Mexico is not Oregon. And Melaque is not Mexico City.
A recurring theme amongst we bloggers is that foreigners who come to Mexico expecting to find a familiar way of doing things are in for a shock. Let me start this post with two facts.
Fact one: I am moving to Mexico to add some adventure back in my life -- and that adventure can come with both good and bad circumstances. Mexico will not disappoint me.
Fact two: I am not a novice at living in new cultures. In the early 70s, I lived in Greece for a year. In the mid-70s I lived in Great Britain for two years. I know that flexibility and patience will need to inform my personality if I am to enjoy this move south of the border.
What I am about to list are some cultural differences I have noted during my visits to Mexico since the early 70s. Some of them are general to Mexico. Others are specific to the Melaque area. I am just an observer, not a sociologist. But I would be very pleased to read your observations. Please add to the comments below.
Gates and Walls
I have always been astounded at the number of walls and gates around Mexican homes. Rather, I should say the homes of wealthier residents. The poor areas of Melaque are as open as my little home town of Powers. Children play in the street. Families are outside. Neighbors talk with one another. Often, there is no front door -- let alone a locked gate and wall.
I know that this distinction is historical. The Spanish brought their traditions of fortified rural haciendas and atrium-centered urban homes with them. And the tradition lives on.
But it is a very clear symbol. The poor have nothing to lose and are open. The wealthy have much and fear losing it.
I am not a Pollyanna. I know there is good reason to have walls and gates and barred windows. The recent rash of burglaries in Melaque is evidence of that. And Melaque is not alone. Other bloggers have written about their travails with thieves.
I, of course, could choose to live amongst the poor and not have a gate. But I am neither Mother Teresa nor St. Francis.
This is another fact I must merely accept.
Tourists and Locals
I have already written briefly on this point. As a beach town, Melaque is crowded with strangers. And like every beach town in the world, the tourists add their own vibrancy and vice, but they are transient.
Several blogs have recently commented on how stupid American and Canadian tourists can be -- especially, young people. My brief exposure to Melaque is that young Mexican tourists can hold their own for unsafe and reckless behavior.
Partying young people (and older people, for that matter) do not bother me. They cause me to shake my head at times, but I welcome the spirit that evidences itself occasionally in stupidity.
Mexico is Catholic. No. That is wrong. Mexico is a secular nation according to the Constitution of 1917.
Mexicans are Catholic -- the second largest group of Catholics in the world. And they show their faith in some very public ways. I sat in front of the Melaque Catholic church for about an hour. Almost to a person, people crossed themselves while going past the entrance -- even scooter drivers.
Festivals and holidays are built around the church calendar. Baptisms are an important for babies and their relatives.
When I talk with Mexicans and tell them that I am a Christian, but that I am a Protestant, they seem to be universally mystified. Almost as if I told them that I am a human just like them, but I eat cars rather than food. The look I get is one of pity: the same look I get when I tell them I do not have children.
As I stated earlier, I should have no problem with this issue. Even though mystified, no one has challenged my religious beliefs. My observation is that is just the way Mexico is.
Just a note. Mexican Catholicism can be a bit eccentric. The photograph above is not from Ireland. That is indeed St. Patrick (See the Celtic cross?) -- the patron saint of Melaque, or, as it is more properly called: "San Patricio Melaque."
This photograph symbolizes what every visitor or resident of Mexico experiences over and over: the feeling that time runs differently in Mexico than it does in northern European cultures.
The photograph is of a large resort complex that was destroyed in the 1995 earthquake. I took the photograph last week. There is another resort north of La Manzanilla that was destroyed at the same time and sits there just as dateless as Charlie Sheen.
A resort abandoned on a great piece of beach? Can you imagine the same thing happening on Oahu or Madeira? Both hotels would have been razed within a month and a new place would be up and running within the year.
So what is the difference? One factor is that both places are on ejido land and investors have no interest in tackling that problem. But there is a broader issue. Time and priorities are different -- especially in a semi-tropical resort town. People find places to stay. When the town really needs that type of complex, something will happen. The right amount of money will change hands and a new resort will eventually appear.
Patience and tolerance. They are two virtues that can be learned and exercised in Mexico. If applied, the foreigner's character will improve. If they cannot be exercised, Mexico will prove to be nothing but a daily struggle.
I want to be clear about one thing. I do believe Mexico can learn a lot about liberal democracy and the free market. Since I have been coming to Mexico in the early 70s, I have seen vast improvements. But Mexico will move at its own pace -- no matter how much blood I try to pump into my plump germanic face.
Rule #1: Animals are generally treated worse in Mexico than in America, Canada, or Great Britain. (I do not know enough about this issue in the rest of Europe to offer an opinion.)
Rule #2: Foreigners cannot change Rule #1.
This is a tough one for me. Brits, Canadians, and Americans have so sentimentalized the issue of animals that it is hard to discuss the topic. Let me confess that I am one of the greatest sentimentalizers. Any of you who have read any of my posts about Professor Jiggs know where I stand on animals.
I keep reminding myself, though, that I am only one generation away from where Mexico is today. Animals were simply not allowed in our house when I was very young. They lived in the unfenced yards and ran free through the town. I do not recall any dogs as poorly-nourished as the street dogs in Mexico. But dogs lived on scraps and what they could find.
I doubt the Powers Market sold very much dog food. (Even by the scoop as in the photograph above where el gato ignores the playful advances of printed pups.)
For every stray dog I saw in Melaque, I saw other owners who truly cared and loved their dogs. The two Irish Setters I discussed earlier are great examples.
The expatriate community in Melaque is very active in offering and sponsoring a spat and neuter clinic each year. By all reports, the number of strays is dropping.
And then there is this issue: bull-fighting.
There are two small bull rings in the Melaque area. I must confess that the closest thing to a bull fight I have ever seen is midget bull fighting. I told that to a friend from Barcelona. The horror in his eyes was enough to let me know that I had said the equivalent of "Hot dogs are far better than any food sold in France."
Will I go see a bull fight? I really don't know. If given the opportunity to go with a local who could explain the subtleties -- I might. If I can try menudo, I can certainly see the national sport of Mexico.
I have left out the one cultural aspect that continues to give me difficulty -- and the one I can do the most to remedy: Spanish. Let's discuss that in the next post. This one is already too long.