When Dave and I decided to relocate to Mexico we knew full well there'd be some radical changes to our lives. Obviously we were prepared for a different culture - there would be a language barrier to overcome, we would need to get used to driving on "the wrong side of the road", find safe places to let the dogs run free, find out where to buy furniture, clothing and household goods to name but a few.
BUT, the biggest changes to adapt to, came at us out of the blue. Here are just a few:-
1. The Maniac Drivers
So, OK, I've driven in France, Portugal, Canada and the USA and in all of these countries I've driven a left hand drive car on the right hand side of the road without any particular problem. But here in Ajijic, it was at least two weeks before I dared get behind the wheel and then only if Dave acted as co-driver. What a shock to my system to go in one fell swoop from being a very confident driver to quivering learner status once again. Cars, trucks. cyclists, cows, horses, dogs and people just seem to materialise from nowhere in the middle of the road. You daren't move from your lane without doing a 360 degree check around your car. You can be undertaken, overtaken, dodged around, out maneouvered and any variety of combinations of the above. I'm used to driving about town now but please don't ask me to drive into Guadalajara!
2. Personal Space
Hmmm......... now here's a tricky one for us Brits. We never stand too close to another person, we only give hugs to people we know really well and it's still not a man on man thing but here in Ajijic, it's a close up, hugging society. People stand closer when talking, they hug when they meet, men clasp right hand to right hand up by the shoulder then come in close for a man hug. Don't think Dave's quite got the hang of this yet but give him time. We even get hugs when we visit restaurants!
3. Toilet Paper
Almost invariably, in this area, toilet paper goes into a plastic lined bin at the side of the loo as most places are served by "septic tanks". I put this in inverted commas because they're usually more of a cess pit than a septic tank. We were told that our house, which is only seven years old, had a septic tank but it is, in fact, a basic cess pit which would rapidly get clogged up if we were to flush paper like we did at home. It did take some getting used to but I think we've adapted now.
Thank God we served our apprenticeship in timekeeping in the Scottish Highlands which operates very much on a "mañana" basis so no great shock to us here. Some folks though, have a big issue with Mexican timekeeping and get really frustrated. My advice is to go with the flow - less stress, more fun! As far as party invites go, it's fine to be on time or fashionably late when invited to an expat party but don't turn up for a least 2 hours after the invite time for a Mexican party - it won't even have started!!!
5. Online Shopping & Carrying Cash
Here in Ajijic, we live in a mainly cash society - think back to the 60's and you'll get the picture. We draw thousands of pesos at a time from the bank which is a bit scary until you realise that we're paying no Direct Debits, no Credit Card bills and we pay for very little with our Debit Card. We pay cash for optical, dental and medical appointments, cash for petrol, electricity, food and drink, cash for bits and pieces for the house and wages for our gardener and cleaner. I think the only time we use our Debit Card is to pay our monthly golf dues and occasionally at Walmart.
Online shopping used to be a fact of live in the UK but now we never even look online - I haven't yet worked out how much we're saving by NOT shopping online! Anyway, it's just not worth it as the postal service in Ajijic is diabolical and there'd be a minimum of 16% tax to add to any imported goods which may or may not arrive. Funny what you can manage without!
6. Good Old Fashioned Customer Service
Since arriving here in November, I've never once had to bag my own groceries in the supermarket or fill my own car with petrol. Both services are offered at every location I've visited for the price of a small tip. The offer of a hand car wash is also available in the supermarket car parks, outside of some restaurants and at various parking locations along the highway - a very convenient service for about 40 pesos (23 pesos to £)
7. Getting Used To Sunny Days!
Anyone who, like me, has spent their entire life in the gloom of North East England and then the Scottish Highlands will identify with my craving for sunlight, sunshine and warm air. In the N.E., even the nicest of days was often marred by a sea fog and general dampness in the air whilst my problem in the far north of Scotland was the seemingly never ending darkness of the winter months. Consequently, the temptation to sunbathe the minute there was a glimpse of sun, was so strong that the inevitable result was a nasty dose of sunburn.
Now we are used to almost constant sunshine, there is no need to fry ourselves and we're quite content to sit and enjoy the coolness of our house during the heat of the day ...... and we've both got nice tans to boot!
The bane of my life! We Brits love our ovens - for roasts, casseroles, baking and stuff. I could have cried the first few weeks we were here because not only was I struggling to find the cooking ingredients I'm used to but the damned oven had no temperature control and never heated up to anything like a decent temperature - we were in danger of starving to death! I went out to look for a new oven but not a single one had a temperature control. I've since discovered that most Mexicans don't use their oven or often don't even have one so our cooking is now confined to the stove top, the little counter top oven we bought or ever more frequently ..... eating out. Really hard to adapt to this!