11 Things You Must Accept Living as an Expat in Mexico

view from our terrace in downtown cancun

view from our terrace in downtown cancun

A few weeks back I had some expat ladies over to my house for some appetizers and gossip.  We got to talking about luxuries we missed from our home countries which led me to write this post. As an expat living in Mexico there are certain luxuries I've had to give up while living here and some weird things I've just had to accept about this foreign country.  I know my fellow foreigners living here will be able to relate to these unusual things you might have to accept if you want to live as an expat in Mexico.

1. Electricity

My friends in Cancun know I've had an unusual problem with electricity in most of the apartments I've lived in here.  At first I thought it was bad luck, but then I found out power here is pretty unreliable and can go out at any time, for no reason at all!  I also think my landlords (previous and current) don't do the best job of keeping up with the repairs in the electricity area.  Warning: have candles and flashlights readily available, phone charged at all times, and be comfortable showering in the dark!

2.  BUGS

OMG BUGS -- one of my least favorite things.  Yes, Cancun is filled with them and ones that you never knew existed.  Some will give you nightmares.  The Mexican song La cucaracha is famous here because it's normal to see these buggers crawling around your house sometimes.  In one of my apartments here I saw a centipede-like-thing crawl out of the bathroom drain once and I've been scarred for life ever since (and this was after we fumigated!)  I've also heard that tailless whip scorpions are commonly found in bathrooms here (google a picture.) I'm praying this never happens to me as I may have a heart attack on spot!

3.  Water

It's the first thing they tell you - don't drink the water!  Well buying water all the time gets very tedious and racks up a bill, you'll dream of the days of public water fountains, drinking from a shower head, making your clean water even cleaner in a Brita, and most of all, the fact that in the USA it's all free.  Besides the fact that I will never take clean water for granted again, I will never take readily available hot water for granted either.  Most houses here have gas water heaters that need to be turned on by a lighter.  Most have automatic buttons that turn it, but if it breaks you have to light it yourself: DANGER!  Also, there is almost never hot water in the sinks to wash your hands or do your dishes, only for the shower.

4.  Throwing Toilet Paper in the Toilet

Yes you read that right.  Every expat living in Mexico knows exactly what I'm talking about.  That sign in public bathrooms that says  "Please do not throw toilet paper in the toilet." Ok so where do I put it? - was my second thought when I saw that sign.  My first thought was: this must be a joke!  But alas, there is a method to their madness. I've learned over the years in Mexico that it's because their plumbing and sewage systems can't handle all the paper and would clog if everyone flushed it down.  Call me crazy but isn't that what sewage systems are for?!

5.  Homeless dogs and cats

If you are an animal lover like me it can be difficult to be a bystander to all the innocent cats and dogs that roam the streets here in Mexico.  Groups of emaciated street dogs begging for food and searching trash cans are a common site here, one that many foreigners are not used to.  One time I even saw a dead kitty cat in a garbage bag on the side of the road.  Luckily in Cancun we have great organizations like Tierra de Animales and Animalistas working to give hundreds of homeless animals shelter, food, and recovery at their sanctuaries.  These places are always overflowing with animals and are doing as best they can with the help they have.  This is a real life testament to the importance of spay, neutering, and adoption.

6.  Grocery shopping at your leisure

In Mexico, pay days come twice a month on the 15th and 30th... for EVERYONE.  These holy days are known as quincenas.  Therefore, grocery stores, Costco, and also ATMs are swarmed with people on these dates and generally for one or two days after.  Lines are horrendous, leaving me to ask the burning question: why don't businesses pay their employees on different dates?! The up side to this craziness is - if you save your pesos, you can hit the grocery stores right before the quincenas and shop without any waiting.

7.  Paying bills online

Oh remember when this started in like 1998?  Here in Mexico the most common form of payment for bills is going to the office of the company and paying in cash, which can be very inconvenient.  Online banking and paying bills IS possible but most people choose not to do it this way because of systems frequently being down and fear of fraud.  I've also been told that online banking has a lot of fees attached to it. Womp womp.

8.  Change

Do you have a smaller bill? Do you have exact change?  If you live in Mexico you're probably sick of hearing those questions.  One of the things that drives me nuts about Mexico is the fact that businesses, restaurants, convenience stores, and even taxi and bus drivers NEVER have change when you go to pay.  Sometimes it's even for the smallest bill of 50 pesos and they still don't have change.  I've had to leave Oxxo and the things I wanted to buy because they had no change to give me - because of that problem they lost my sale. CRAZY right!?  My question is WHERE does all the change go and WHY doesn't anyone have any??

9.  Sharing

Ask my sister - I've never been a good sharer haha.  This is especially true when it comes to food and candy.  One thing I had to learn when I moved to Mexico was a social norm they have here that requires you to share food or snacks with the people and friends around you.  For example: if you're at work and you run to the store for a pack of cookies, you then need to offer a cookie to all the people in your office when you return.  It's considered rude not to share children!  It's a nice courtesy obviously, but what happens when you only have 5 cookies in your pack? You end up eating only one - sad story.

10.  For the Love of Limes

It's a pretty well known fact that limes are a big staple food here.  You don't understand how big until you move here.  Limes are in EVERYTHING.  Mayonnaise has lime, there's lime soup, lime goes on fruit, chips, peanuts, candy, you name it, it has lime.  It's also served with all types of meals like tacos, seafood, salads, and in cocktails.  Lime is also used to treat a variety of ailments.  The summers in Cancun are brutally hot and I am always eaten up by mosquitos.  During my first year here one of my close Mexican girlfriends told me to put lime juice on my bites to relieve the itching and calm the area.  I have to say I thought it was weird, but it worked!  Recently at my work , I had a bad head cold with a sore throat and one of the guys at the store gave me a syrup-like mix that had honey, lime, and a drop of tequila.  This weird mix is supposed to soothe your throat but I didn't really feel like it worked, plus it tasted weird.  The moral of the story is : when life hands you limes, go to Mexico.

11. Coupons

This was a phenomenon I thought was especially weird.  Coupons do exist here but they are very rare and often times the "discounts" aren't really discounts or they are disguised like this: 2X1 movie tickets on every third Tuesday of the month after you've been to the movies 12 times and bought 5 popcorns. Whaaaaat? You know how in the United States you can cut out coupons in the newspaper, magazines, grocery store ads etc, I've NEVER seen those here.  No frequent buyer cards and no 50% off coupon sent to your e-mail on your birthday.  I know Cinepolis has a reward card where you rack up points but you have to pay a fee every year to have it.

These are just a few of the many cultural differences expats adjust to while living in Mexico.  I realize this list may seem depressing, but there are also many great things about living in Mexico, otherwise there wouldn't be so many of us foreigners here! I'll have to do a list of the good stuff on a different day.  Did I forget to mention something in this list? Let me know in the comment section below!