Why I Can’t Compete with Mexican Women

My first clue was 9 years ago at university here in Cancun.

In 1st semester, my Mexican classmates would frequently ask me, “Laura, where are your earrings?” “Laura, why didn’t you do your hair today?” “Laura, why do you have huge bags under your eyes?” So for the past 9 years, I have made sure to never leave the house without earrings and concealer. The comments have almost entirely disappeared. (I still don’t “do” my hair, though, because I’m not sure what that means. Now that it’s super-long, nobody says anything, so I think I’m ok.)

On Saturday, Jorge and I went to a wedding. I put on a pretty dress, strapped on some nice sandals and covered my face in exorbitant quantities of makeup. This time, I was determined to get it right.

And yet, once we were at the reception, I looked around me and saw scores of Mexican women with beautifully crafted makeup designs. We were surrounded on all sides by immaculately blended smoky eyes, perfectly glossed lips and expertly placed lashes, all complemented by skin-tight cocktail dresses, push-up bras and sky-high heels. These women are good. My makeup looked bland and colorless by comparison. So what is a girl to do? I rushed to the ladies room, where I had to wait for two tween girls to take some selfies before I achieved mirror access, then I put on as much eyeliner as my eyes could handle. Better. But still not enough. Eyeliner was all I had in my arsenal, so it would have to do for now. I swore that for the next big social event, I would attempt a smoky eye.

Today, it’s happening all over again. The internet at my house is down, so I had to rush to Starbucks this morning to start work at 9am. I barely had time to wash my hair before I left the house, but I did manage to shower and miraculously iron my shirt. So here I am right now, sitting at Starbucks, with a naked face and damp, tangled hair. This Starbucks, however, is a fancy Starbucks. The people who come here are Cancun’s elite… or at least, they pretend to be. The women here have perfectly straightened hair and brightly colored wardrobes that look anything but effortless, or sometimes expensive workout gear paired with a full face of makeup so they can look spectacular during a session at the nearby gym. When the men walk past my table in their tightly-fitting button-up shirts and overly gelled hair, overpowering scents of Lacoste and D&G reach my nostrils for a brief instant. My ears are filled with the sounds of the baristas preparing Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the giggles of 30-something Mexican trophy wives, and the over-enunciations of Mexican businessmen trying to impress their colleagues. It’s a fashion show, and I showed up unprepared.

And surprise, surprise… once again, I’m the only female in the room with no earrings.

 

What We’ve Been Up To

I know I’ve been writing a ton about our little adventures over the past few months, but I haven’t talked much about the day-to-day lately. With Tulum vacations and hanging out on Cancun beaches, what have we been doing between our mini vacations?

This semester, Jorge got a teaching job at a Cancun high school. He’s teaching calculus, geometry and physics, and he seems to really love it. I’ve seen him tutor his cousins before, so I knew teaching was really his thing. It’s fun to hear him talk about his students (he has over 40 students in each class. Yikes!) and to see him grading papers and making lesson plans at home. So proud!

For a few years, my goal has been to get enough freelance writing work so I can quit my day job and work from home. As much as I like my office job, it’s my dream to be able to go on tours, on vacation, etc (and write about it!) without having to limit myself to my vacation days. In the past few months I’ve gotten a few new freelance jobs, and it looks like I might be very close to my goal. Unfortunately, right now this means that I’m working 4 jobs!! I get home from work and continue working on the computer every evening. It’s been tiring, but I still enjoy it. Writing about being on vacation isn’t so bad!

A few weeks ago I also got to meet a blogger who I’ve known online for 3 years! Ang (of Football, Sushi and the Pursuit of Happiness) was staying at a Cancun resort with her fiance Steve. We got lunch at Fish Fritanga, which I hadn’t tried before but it was amazing, then went to Plaza La Isla to walk around and have some drinks.

The dogs have been pretty good, too. My idea of relaxation is being able to hang out at home with these lovely ladies…

Konan caught sleeping in our bed

Dolly with the puppy dog eyes

Suki in her favorite sleeping spot... on my purse

We also went to Cozumel over the weekend for Carnaval, and we got to snorkel with starfish! Pics to come. 🙂

Culture Shock at the Bus Station

I’ve written before about my struggles with culture shock when moving to Cancun, but since I’ve reached the final stage I rarely get too frustrated with the Mexican culture. Most things I’ve been able to embrace or simply laugh off.

Saturday morning, however, I went through one of my rare yet enraging Mexico culture shock moments. I’m not sure if it had to do with the fact that I’d just spent 9 days in the luxury of the USA, or maybe the situation really was bad. Dunno.

Jorge and I don’t own a car, so we always use public transportation. Normally this works just fine because Cancun has excellent and cheap buses and taxis, plus the ADO buses can easily take us to any nearby cities. Things only get difficult when it comes to traveling to a more remote area. Saturday morning, we were traveling to Chabihau, the tiny fishing village in Yucatan where Jorge’s mom grew up. Normally we catch a ride in Jorge’s parents’ car, but they had gone to Chabihau on Thursday. Our only option was to take the air-conditioned ADO bus to Merida, then catch one of the taxi vans to Chabihau.

My personal hell went something like this:

5:15 am: Our ADO bus leaves Cancun.

9:30 am: The bus arrives in Merida (I slept the whole way, miraculously). We immediately grab a taxi to take us to the taxi van station. (Merida has a street block filled with garages offering vans that take you to the smaller towns outside the city.) Jorge quickly finds the garage for the taxi vans to Chabihau, which also take other passengers to towns along the same route.

10:10 am: We’re told (as expected) by a ticket lady sitting at a rickety school desk that the 13-person van would leave at 10:30 am. If it fills up earlier, it will leave earlier. Jorge and I are happy to wait 20 minutes or less.

The garage we wait in is filthy, but we sit on the wobbly wood bench and joke around together for awhile to pass the time. Jorge goes to the neighboring store for a torta while I watch a little bit of one of Mexico’s strange but hilarious talk shows. Not so bad.

10:45 am: We begin to wonder why the van hasn’t left yet. Jorge goes back up to the lady at the tiny ticket desk and calmly asks what the situation is. The lady answers, “The driver went to the corner. He’ll be back in a few minutes.”

I ask Jorge, “What does it mean that he went to ‘the corner’? I don’t think it means the store because there’s a store right here.”

Jorge replies, “In Yucatan, ‘the corner’ could mean a lot of things.”

And that’s when the culture shock hits me.

I want to scream at the lady at the desk that they should have set times for van departures and stick to them. That the driver should know he has a dozen people waiting for him on a very uncomfortable wood bench. That my butt is numb from 5 hours of sitting. That this would never happen in the US. What is “the corner” and how far away is it? For the love of God could somebody please powerwash whatever disgusting substance is covering the walls and ceiling?

But I stay quiet.

10:46 am: I take my book out of my purse because somehow the plot of Game of Thrones is more calming than the thoughts going through my head at the moment.

11:05 am: Jorge steps back over to the lady at the desk for an update. I don’t even look and just keep my nose buried in my book. Breathe.

Jorge returns to my spot on the bench. “She looked at her notepad and said that she misspoke. The van leaves at 11:30, not 10:30.”

I give poor, innocent Jorge the glare of death. I go back to my book.

11:07 am: A group of 10 people makes their way to one of the vans. “Is that us?” I ask excitedly.

Jorge goes to ask if our van was being called, and comes back to tell me it wasn’t our van. Back to the book.

11:09 am: Jorge informs me that it actually IS our van. We’re the last 2 people on, so Jorge takes a front seat and I squeeze into the seatbelt-less back seat between 2 businessmen and a small boy who spends the entirety of the 45 minute van ride talking to an imaginary friend in the van window.

I want a car.

The First Cancun Beach Day of 2013

I was lucky enough to have January 1 off from work, so I begged Jorge to go to the Hotel Zone with me. After our trip to Virginia for Christmas, warm weather was sounding pretty good!

I brought along my brand new camera (a Nikon 1 J1, Christmas present from Jorge) to experiment. It’s been difficult getting used to the angles because of the wider frame, but by the end of the afternoon the photos were improving.

Forum Beach: I guess everyone else in the city had the day off because this beach was packed!

Chac Mool Beach: This lesser-known beach was a lot quieter. The photos were taken around sunset, so they’re not as bright but still beautiful. I didn’t even stage the footprint photos… everything was already there. 🙂 Perfect.

I’m loving the lighting and colors on this new camera. Everything I see with my eye is exactly what shows up on the camera without needing to do any manual adjustments. (My previous camera had a hard time with bright sunlight and evening light, so this was a welcome change.)

I’d been wanting a more professional camera for awhile and was lusting after some of the larger cameras with the changeable lenses. However, I went on a tour with other bloggers recently and saw everyone else carrying around a big camera bag, which made me realize I DIDN’T want that. I looked around online for more portable options and found the Nikon 1, which has the lenses I want but it’s still about the same size as my point-and-shoot. Perfect for taking more “fancy” pictures while still being small enough to just throw it in my purse!

I got the sexy red one.

I feel like a real blogger now.

I’m Back and I Have Christmas Pictures!

Jorge and I just got back from a 9-day stay in Richmond to visit family for Christmas. My sisters came up from North Carolina and a bunch of cousins were there, so it was a great time! The first few days (including Christmas), we stayed at my grandparents’ house, then moved to my parents’ new loft apartment in downtown Richmond for the rest of the trip.

I didn’t take too many pictures because we were mostly busy just hanging out, so I tried to tone down my blogger habit of documenting every little thing. Here are some of the pictures I did get… (Please forgive the below-par photo quality. I got a new camera and it’s amazing, but I’m still having a hard time getting the angles right.)

Grandma Brown directing Jorge in the kitchen

Gang of wild turkeys on the golf course outside my grandparents' house

On Christmas Eve, almost all the girls my age from my church showed up. With everyone all over the place, it's rare to see us all together. I've known all these girls since I was born 🙂

A lot of the townhouses in downtown Richmond had these wild, thrown-around lights. I kinda love it.

My sisters and I have a tradition where we take pics walking down the stairs on Christmas morning. I'm sure my mom has some better ones on her camera.

My cousin's son Christian riding his new scooter

My mom with my cousins Aubrie and Lynnsie

Cousin Lynnsie with her son Christian

My cousins Aubrie, Meghan and Lynnsie

My photographer sister Sarah giving my mom a quick photography lesson

Noelle, Grandpa and Jorge playing with Christian's new toy (I like to call this one "How many engineers does it take to work a tape measure?")

Jorge helping Christian with his new video game (Jorge's area of expertise)

My mom, my sister Noelle and my dad helping out in the kitchen

I miss the malls in the States!!

Another pretty mall pic

Jorge and I walking around Carytown, a fun shopping street in downtown Richmond. I loved the vintage clothing stores, while Jorge spent some money at the used video game shop.

The train tracks and overpasses in Shockoe Bottom, downtown Richmond

My favorite building, the old train station in Richmond

Gotta love my "winter" clothes... mixing a summer skirt with a jacket, boots and tights. You do what you can when you have no winter clothes haha

My family: Noelle, Daddy, Mommy, me and Sarah

The whole family (minus brother-in-law Michael): Noelle, Mommy, Daddy, me, Jorge, Sarah and brother-in-law-to-be Jared

While I was there, I was tempted to consider moving back to the States. Amazing shopping, great restaurants, my family, drinking water straight from the tap… who could say no? Still, I’m more in love with Cancun. Jorge and I talked about it and decided that we’ll just try to visit the US more often.

I hope everyone else had an amazing Christmas!

 

USA vs Mexico: Education

Readers are always asking me to write more about the day-to-day aspects of living in Mexico, and my first 4 years in Cancun were spent at college. My college experience in Cancun included so many ups and downs, mainly because the educational system in Mexico is so vastly different from schools in the USA.

My Cancun university had a hands-on approach with zero textbooks. I was interning at large beach resorts and giving presentations on luxury travel destinations while my friends back in the States were writing papers and doing homework. But did I graduate with more knowledge than my USA counterparts? I don’t know.

Me and some classmates at an event we organized for a college course

To sort out my ideas, I’m going to go through different areas of study to give my thoughts on which of the two countries has the upper hand in each specific area. Please keep in mind that this is from my experience (kindergarten through one semester of college in Virginia, then 4 years of Tourism Administration and 3 years working in Cancun), and it won’t apply to all areas of the USA or to all areas of Mexico. I’m drawing these conclusions based on the people in my circles of friends and my family, and it’s all highly subjective. You’ll see lots of generalizations here.

Geography and Current Events

The United States is so bad at this that they don’t even realize it. I always prided myself on excellent geography skills… until I moved to Mexico. My college classmates in Cancun knew so much about politics, conflicts and geography that I was dumbfounded. I realized that in the USA, we know a lot about our own politics and geography, but surprisingly little about other countries.

To give you an example, one day at work we found out that me and the other American girl at my office had no idea what the capital of Canada was. However, every single Mexican in the office knew the answer without hesitation. (I later tested my Facebook friends from back in the States, and only 1 of them knew the answer.) Humiliating.

Math

I will give this one to the United States, but with caution. In my experience, my USA classmates were great at math while my Mexican classmates hated it with a passion. However, I was in advanced level math courses throughout high school, while the tourism majors of Cancun aren’t exactly known for their math skills.

My husband Jorge’s great at math and majored in engineering. We should have a math contest sometime. 🙂

The Arts

USA wins this one by a landslide. American schools are very focused on creating “well-rounded” students, and in Virginia we were always required to take some form of art or music class. Here in Cancun, when they incorporated an art history class into my school, my classmates petitioned to have it taken away because it “wasn’t useful”. I’ve also never heard of a choir class, art class or band class here in Cancun, although I do know lots of musicians and singers!

That being said, Mexicans will always be better dancers. Sorry America. We’re not sexy.

On a class trip with my classmates to Xcaret

Business

Mexico wins. By a lot.

Remember how USA schools love well-rounded students? Well, that has a downside. We spent so much time in Virginia high school building all kinds of knowledge in different subjects that we never learned how to actually do anything. My first semester of university in Cancun, many class conversations went way over my head because my Mexican classmates had been taking business-related courses since they were 15.

I also see tons of people my age in Cancun starting up their own businesses. The USA also has many talented entrepreneurs, but not nearly as many as I’ve seen in Mexico.

Language

Mexico wins here, but let’s remember that I live in Cancun, where almost everybody has to speak some level of English. English language classes in Mexico (at least up until high school) are atrociously bad… many Mexican friends have taken 5+ years of English and can barely hold a conversation. However, once they’re thrown into the working world, they pick up the language impressively fast. Back in Virginia, most students didn’t seem to want to learn more than a conversational level of any language, even though the classes were great, but that might be from lack of necessity.

Spelling and Grammar

I’ll be honest, I used to think Mexican schools in general must have horrible spelling and grammar programs. My Cancun college classmates often asked me (the gringa) how to spell words in Spanish, and it’s common practice here to replace periods with commas. I also have many Mexican friends who misspell everyday words on a regular basis. My mind changed when I began working as a copywriter in an office with many Mexican copywriters, all with flawless spelling and grammar, not to mention great writing skills.

The invention of Facebook also made me realize that Americans don’t spell very well, either!

All that being said, I still have to give the win to the USA in this category.

On a class trip with my college buddies to the state of Chiapas

It looks like the two countries are pretty even in the score (3 – 3), and I received a great education in the USA and Mexico. I feel the USA focuses more on “book learnin” while Mexico has a more “real world” approach. I feel truly blessed to have experienced the strengths of both educational systems.

The main point of this post isn’t so much to enforce my own views (which are constantly changing), but to create a dialogue and hear the school experiences of Americans and Mexicans alike. How do you think your education holds up to other countries? What did you like? What would you change?

 

 

How to Halfway Graduate from a Mexican University

I graduated from university here in Cancun 3 years ago. I studied Tourism Administration, a 4-year degree that required about twice as many courses as a USA university and no less than 5 internships, along with 240 hours of community service. My expat friends and I often joke that here in Mexico, they feel that more work must mean better work, which is why they Mexican companies looooove 6-day work weeks.

Back in 2009, my class had a lovely little graduation ceremony. I even have a graduation picture to prove it…

So that means I’m done, right?

Wrong.

At my university (and I believe at many other Mexican universities), after you graduate, you need to do one of 3 things:

  1. Take a 1-semester course to study for a huge final exam
  2. Write a thesis
  3. Have an overall GPA of at least 9 (in Mexico, grades go from 0 – 10)

I was lucky enough to have a GPA of 9.01, meaning I didn’t have to take the final course/exam or write a thesis. Hurray!

So I began my paperwork to get my 9.01 GPA approved to be able to get my official degree. Most students in Mexico take about 1.5 years to get all this paperwork done and approved. Due to several immigration paperwork issues (nothing bad, just incredibly annoying), my degree paperwork took about 3 years to complete.

Last night, I was finally able to attend the ceremony for my “Toma de Protesta”, which is when university graduates take an oath promising to uphold the university’s values and ethics when working in their chosen profession. It also means I am now officially a “licenciada”, a fancy title given to people who have completed their 4-year degree in Mexico.

Here's me (in black) shaking hands with all the university coordinators... again.

Me with my college friends Jhovana and Juan (sorry about the redeye)

I was also under the impression that at this ceremony, I would be given my degree and my “cedula profesional”, an official document to show potential employers that I have completed my degree… although I’m not sure why it’s necessary because every single person I graduated with was able to get a good job in the tourism field before receiving their cedula profesional.

However, I found out last night that I have only put in the paperwork for my degree and cedula profesional… I won’t actually receive them for another 6 – 8 months. No word yet as to whether there’s a 3rd hand-shaking ceremony in my future.

As much as I love the frequent visits to my university, I really just want this to be over with. I’ve jumped through enough hoops.

Come on, Mexico. What gives?

Mexico vs USA: When to Move Out?

Last night, Jorge and I were talking about a friend of ours who recently moved out of his parents’ house at the age of 25.

  • My thoughts: Ok.
  • Jorge’s thoughts: Well that’s controversial!

In the USA, most people move out of their parents’ house when they get a steady job after high school. Others go off to college, live there for 4 years, then move their leftover stuff out of their parents’ house when they get a job after graduating. If anyone is still living with their parents after age 23 or 24, it’s most likely because for whatever reason, they can’t afford to live on their own (not uncommon in today’s economy).

In Mexico, things are quite different. People are much more dependent on their families. Mexicans typically don’t move out of their parents’ home until one of three things happens:

  • They decide to study in another part of the country (somewhat rare)
  • They get a job in another part of the country
  • They get married

Universities in Mexico don’t typically have dorms or any kind of on-site living facilities, so most Mexicans choose to go to school somewhere close to the house they grew up in. I had a few friends in college here in Cancun who were living with roommates since they came from another state, but most of my university classmates were still at their parents’ house. I also know several Mexicans who have gotten 2 or 3 college degrees, all while living at home. Once, a 25-year-old friend even told me, “I’m thinking about moving into my own place, but my mother would be heartbroken. She’d wonder where she went wrong!”

Even now at age 26, the vast majority of my Mexican friends still live with their parents. I do know a few newlywed couples who live in their own home, and Jorge of course moved out of his parents’ house when we got married (although we almost moved into my in-laws’ upstairs apartment to save money).

Jorge with his family 🙂

Personally this is a cultural aspect that still boggles my mind. As someone who grew up in a culture where you finish school then get the heck out, it’s hard to comprehend why someone would want to put their independence on hold until they get married. Obviously the Mexican system works quite well, so I can’t criticize it, and I can’t say there’s anything wrong about it (sometimes I even wish I could live rent-free) … I just don’t understand it on a personal level because I was surrounded by something completely different growing up.

It’s common for me to have strong personality clashes with my Mexican friends, and lately I’ve formed stronger friendships with other expats (Canadians, Brazilians, Americans, Brits, Australians, etc). I sometimes wonder if it’s because my expat friends and I been living independently for so many years (7 years for me), while most of my Mexican friends still live at home and have a different, more family-oriented mindset. Or maybe it’s some other cultural difference.

Since the day I moved here and to this very day 7 years later, the most common question I get asked by Mexicans I meet is, “And your parents were ok with you moving away? What did they say?”

Weekend Recap

My weekend was pretty average, but lots of fun! Here’s the rundown:

Friday Night

Jorge and I finished watching Game of Thrones season 1.

It’s a good series, but they really cut back on the important battle scenes. (and by “cut back on”, I mean “cut out entirely”)  It’s fun to watch, but I’m liking the books a lot better. Isn’t that always the case?

Saturday

Saturday morning was work, work, work. Blaaaaah!

Saturday afternoon, Jorge and I went with our friends Damayanti and Leo to one of our fave downtown Cancun restaurants: Muellecito. They have an outdoor terrace with a palapa roof that I looove, and the food (mostly Mexican seafood) is amazing.

I'm obsessed with their free shots of "caldo de camaron"... shrimp broth. Spicy and delicious!

They always serve chips with numerous sauces (tamarindo, chipotle, etc etc). Since I'm *still* on a diet, I limited myself to 2 chips with chipotle mayo.

My lunch! Shrimp burger, yum 🙂 Again, thanks to the diet, I had to give all my fries to Jorge. However, I can tell you from past experience that they are delicious.

In the early evening, we drove around with Damayanti and Leo while they ran some errands, then we put my diet resolve to the test even further with a trip to Peter Piper Pizza, which is pretty much exactly the same as Chuck E Cheese. (We’re so exciting on Saturday nights.) We received possibly the worst service I’ve ever gotten in my life (they even ran out of pizza sauce at one point…), but it was still a fun time with friends.

Sunday

At 8:30 am Sunday morning I got a text message from Nadia saying “Wanna go for a run right now?” Since I still had awhile before church, I said sure, and we met up at the park at 9. We ran/walked 2 laps around the park (4 kilometers total), and we even saw a 5-foot snake cross the path right in front of us! Scary…

I had to cut our run short to go to church. I’m lucky my church is casual because I showed up in sweaty running clothes, but nobody seemed to mind. Still, if I ever run that early on a Sunday, I’ll make sure to bring clothes to change into next time!

Sunday afternoon I did nothing. I had some lunch, took a nap on the couch, watched some Animal Planet and played with the dogs.

Suki also had a relaxing Sunday afternoon, it would seem.

When Jorge got home from work in the evening, we showed up late to his little cousin Sofia’s birthday party. We spent an hour eating cake (or veggies, for me) and having a laugh with Jorge’s parents.

Camila and Sofia "smiling" for the camera

Jorge, his parents and some close family friends 🙂

How was your weekend?

House Tour: Kitchen and Storage Room

 

House Tour: Our Room

House Tour: Upstairs

House Tour: Living Room

House Tour: My Bathroom

House Tour: Outside

 

Happy Monday, readers! I hope you all had an amazing weekend.

Time to move on with the house tour!

I'm taking you down this hallway from the living room... you can see our pantry (yay pantry!) on the right, then the bathroom door (from Friday's post). On the left is the kitchen, and at the end of the hallway is our storage room.

 

Kitchen

Our kitchen is probably my least favorite part of the house. There’s only one small square of counter space and it’s very narrow, making it very difficult for Jorge and I to be in there at the same time.

We've tried to make things less cluttered by putting shelves and hooks up. They've been a huge help!

You can really feel the smallness in this one. I love how the refrigerator door opens directly into a wall. You have to stand in the corner to open it.

Jorge's cereal collection on top of the fridge, and part of my vast fruit collection on the counter. Our boxes of milk (yes, in the Yucatan, they're boxes) have a special place on the floor.

Jorge and I dream of one day having a big, open kitchen with tons of counters and cabinets. For the next few years, this will have to do.

 

Storage Room

Our Cancun rental house was advertised as 3 bedrooms, but I’m not sure this room is big enough to count as a bedroom. Maybe for a 3-year old with no need of closet space? I dunno. At any rate, we use the back room as a storage space.

In the right-hand corner, we have some old clothes and a bunch of wedding gifts that we love but can't seem to fit into our tiny kitchen. We're hanging onto them until we can get a bigger house.

We recently got the brightly colored bins to organize all our stuff. So far, they've been amazing for papers and random junk.