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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