Expat Life: Do You Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture?

There’s a lot of debate about just how much an expat should integrate into the local culture. During my years in Cancun, I’ve met many expats who hang out almost exclusively with Mexicans. I’ve met even more expats who have mostly expat friends and hardly speak any Spanish. I also know lots of people who fall somewhere in the middle. Some expats criticize others for living in an expat neighborhood, not learning Spanish, not socializing with Mexicans, etc etc etc.

Here’s my personal experience:

When I first came down to Cancun, I went to a Mexican university, had all Mexican friends and lived with Mexican roommates. For 4 years, I watched only Mexican TV (didn’t have enough money for cable), listened to mostly Mexican music and only talked to Mexican friends online (Facebook wasn’t around yet.) I would often miss home and my family, but at no point did I ever really miss the American culture. Still, with nobody around to understand the culture shock I was going through, I was often in a bad mood and sometimes became a little anti-social. There were great memories and my amazing college friends were unfailingly patient with my endless questions, but I often felt kind of alone. Sundays were always especially hard for me because Mexicans spend Sunday with the family… and I had no family here.

University Me with Damayanti, one of my best amigas in college and today 🙂

Soon before I graduated, Facebook became popular and I was once again able to be in touch with my old friends from back in the States. I also discovered celebrity gossip websites. Even though they’re a horrible habit, for some reason I felt that these gossip sites connected me in some small way to my culture.

Amigos Cesar, Pamela, Jhovana and Graduation Me

After I graduated, I began to work a job with a few other native English-speaking expats. They introduced me to some online expat communities and I began blogging. Finally I got cable TV, which in Mexico means lots of American TV shows (with Spanish subtitles, of course). At this stage, I still hold on to many of my Mexican friends and of course now I have a huge Mexican family through my husband Jorge, but lately I’ve become closer to my expat friends. It’s so great to be able to speak in Spanglish, rave about how great it is to live in Cancun and yes, occasionally gripe about things in Mexico that annoy us.

The current Me, hanging out with Mexican amiga Cyndi and Brazilian amiga Nadia

I’ve seen both sides, immersing myself in the culture 100% for 4 years, which allowed me to learn everything I possibly could from the Mexican culture, open up my mind and even take on a few cultural traits that I used to hate but now love. However, after leaning more toward the expat community in the past 3 years, I’ve found friendships where I can be more open about my frustrations and reclaim a bit of my “American-ness” without leaving behind everything I’ve learned.

The new me loves trashy American reality shows, enjoys Mexican banda music, listens to Top 40, eats tortas, only reads books in English, speaks 100% Spanish at home, speaks 100% Spanish at work, speaks Spanglish with her friends and loves to explore Mexico. I’m able to take the best of what I love from both countries and make my life my own.

That’s just my experience, though.

What do you think? Should expats be closer to the Mexican culture or their home culture?

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.

 

House Tour: Living Room

 

House Tour: Our Room

House Tour: Upstairs

House Tour: My Bathroom

House Tour: Kitchen and Storage Room

House Tour: Outside

 

The living room is my favorite room in the house right now. It’s filled with so many of our collectibles and so many memories.

For the first year and a half in this house, the living room was empty!

This is how the living room looked for a year and a half

Another "before" shot

But ever since December, we’ve finally saved up to buy enough furniture to be able to spend some time here. Love, love, love!

aaand after! We're still missing a ceiling fan in place of the bare bulb.

Gotta love my 7-year-old upright fan, with a bag hanging over it to keep it from vibrating too much. I tie up the curtains during the day because I have no curtain holders!

Our beloved entertainment center, and a red light cover my friend Viri brought us from Tepoztlan, Mexico

filled with all the things we love most!

Part of Jorge's Nintendo collection... Super Nintendo and Game Cube

A little blurry, but this is a candle my mom got me and some dead coral I collected in Akumal

On top of the entertainment center is a painting of Rio de Janeiro my sister Sarah did, and a wooden sailboat I bought in Belize

Also on top of the entertainment center, a cool photograph/drawing mix and a wedding album, both created by my sister Sarah

My alebrije collection... I'll do a separate post on it in the future. It's my fave thing! Some I bought, most are gifts from my mom.

I got this "barro negro" piece in Oaxaca City, Mexico

Another piece from Oaxaca, this one made of "barro rojo"

A photo of my dad and me at my sister Noelle's wedding, with a frame my sister Sarah gave me

On the wall, a photo collage from my sister Noelle's Vegas wedding

Above the sofa, a tryptic painting by my sister Sarah (sorry for more blurriness, I wish you guys could see the beautiful colors here)

My carpenter grandfather made me this beautiful magazine holder several years ago. We don't read magazines, so we use it to store Nintendo accessories 🙂

Our coffee table, another item made by our carpenter friend Leo. We saw one at a department store, took some pictures, and had Leo make it cheaper (and bigger).

House Tour: Our Room

The most asked for thing on my Reader Photo Requests was a tour of my house, so I’ll be posting that all this week! Let’s begin with our room.

This house is our first home, so we’ve been setting up furniture and whatnot slowly but surely. Since we spent so long focusing on the backyard and the living room (which was empty up until last December), we haven’t done much upstairs yet… and that’s reflected in the sad, sad state of our bedroom. Still, there’s lots of potential there! At the same time we don’t want to do too much because, well, we rent.

Also, the sheets are weird-looking because they’re new (from TARGET!!!) and I had just taken them out of the box the night before.

Here goes:

The view from the door. As much as I like the green curtains, they clash with the wall color. We plan to switch them out for bamboo shades and maybe some white sheer curtains soon.

I like this one because you can see part of our flip flop collection strewn about the floor.

No, it's not wonky... the roof just slants. We had some of this paint color left over from painting the living room and used it up here. Love it 🙂

The view of the top of our beautiful copa de oro tree

My nightstand usually looks like this: water, book, cell phone, perfume and sunscreen

This is the saddest part of the room. I'm (still) in the middle of organizing a lot of our stuff to clear junk out of the bedrooms and move it to the downstairs storage room (more on that later this week). At this point, some of the stuff is still sitting in our room waiting to be organized.

It's really hard to find a good closet in Cancun. We lucked out with wood doors, shelves, drawers and cabinets! Luxury 🙂

Our dresser always looks like a mess. This is a HUGE improvement from before I started organizing last month, but we've still got a long way to go, baby.

On top of our dresser: some wood bowls from Belize, a flower girl basket and the lazo cross from our wedding, pictures, a borrowed DVD player, a small mirror from my childhood friend Catie, and a few other odds and ends.

 

Tomorrow we’ll tour the rest of the upstairs!

 

House Tour: Upstairs

House Tour: Living Room

House Tour: My Bathroom

House Tour: Kitchen and Storage Room

House Tour: Outside


Weekend Recap

Our weekend was less than exciting (sorry), but still nice and relaxing!

Friday Night

Jorge got to The Beer Box around 10 pm and spent awhile chatting about work, and my friends Dama and Nadia (plus their boyfriends and a few of Nadia’s coworkers) met up with us around midnight. There was some really great live music, too!

Saturday

Saturday I slept in because I had the day off from work (woo-hoo!), and spent a few hours watching TV and reading until Jorge got home around 4. We swung by his parents’ house for late lunch, and I talked to my dad on the phone for awhile.

Saturday night, we went to our friend Jhonny’s birthday party, which was held at the house Jhonny just bought. The original owners left him some pretty funky colors in the living room (bright orange walls with purple ceiling beams), but the renovations he’s done so far have been pretty nice. Wish I’d taken more pictures of the house, but I got distracted by tons of friends and a pretty sweet taco buffet:

Sunday

Once again I had a relaxing morning, then around midday I took some pics of the house so I can post a much-requested house tour this week! (finally)

At 2 pm, I met up with Nadia for a run/walk around Parque Kabah. She’s been running for much longer than I have, and she had to slow down to my turtle pace, but we had a great time anyway. We did 6K with mostly walking and some running, but by the end I was feeling faint, which has never happened to me before. I usually run in the evenings, so I think it was the heat that got me.

Jorge and I had planned to go to Plaza La Isla for the afternoon and evening, but when he got home around 4 we both accidentally fell asleep. He was tired from work, I was exhausted from my run. By the time we woke up, we decided to just do something quick, so we grabbed a sushi dinner at Paseo Cancun mall and browsed a bit, then headed home.

Tell me about your weekend!

My Upcoming Mini-Vacations!

I’m super excited about some of the fun trips we have coming up in the second half of 2012! Here’s a little preview of what I’ll be posting about in the months to come:

September, 2012

A day at Hacienda Tres Rios for the Mayan Tibetan Cultural Encounter

A weekend with Jorge in Playa del Carmen

 

October 2012

A weekend in Merida for our friends' wedding

 

November 2012

A weekend at the Iberostar Cozumel ... yowza!

 

December 2012

An entire week back in the USA with these people 🙂 (plus Jorge)

I’m ready for vacation!

What are you most excited about this year? I love hearing what everyone else is doing.

 

Reader Photo Requests: My Neighborhood

When I asked for Reader Photo Requests last week, Meredith and Joe asked to see more of my day-to-day life. Sometimes things that seem so ordinary to me might be interesting to someone else, like my neighborhood.

I love my neighborhood! It’s very family-oriented and everyone always says “buenos días” when they see me walking down the street. The best part about it is the parks. Even though Cancun is a tropical tourist destination, the downtown area (where the locals live) is surprisingly low on green areas and parks. We do have some great ones, but they are few and far between throughout the city. My neighborhood is one of the few exceptions! We have a small park on every corner, along with 3 large ones.

Here are some pics of the little park by my street.Whenever I walk by and see the palm trees, I remember I’m in paradise. (Minus the brown patches of grass and the middle-school graffiti, of course.)

**I apologize for the less-than-stellar photo quality. I snapped these on my way back from work while holding my gym bag and purse.**

What’s the best thing about your neighborhood?

Culture Shock and Bedsheets

I’ve written about Culture Shock before, and how I’m currently in Phase 3, where I have a more realistic view on living in Mexico: sometimes good, sometimes bad.

As you can probably tell from my blog, I am usually ecstatic to be living in Cancun. It’s such a beautiful place with great people.

The life.

However, there are still rare occasions when I think, “What the heck am I doing here?” This weekend was one of those moments.

From out of the blue, I’d spent the past few days thinking how nice it might be to live in the States again. I had fantasies of sprawling Target stores, malls filled with cute clothes, driving my SUV around town, filling up on Tex-Mex, central air conditioning, watching movies without mentally criticizing the Spanish subtitles, not living in fear of flying cockroaches … glorious. I wasn’t upset about Mexico, just thinking how moving back to the US might be an option someday.

Then on Sunday, things took an ugly turn. After a nice movie date, Jorge and I went to several department stores around Plaza Las Americas in search of new bedsheets. Much to my dismay, there wasn’t a single set of bedsheets for under $750 pesos. Most were around $1000 pesos (about $80 US). For that price, those sheets better give me a friggin foot massage. And none of them were even attractive. Jorge suggested getting sheets from the grocery store. Grocery store sheets in Mexico are undeniably cheap, but they also feel like sandpaper. (Trust me, I bought many grocery store bedsheets during my university years in Cancun. Never. Again.)

Wanting to get a comfortable night’s sleep without having to sell our firstborn child, Jorge said we could look online to order some from the US, then I could pick them up with I go to the US for Christmas. Well… I don’t want to wait until December. But that’s probably what we’ll end up doing.

I was in a bad mood the rest of the afternoon. When we got home, I started telling Jorge I was going through culture shock this weekend. Then I rambled on and on about giant pretzels, reasonably priced sheets, and Arby’s roast beef sandwiches with root beer.

And that’s when I started to cry.

Which Jorge thought was hilarious.

Until I Googled a picture of an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, and he suddenly became more understanding.

Update: OH MY GOSH Thanks so much to all my friends and readers who have offered to get me sheets! So, so sweet. I love the internet.

Jorge vs. The Flying Cockroach

So last night I was calmly watching TV when out of the corner of my eye I saw Konan staring at a black critter making its way up the staircase wall. I thought “Oh, the black lizard from the front patio must have ventured indoors!” Then, I noticed it had somehow gotten way up on the bannister right by my head, and it was a GIANT COCKROACH.

I gave a girly scream and rushed out of my recliner, twisting my toe on the way. I took shelter on the chair across the room, half watching TV and half keeping my eye on the roach. After a good 20 minutes of wiggling his antennae, I suddenly realized he wasn’t on the bannister anymore. I ran to the middle of the living room and, letting out a stream of profanities, looked around the room to find him.

He was right behind my chair and walking across the ceiling, in true Spiderman fashion. This is when I took shelter in the hallway.

He then disappeared again, and it took me quite awhile to find him from my post cowering in the hall. Turns out… he had mastered the art of camoflage.

At this point I retreated to the kitchen, only peeking out from time to time to check the cockroach’s position and make sure he wasn’t plotting my demise. I considered using the can of Raid, but any mexpat knows that cockroaches are only angered by bug spray.

I waited a full hour for Jorge to come home. He asked me, “Where’s the roach killer Raid?”

“The cleaning lady used up the last of it last week. All we have is the garden Raid,” I replied.

“Are you kidding? He’s going to laugh in my face when he sees that! Give my your flip flop.”

Armed with the garden spray in his right hand and my flip flop in his left, Jorge approached the curtain and sprayed the roach to get it out of his hiding spot. With one swift motion of his left arm, the flying roach was defeated with a fatal chancletazo.

Something tells me he still lives, somewhere in the depths of our garbage bin.

Who kills the bugs in your house?