybrid rebel. It rankles me to live without, especially when my dominating appetite dictates. When they inspect my gourmeteria-like suitcase at customs, I have to defend my pantry against the inspection guards, so I am ready to do it on Facebook, too.

I have learned from living in Mexico, if I want to keep my culinary traditions and keep expanding my repertoire of good things from my kitchen, I have to start from scratch, improvise, search relentlessly, go without, or bring it back in my suitcase. My husband groans every time I request extra luggage on our airplane manifest to fit my grocery shopping. But then I present him with something that tastes like it did when he was studying for his Business Econ exams at UC Santa Barbara all the levies are forgiven, all the strained shoulder muscles are allayed and forgotten under the wizardry of an Old El Paso Super Stuffer taco with Tapatio hot sauce licked from our fingers.

Note: When you are moving your household goods to Mexico on a menaje de casa (import tax free), you cannot bring food or spices on your shipment, but you can bring your sauce-splattered Mexican cookbooks, lovingly used comals, well-seasoned parillas, indispensable burr spice grinders, high-intensity blenders, well-worn mortars and pestles to outfit your little cucina Mexicana.

Secret Ventilation

Secret Ventilation

Two years ago, in December, my husband looked at the great big pile of things that I was taking to our beach house rental and said, “No you don’t. We’re not bringing all that stuff. Why are you bringing two upright fans?”

Then the next night, our first in the rental, I directed one of the fans on him as he worked at the dining room table. The ocean breeze was stiff and somewhat cold on the covered porch, the space right next to the sand, a few feet from the bombastic shore waves, but somehow it did not penetrate into the front room, where if I had not had that whirly-gig making passes at my husband’s sweaty pits, he would have been completely miserable.

This summer, we took a rental that was supposed to have air conditioning. It was not working. We did not complain to the property management person. He contacted us later and said that the next renters were very hot and bothered about the broken toilet, the lack of hot water and that the air conditioning was not fixed.

He admired our stoicism and invited us to buy a unit in the complex because, “You’re the kind of neighbors we want here.”

It is currently August, and although the rainy season is usually cool, our highland neighborhood must have taken a playbook from the coastal towns, because it is humid and hot this year.  

Like many people here, we do not have air conditioning. I know of one couple that put air conditioning in their house, and have heard rumors of another who is going to put a few units in the home they are building , but for the most part, most people just keep their windows and doors open (sans screens in very many) and think frosty thoughts.

When my across the street neighbor first came to visit, she noted, “Why don’t you have ceiling fans? You are going to suffer.”

My answer was similar to my many others. It was the same answer I had when she saw I had no oven, no garage door opener and no water filtering system.

“It’s because it is a rental.”

I have learned to think how to solve temporary problems. We are used to being nomads, and just like a gypsy woman weaves her treasures into her skirts, I bring along my own weather modifying devices. I can’t chance that other rentals will see to my every need. I know for certain if I pretend everything will be in working order, I am would be as foolish as I would be to think that I could beat the roulette wheel at Monte Carlo.

So that is why in every room, and in our great room two, there are fans. We move them around depending on the direction we wish to fashion them and they rotate to give, at least one of us, a breeze that comes and goes. We ache for more complete satisfaction, but for now that is only a fond memory.

In Arizona, I would hear the soft hum of the compressor come on and I would often say out loud. “Blessed air conditioning. What a sainted person it that was who invented air conditioning.” That was then.

Here, I have given two fans to the women who help me in our home. They were overjoyed by the gift. They sent me pictures of where their airy sentinels stood in their bedrooms. They sometimes remind me that when the air is damp and torpid, the nights are made better by their fans. It had never occurred to them to buy one or maybe they could not afford it.

As one said (in Spanish), “It’s the solution.”

Here are my suggestions to you why you need to round up lots of fans before you come to Mexico or at least, have no mercy and buy all that you can use when they come into stock locally.

The hottest months in Mexico are before the rainy season: April, May and the beginning of June. The first two years we were here, our local Walmart sold out of fans before the season heat wave. Even where we were from in Arizona, I could not buy fans once the back to school items were put out.

I checked this week at local Mexican Walmart. My heart skipped when I thought I saw fans in stock. No, they were only large bass speakers. As a kid, I often mistook the Sparlettes truck for the ice cream truck. I am delusional when it comes to cooling devices.

If you are coming to Mexico, I would say scour all your local stores doggedly during the time fans are available because you will need variety of them. Plug them in if you can. Some make as much noise as a jet airliner. If you buy them online, which I have done, because there is more selection, read the reviews closely. The question should be posed: can I sleep next to this fan?

For myself, I also chose medium height, sleek, chrome fans to go with my chrome round end tables. They looked so elegant and blew a lot of air, but were not quiet companions. Those fans were left behind.

Buy what you think will suit your Mexican décor. I always have soft and cool pastel walls, so my fans have blades that blend well with those colors. I have a fan that was one of the first things I bought for our house in Arizona; beautiful, tall and with a stem like a bamboo pole and blades colored like striped wood. It stood next to our ornate bar then and now stands next to my ornate mirror.

A grey, plastic Vornado may do its job just right, but it doesn’t look quite right next to the cut giant, tropical leaves of my monstera plant in my great room. But if it is what you have and what you trust to create the venturi effect when it is mated with another, you should bring them down. You will enjoy their company like never before.

Most expats live on their terraces this time of year. We don’t because of the mosquitos and flies that spoil all the fun when the rain burst out revitalizing the tropics. But when we do go out for an extended period, we portage the fans out with us. In Arizona, you can escape the heat (somewhat) if you are in the shade. Here the humidity follows you doggedly. And so we accompany ourselves with our doggy-like fans. (Meaning no offences to my dog babies, who we truly love, but we are attached to our fans in a more practical way.)

Our rental has a minimal kitchen and no stove vent; only a hole in the ceiling above the stove’s cement hood. Attracted by the light bar we installed above the heating elements, the night insects make their way down this chimney and find their way into my cook pots more often than the scent of chicken with chili paste and basil rise to meet the traveling moon. So our fans work as our stove vents. Unfortunately, the plug closest to the stove is already occupied. For instance, if I put the hot water kettle on and then decide to heat up something in the microwave, both shut down. What that means is, I have to use another outlet, and the fan that works as our stove vent is far away, just scattering the aroma of Thai pork with mint rather than sending it out to where the palms sway overhead. Also consequently, I work with only the ambient light of the room to guide my cuisine.

Hence, you need to think about will you need a fan to be permanently situated on the floor or on furniture? Do you need something light to tote around and follow you through the day when needed? Do you need it only occasionally and will it be convenient to store? Do you have a fan that is the fan of your dreams? Then buy siblings. Because of their shape and size, putting them in checked luggage down the road will be agony.

On our nearly yearlong road trip through Mexico, I had packed fans. I used a small 5” fan next to where I applied my cosmetics, so my makeup would not melt before I left the bathroom. I clipped a 12” fan to the desks and tables that served as my husband’s desk.

And now when we travel through Mexico for vacation, expecting hot weather, and always by the beach, I bring our upright fans. (Did I tell you we have a van?) We have learned that if a place has air conditioning, it most likely will only be in the bedroom. So, what do you do? Sit and sweat on the couch all day?

Living in Mexico has forced me to think and plan like a prepper. What if the air conditioning in the rental is just all noise and hot air? We have faced this, multiple times. You can leave where you are staying and head to the cooler highlands or you can lug the fans that you packed into your temporary home.

It may seem that I am fan crazy. You might be right. When I was single, I had in my library, a turquoise vintage fan that did not even work. But it looked so cool sitting on top of my National Geographic magazines from the 1940’s, which were on an old wooden crate that I still have today. I have a cool illustration of a fan that I have placed in my husband’s office. It sure looks like I’m a fanatic of fans.

Before You Move to Mexico, Figure Out What to Take and What To Leave, Without Being Bullied

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

Before You Move to Mexico, Figure Out What to Take and What to Leave, Without Being Bullied

Woman holding no bullying signEvery month or so, I see a question posted to a Facebook group something like this: “How much of my household goods should I move to Mexico?”

As sure as night follows day, you will see answers like:

“Just show up with two suitcases, like we did.”

“You can get whatever you need here in Mexico.  Just bring your photos.”

“You’re coming to Mexico to live in Mexico.  Don’t bring down all your gringo items!  Live the culture here, not like they do in the US, with all its gross materialism.”

Very rarely will you see a comment from someone who brought down their mattresses, furniture, couches, etc. and advised the person asking to do the same.  Why is that?  The reason is that, if this person who brought down more of their household goods than those barking their directives has been on Facebook for any length of time, they will have seen that anyone who has given an answer to take more items would experience a pretty savage and public attack for their views.

Then, after everything calms down, in a month or so, the cycle repeats, with another innocent newbie asking the same question and pretty much the same Facebook veterans saying pretty much the same thing while others who don’t want to be attacked stay silent.  You can almost feel the piranhas as they prepare to feed.

Of course, the decision as to what each person brings down or does not bring down is a personal one, having as much to do with how much emotional, sentimental and material comfort each person receives from their own items (many times accumulated over a lifetime of travel and hard work) as it does with how much each person has actually accumulated and how much budget each person has to bring it down.  Perhaps you bought a sculpture while on honeymoon or a toaster on the same trip to the store where your husband proposed to you, so while for the jackals on Facebook, your sculpture is nothing special and your toaster should be replaced with something new you could buy at Wal-Mart in Mexico, they may have very special meaning to you and it just makes you happy to have them around.  (After all, they are part of your life.)  I would never give blanket advice on how much or what items a complete stranger should bring down, so on the face of it, such advice is ridiculous for me to give to a stranger on Facebook, because I wouldn’t know anything about that person.

I can, however, make some observations.

Mexicans like nice things, too.  The odd assertion that if you live in Mexico, you should live like a poor Mexican is quite silly.  Poor Mexicans don’t want to live like poor Mexicans, so why should you?  Any poor Mexicans I’ve ever met would like to live like rich Mexicans, or at least middle-class Mexicans.

Quick story.  Several months after we moved here, we invited some new Mexican friends (a man and his wife) to our home.  And before you get the wrong idea (because it’s relevant to the story), please let me explain that these are Mexico-born Mexicans, not US-born Mexicans.  They were both born and raised in Mexico, moved to the US as fully grown adults, and then, after the financial crash of 2008, as the man was telling us their story, they were forced to move back to Mexico.

When it came time for the man to relate to us the part of the story where he told us what items they brought back from the US to Mexico, his speech became progressively slower and his voice progressively softer until, even with our heads bent forward, it was getting difficult to hear him.  Then, he looked down and away from his wife and other than some barely audible mumbling, pretty much stopped talking completely.  After a short pause, his wife, in a voice that was quite strong, clear and easy to hear and understand said, “And he forced me to leave lots of my things in the US!”  As the man continued to look down in shame, his wife shot him a look that would be described in Hawaii as “stink eye.”  You don’t have to be Hawaiian to get the gist.

And they were visiting us in 2018, a full 10 years after the infamous event.  It was the wound that would not heal.

Would you and your significant other be like our new friends in Mexico?  I don’t know.  That would depend.  However, to make the argument that bringing your good or cherished items to Mexico is somehow politically or culturally incorrect is a bit silly.

No, Virginia, you cannot get everything you “need” here in Mexico.  Of course, the full answer to this question revolves around what you “need.”  To take an extreme example to make the point, some people only “need” water, food and a medium-sized lean-to or they can live out of their 1965 Volkswagen van.  I have been told that Mahatma Gandhi could fit all his worldly possessions in one shoe box.  However, people more average than the random ascetic or world famous advocates of non-violent resistance to British colonial rule may like and appreciate more creature comforts. If you plan on being happy in Mexico, you need to assess your “needs” without regard to what anybody else says you should need because in the end, their opinion about what you “need” isn’t important; only yours is.

In contradiction to what you read all the time on Facebook, the facts are that some things you can’t get in Mexico, others are rare, and if you could get them, are very expensive.  And don’t count on picking up that used comfy La-Z Boy for a great price at a secondhand store.  The good items go very quickly (obvious reason: these items are hard to find here), and the ones that you may get to first, if you’re lucky enough to have that happen, are much more expensive than in the US.

Another Mexican friend we made here (once again, born in Mexico, lived in the US only as an adult and came back) told us that his similarly born Mexican wife forced him to bring their American-style couches and mattress she had become accustomed to when living in the US.  Luckily for the health of his marriage, he complied, and was very happy to tell us about it, placing himself as the hero of the story, giving his wife what she “needed.”

(Check this out for a sometimes humorous but informative look at what people cannot get but want in Mexico.)

Mexican furniture can and often is very beautiful, with hand carved pieces costing a mere fraction of what they would cost in the US.  However, from the perspective of anyone who has lived in the US or Canada and plunked themselves down into a nice comfy NOB (“North of the Border”) couch, Mexican furniture can also be quite uncomfortable.  And as my wife Jet says, “You didn’t come to Mexico to suffer.”

From the perspective of someone who has slept on an American mattress, Mexican mattresses can also be quite uncomfortable.  And don’t be fooled that they have the same brand names as in the US and Canada—regardless of brand name, mattresses in Mexico tend to be made for the Mexican market and Mexican sensibilities, which can be quite different than yours… or perhaps not.  The point is, don’t take anyone’s word for it; try for yourself.

My wife also tells me that the baking dishes and other baking implements are a bit different (mostly, smaller) here in Mexico, so if you like to cook and /or bake and want to use your existing recipes, you should probably bring down what you use.  It doesn’t take up that much room, and you may not be able to replace them easily here.

After they’ve moved, very few people wish they had brought less.  Because we’re in the moving business, people will often tell me how happy or not happy they are with the amount they brought.  About 5% of the time, I hear from our clients that they wish they had brought less (or, more accurately, they wish that their spouse or partner had brought less).  That leaves the other 95% who are happy with what they brought or regretted that they had not brought more.

Of course, all other things being equal, it will cost you less to move a smaller volume of your household goods than it would cost you to move a larger volume.  However, before you too ruthlessly cull your possessions, inform your decision beforehand on how much you should get rid of by having the actual costs of different scenarios of moving more or moving less.  You may be surprised.  Legitimate commercial companies such as Best Mexico Movers have certain minimum costs for expenses such as insurance, compliance with regulations, certified drivers, etc., that don’t change if you bring one box or 500 boxes.  For example, if you bring twice as much volume, your cost will not be anywhere near twice as many dollars.  I urge you to find out early in the process, so you will know exactly how much to give away and you won’t have needless regrets.

I close this section with some observations from my wife, Jet. You may not be like Jet and you may disagree with Jet, but I know that Jet speaks for many people.  How do I know?  People tell her.  When she writes something on the topic, she gets comments all the time such as “I’m with Jet!” and “I’m so happy you wrote what you did.  You’re just like me.”

Jet says, “You worked all your life to surround yourself with the things you cherish and love, and you did not come to Mexico in order to give them all up and live like a monk.”

Or, because I don’t know you, perhaps you did come to Mexico to live like a monk.  The point is, it is your decision, so don’t be bullied.  Here’s my advice:

  • Personally try Mexican beds and furniture for comfort and decide how important it is to you to have your own.
  • Determine the most amount of items you would consider taking with you to Mexico.
  • Determine the least amount of items you would consider taking with you to Mexico.
  • Get prices for the most and the least amount of items you would consider taking with you to Mexico and for the amounts in between.
  • Without being bullied or using anyone else’s values but your own, determine the right amount for you to take with you to Mexico.
  • Get rid of everything else, either by selling it or giving it away and have no regrets.

— Chuck Bolotin, Best Mexico Movers

Growth and Reinvention in Mexico

Growth and Reinvention in Mexico

Moving to a new place, especially to a new country and especially where probably close to no one knows you, is a great chance for personal growth and what lots of expats I’ve interviewed call “reinvention,” a topic I wrote about you can find here:

  You can also get my take for “How Living Abroad Made Me a Better Person” here:

When Americans and Canadians move to Mexico, most will find a culture that is less concerned with punctuality and perfection and more concerned with interpersonal relationships than they experienced NOB (“North of the Border”; the US and Canada). Believe me, you are not going to change Mexican culture, so complaining about it only makes you more frustrated, unhappy and unlikeable.

A better course of action is just learn to see the good in the Mexican culture, relax, and try to become less of a Type A.  Your blood pressure will go down, you will be more pleasant, and you may even learn that aspects of the Mexican culture are actually better and more appropriate for living here in Mexico for many things, and perhaps even better for life in general.

I’ll give you an example.  In the US, if a truck were blocking my way on a one-way street because the passenger had to get out and have a quick conversation with a store owner or had to unload a few items, I would be very unhappy.  Here, I just wait those few moments and enjoy the day.  The wisdom of my new reaction to this can be seen in my mental and emotional health, and also in my realization that I may have to do exactly the same thing as that truck driver later in the day and I would appreciate that everyone else didn’t honk their horns, curse at me, give me bad looks, etc., and just acted patiently.  It’s just how life works here. We don’t get all that worked up over items like this. Once you get used to it and learn to embrace it, it’s very nice because you’re much less worried about “doing something wrong.”  People are much more forgiving here for all sorts of things that would be horrific NOB.

And while we’re on the subject of vehicular travel, you may find it interesting to know that when you get your car scratched or dented (and believe me, you will), it won’t cost a fortune to repair it.  Just before we moved here, I backed up into a wall in the US, which caused only minor damage to my bumper and the side of the car.  The cost to repair it: USD $1,200.  In Mexico, that same repair would be the equivalent of around USD $60 to fix it like it never happened.  With costs like that, your old habit of having your month ruined when you got a scratch or a ding in your car will eventually just fade away.  When you do get a scratch or a ding in Mexico, after you’ve been here for a while, instead of responding with of a string of curse words running through your head, regret, remorse and anger, you’ll just think “so what?”  Then, you may even laugh a bit to yourself as you compare your new response with your old one.  That’s what I did.

A great tool for your growth or reinvention (if you’re into that type of thing) is to learn as much Spanish as you can.  Doing so will not only make you much more comfortable living in a Spanish-speaking country, but it will also make you more confident, competent, relaxed (and who doesn’t want that?), and also more able to better enjoy more of the people you come into contact with every day.

Please don’t worry if you botch your Spanish.  The Mexican people are thrilled and honored that you are even trying.  Let’s honor them as well by trying to learn their language, at least a little bit.  Doing so will spread goodwill, make you lots of new friends, and make your life here much, much more enjoyable.  You will be able to integrate into the larger community here (not just the English-speaking expat one), be less isolated, be better in an emergency, and make lots of very good friends.

You don’t have to learn all at once; you can learn Spanish at your pace.  There are lots of good alternatives.  One I’ve been using lately is Duolingo.  You go as fast or slowly as you wish, it’s fun, it seems to work, and it’s free.

You absolutely don’t have to be fluent or perfect in Spanish in order for to make a huge impact on your life and the lives of Spanish-speaking people around you.  Please don’t pass up this opportunity.  Maybe you can sign up today for an app, a program on your computer or a class.

Interested to see how we can help you?  Just give us a call now at our US or Canada phone number 1 (520) 940-0481, or send us an email using our contact form.

Adjusting to Mexican Culture: Step One

Adjusting to Mexican Culture: Step One

You’ve likely heard about several adjustments you’ll have to make regarding Mexico’s culture. Perhaps you’ve been advised to learn the language and develop more patience, both long-term propositions. 

“Dios mio!” you might say (if you spoke Spanish) “All that could take years! I’m older, my attention span isn’t what it used to be and I’ll be in Mexico next month! Isn’t there a faster, easier way?”

 Yes there is: Embrace the tortilla.

Once in Mexico, hay que renunciar (you have to leave behind) your former love, the crusty loaf of bread. You must leave that affair behind and love the one you’re with … the hot, fresh corn tortilla, that chewy, earthy incarnation of Mexican history told in a single buttered bite. 

The sooner you embrace the tortilla; that is crave it, contemplate it, and ask for it over the desultory piece of white restaurant bread, the easier your whole transition to Mexico will be. This embrace will  bolster your authenticity and serve as proof positive that you belong, evidence of your Mexican spirit behind the gabacho facade.

Here’s what you need to know about the corn tortilla. (The flour tortilla’s history is different. You’ve probably never had a real Mexican flour tortilla.)

Tortillas are an ancient superfood – The corn tortilla, created thousands of years ago, became a superfood through a process known as nixtamalization. In an authentic Mexican tortilla, field corn sits in an alkaline bath for 12 to 14 hours, which breaks down the skin of the corn kernel. (The part that gets stuck in your teeth after you eat popcorn). Nixtamalization and lime (the mineral, not the fruit) make the corn more digestible and nutritious. An authentic Mexican tortilla has about the same amount of fiber as a slice of whole wheat bread.

The result of the process is masa, a dough from which many types of Mexican regional foods are made; gorditas, panuchos, and sopes, as well as tortillas. 

Not all corn is equal: Tortillas are only as good as the corn they’re made from and its milling. Mexico has over 10,000 years experience growing corn and some say the soil of certain parts of Mexico, such as Oaxaca, carries that history (terrior) into the flavor of the corn, as happens with wines.

Tortillas are politically powerful – Combined with beans, tortillas create a near perfect and cheap protein. It’s a food so important to the Mexican working class that violent protests have occurred  when prices rose. So today the Mexican government controls those prices. In all Mexican states, tortillas are part of the canasta basica, a list of price-controlled necessary foods and products. Each Mexican state has its own canasta basica. 

Dos and Don’ts of cooking your tortilla – Never, ever microwave a tortilla, especially not in front of a Mexican (who will look at you in great sorrow). Microwaving changes the texture of tortillas. They only take a minute to heat on a comal (included with many Mexican ovens) or in a frying pan. Since most Mexican ovens are gas, you can even heat them with tongs over the burner flame.

Tortillas are more versatile than bread.  You can’t put “just anything” between two slices of bread. You can put just anything into a folded, fried tortilla. From the half-can of refried beans in the back of your fridge to yesterday’s stir-fried vegetables or 30-second scrambled eggs, you’ll find that anything tastes good in a hot fried tortilla. They’ll be a godsend on the nights you don’t feel like cooking.

Care for your tortillas – Tortillas are served and kept hot in tortilleras, a woven straw basket with a soft, clean cloth inside. Otherwise they’re refrigerated, as authentic ones do not have preservatives.

Where to buy your tortillas – While you’ll likely buy many fresh tortillas (nopal, blue corn, white corn) from unmarked coolers at major grocery stores, they’re also sold by little old ladies from their homes. These little people will dart out from doorways like black market traders, handing off their small illicit bundles to grateful construction workers so quickly that you’ll wonder what you just saw.

Negotiating the price of your tortillas – Fresh tortillas are also found at OXXO convenience stores where cashiers sometimes sell them from behind the counter. The more clandestine tortillas dealers, noting you’re foreign, might ask if you prefer one pound or two pounds, which you’ll come to learn is thousands of tortillas. Surprise them by saying you’d like 20 pesos worth, 50 pesos worth, etc (a dozen or so tortillas).

How your tortillas should look – When choosing tortillas, usually the more yellow the tortilla, the fresher. A very white tortilla can indicate a “bleaching” of ingredients. If your tortillas become dry, using a plant mister is a great way to revive them.

A word of warning – Fried tortillas can become an addiction. Eating too many is the leading cause of the dreaded “tortilla belly” my Mexican girlfriends bemoan. As with any new love, you can become so thoroughly infatuated that you don’t notice the first signs of betrayal. Limit yourself to two tortillas a day. 

Develop a healthy, balanced relationship with your tortillas and they’ll serve your diet, and personal image, very well in Mexico.

Kerry Baker, author:

Before You Move to Mexico, Eliminate as Much Paper as Possible and Consider a Mail Forwarding Service

Before You Move to Mexico, Eliminate as Much Paper as Possible and Consider a Mail Forwarding Service

Mailing addresses are wonderful in the US and Canada; no one has the same address as you, your address will show up on Google Maps (and in the right place), and when you give your address to Amazon, Amazon accepts it and can deliver to you.
Not so much in Mexico.

Also, even if some NOB (“North of the Border”; the US or Canada) companies mailing to you in Mexico could send to an address where your mail would actually be delivered, many will not.

For these reasons and others, it is a good idea to stop receiving in paper as much as you can while NOB and get everything sent to you digitally, via email or access through the Internet.  In probably 95% of cases, your vendors, banks, brokerage accounts, credit card companies, etc., will welcome you doing this, and you can do it by just logging into your account on their website, clicking some boxes and giving your email address.  If this doesn’t work, you may want to call them and ask for assistance.

Ruthlessly eliminate as many pieces of paper coming to you as possible.  There is no downside to doing this now, even if your move is still several months in the future.  That way, if something doesn’t work properly or gets lost, you’ll have a chance while still NOB to fix it in a serene way.

Next, look at all your important documents, such as:

  • Driver’s license
  • Marriage certificate
  • Birth certificate
  • Residency visa (when you get it)
  • Passport
  • All credit cards and debit cards and any other cards you have
  • Car registration
  • Tax returns and receipts
  • Your most cherished photographs
  • Medical records, x-rays, and any lists of medications you’re taking
  • All the other pieces of paper you have that you need from time to time or are especially worried about no longer having

Wouldn’t it be a shame if you lost one, two, or all of them?

In many cases, it would be a complete disaster.

Don’t let it happen, at least in digital form.

Create a directory on your computer, create some subdirectories and scan each category of paper into its own directory.  Then, just think of how secure and at ease you will feel that there is no way to lose at least the digital version of these important documents and photos and how superior your will feel when someone needs your birth certificate or passport and you can just send it to them right from your computer, without having first to find it and then scan it.

Regardless of how much paper mail you eliminate, you’ll still have some.  What do you do about that?  You can either use your sister-in-law’s address where she can collect it for you (thank you, Lisa!), use some other trusted friend or relative, or you can use a commercial service.  There are now lots of mailbox companies in the US who will receive your paper mail and either scan it and send you the scan, or even from time to time physically transport it to you in Mexico.  Make sure you have one of these in place well before you move.

  • Look at each piece of paper mail you receive.  For each one, go to the Internet, to that company’s website, and ask for your correspondence to be sent via email.
  • Buy a low-cost scanner or go to Staples, Office Depot or another retailer who can scan for you.
  • Scan each of the paper in the list above into a place on your computer where you can find it.
  • Either ask someone who is stable, you can trust and who will collect your remaining mail for you if they would do it, or contract with a mailbox company who will do it and will provide you with a legal address. 

How to Figure Out What You Need to Bring to Mexico (and Some Examples)

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

How to Figure Out What You Need to Bring to Mexico (and Some Examples)

Woman sitting on a comfortable sofaThe best advice I would give is to make a trip to Lakeside [Lake Chapala / Ajijic area] several months before packing and moving here. Explore the local shops (furniture and home furnishings stores, hardware stores, drug stores, grocery stores, etc.) to determine what is available. Take a lot of notes. Then think about the things you might need in your new space. If you can’t find the specific things you want to set up a comfortable home for yourself locally, bring it from the US. The list is specific to the individual and what you personally find important.

Some real-life examples: There are high cabinets in the kitchen of our Lakeside home. But it is not possible to find a kitchen step ladder that folds to 1-inch wide for storage with more than two steps here. Likewise, for a telescoping ladder. While large extension ladders are available everywhere here, a 16-foot ladder that collapses to 3.5-feet for storage isn’t available. I brought these items from the US.

Other items I would recommend bringing from the US:

  • Soft sheets and bed linens that have a high thread count
  • Bed pillows that are comfortable to sleep on
  • Some health and beauty products that you can’t find here
  • Comfortable living room chairs and sofas – many of those available in Mexico are too firm or have a straight back by US standards
  • Specialty kitchen gadgets
  • An accurate oven thermometer that is marked in both Celsius and Fahrenheit – propane-fired ovens in Mexico are difficult to regulate for baking

There is a Wal Mart at Lakeside and Home Depot in Guadalajara. These stores are not fully stocked with all of the things that you are used to seeing in their US stores. The same item from Home Depot here is generally much more expensive as compared to the US. If you are like me, I know certain tools and pieces of hardware when I see them. But I don’t always know their name or how to describe them. Trying to ask for an item in Spanish when you don’t know the name of it in English is usually a lost cause. Moral to the story: If it is something you think you might need from Home Depot or Lowe’s, bring it with you. It is better to bring something than to regret that you didn’t.

— David Hudnall

What to Bring When You Move to Mexico: Patience, Flexibility, Humor… and Cash

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

What to Bring When You Move to Mexico: Patience, Flexibility, Humor... and Cash

Jet Metier and Chuck Bolotin with Mexican childrenMy usual advice to people moving to Mexico is bring Patience, Flexibility, and a Sense of Humor.  I am going to add Cash to that.

Mexico does not operate in a linear fashion.  It does not value time, money or efficiency the same way gringos do.  And it does not have an infrastructure that facilitates getting things done quickly.  A good example is the answer I received when I complemented a local Latina rental agent for building a very successful business. Her answer was “Thank you, I am so proud.  I can support 12 families.”

Family and community was the goal of her business, not profit.  She still lives above the office she started 18 years ago, although she could buy a big house.  She would prefer to insure the security of the families who work for her.  That is a Mexican value. But it also means that repair work goes to those families, even if they might not be immediately available.  Time is less important than relationships.

So be patient, things will (usually) take longer than you imagined possible, but sometimes they happen faster.  And be flexible; if the garbage truck is stuck between you and the highway you need to get to on a one-lane cobblestone street, back up, go over to the next street and drive one block the wrong way to the intersection.  You will probably not be the only one.

And laugh.  Mexicans laugh a lot.  While you are stuck behind that garbage truck and the driver comes over to your car and says “lo siento” – I am sorry, tell him you don’t mind the delay, but can he do something about the smell” and make a funny face (No me preocupa el retraso, pero ¿puedes arreglar el mal olor?).  You will both laugh. The truck won’t move any faster, but you will feel better.

Finally, Cash.  Mexico runs on cash; not credit and not electronic money.  Oh, there are places that take your credit card and you can use your debit card at Walmart, but most places want cash.  Paying a utility bill?  Pay it with cash at OXXO. Go to great Mexican restaurant? Pay cash.  Shop at the Wednesday Market?  Cash only. Go to a medical lab in Guadalajara for a test. Cash – in advance.  Despite this, the reliance on cash has not made its use easier.  As techies in the US would say, cash has a lot of friction in Mexico.

You need cash?  Go to the bank in the morning and they are out of it.  Go to the ATM (one of the two in town that will accept your card) and it can’t connect to the internet.  Go to the ATM at LCC, and there is a long line and when you get there, the machine is empty.  Go back to the bank and wait outside with 10 other people while the armored car brings cash into the bank.  Go to the one open teller after waiting for the armored car and she tells you that they are offline and can’t give you a withdrawal.   Rinse and repeat the next day.  Cash does not move quickly in Mexico.  So get a lot when you can.

But once you get used to that, you begin to automatically plan ahead, anticipate all the things that can – and probably will – go wrong, and enjoy life if Mexico.

Oh…and learn Spanish.  Things go faster and work better when you do. Except money.

— Patrick O’Heffernan


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My Fun List of What I Brought When We Moved to Mexico

John Perdiagao and Cindy Bozeman in Mexico

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

My Fun List of What I Brought When We Moved to Mexico

John Perdiagao and Cindy Bozeman in MexicoMexico has so many natural and handmade treasures one might wonder… what should I pack to bring that I might not find there…

Well … depending on what you hold dear I believe the answer differs for each if us.

For me it was sentimental cherished items such as my Mom’s ashes contained in the pearl urn and the old photographs that I hold dear from the “pre-Facebook” days. Another “must have” was my beautiful wood chest that my Grandpa built by hand especially for me. I even managed to bring my first cherished stuffed animal from my preschool years (surprised myself that I couldn’t throw that beat up puppy away). I admit I’ve tried throwing him out several times since I’ve been here… tears start welling up before I made it to the bin.  Very strange indeed. But I digress…

For my husband it was simple. He wanted his giant computer monitor and his two cats! 

Having lived here two years I admit that sometimes it’s really the small things that we crave every now and then.

Here’s a few examples…

  • Ghirardelli Chocolate chips – I found them locally here in Mexico but nearly had a coronary over the price…$7.00usd per bag!  Good gawd…enough to stop my cookie cravings.
  • Graham crackers – nope, Mexico must not know about magic cookie bars or s’mores. 
  • “ain’t nobody got time for that” self-tanning foam (hard enough to find in the US.  And yes, I need it now and then! I wear sunblock and stay white as a ghost. #itsaredheadthing
  • Frosted candelabra light bulbs for our chandelier (yes really, they only have clear). We had our friends mule them over. They were like …you want what?!?
  • Whitener strips – haven’t found them anywhere! Yellow is the new white.
  • Clothes and goodies from Ross. (Whaaaaaaa!! I do miss my Ross and Home Goods)
  • Anything from Marshall’s (think soap dispensers, soft throw blankets, trendy summer tops, lamps and shades).  Yes, lamps and shades …don’t get me started.
  • Another really odd “must have” that would have never entered my mind is a heating pad. It’s one of those things you may only need once in blue moon but when you need it you’ve got to have it. Like other things you wouldn’t think would be hard to find, why this item hasn’t made it to stores south of the border is anyone’s guess.
  • Dill pickles (they’ve gotta be here somewhere)
  • Grape jelly (Mexico has literally every other jelly except grape)
  • Butterfingers! I once brought an entire carry-on bag stuffed full for my husband …. BEST WIFE EVER!

All in all, nothing we can’t live without of course but believe me, my husband and I now bring back full suitcases every time we go home! Just cuz we can 😁😉

I hope you’ll find this helpful.

— Cindy Bozeman



Before You Move to Mexico, Figure Out What to Take and What to Leave

Things You Can't Get in Mexico and Should Bring to Mexico

Before You Move to Mexico, Figure Out What to Take and What to Leave

Quinton, Sharon, and Jessie Dube
Quinton, Sharon, and Jessie

The time between our visit Lakeside and our move to Ajijic was just over six months.  During those six months we: sold our house and car, bought a house in Ajijic, established a retirement date, set-up change of address and an account with virtual mail service, ported our Calgary phone line with Vonage, started the immigration process in Calgary to become residents in Mexico and set the date for our three day Estate Sale. However, before the Estate Sale could take place, we had to determine what was moving with us to Mexico.

Thinking that moving less furniture would be more economical than moving more, we decided that we would only bring our bedroom furniture, linens, kitchen dishes, flatware, pots and pans, a few sentimental items. That was an assumption, that we later learned was incorrect.  It is more cost effective to move more than it is to move a smaller amount.

We do wish that we had moved our living room furniture and our office furniture and bookshelves.  The furniture that we owned in Canada was high quality and comfortable and it would have suited our home in Ajijic.

There were also several physical therapy items (heating pads, support slings, ice packs, etc.) that we had purchased over the years in Calgary that now we are having to purchase online through Amazon. We cannot find all these items, not everything ships to Mexico and it is more expensive to get many of the items.

In hindsight, we should have shipped more. It would have been nice to keep the furniture we loved, photo albums, some books, and a few more personal items.  If we had more time to think it through during our six-month preparation, those are the items we would have brought to Mexico.

Quinton, Sharon, and Jessie