Welcome to Mexico!
By Victoria Schmidt
I have returned from the clutches of the USA and find myself fortunate to be reunited with my heart–Mexico. Here we have the youngest “older” people I have ever experienced. I felt ancient in the USA. But here there is activity everywhere. Octogenarians are playing on the tennis courts, and on the dance floor! Our expats are active and alive. It is as if retiring to Mexico gave us all a new start on life.
People take advantage of the varied opportunities here to expand their personal horizons. There are many free or low cost workshops in different fields that we never made time for “back home.” There are special interests groups here, card playing, game playing, knitting, writing, ukulele playing, singing, music, performance groups, discussion groups and many more. If you can’t find a group that meets your needs here, you can start one.
When living in the States, I wanted to learn more about writing. The classes offered at the writers’ center in my city started at $300 USD and went up from there. There were no free groups. Here there are several groups, many of those who participate in those groups are among the pages of this publication.
Others are given the opportunity to exercise that yearning to learn to sketch or paint. Or start their own gallery, while others learn to weave or work with fabric as an art form, or just get together to share the love of quilting for the home or competition! Lakeside has an extremely active arts community, and includes many of the local artisans.
Of course, there is ample opportunity for physical exercise. Walking paths are plenty and the malecons are inviting. But there is golf and tennis, parks, martial arts, gyms, swimming pools both public and private, meditation, yoga and jazzercise.
Volunteerism is big for those who retire here. People use their skills to teach classes, or work with orphans, or join service organizations that reach out into the Mexican community. Many people retire to Mexico, and one thing I have learned is this: many couples come to Mexico with mixed expectations, and I have seen many couples where one or the other loves Mexico while the other does not. The resolutions? Some split their time between countries, others return to their point of origin, and some, sadly, break their union. I have found that those who embrace the community and the culture in Mexico transition beautifully and enjoy their retirement. It keeps them young!
The one thing I have the most difficulty in adapting to in Mexico, is time. Although transplanting to Mexico many years ago, I simply cannot manage to lose the American sense of time. When invited to dinner and given a time, I find myself asking “American time or Mexican time?”
I’ve embarrassed myself many times by showing up exactly at the printed time on the invitation to quinceañeras, birthdays, graduations and other celebrations. I soon learned that the time printed on the invitation is often the time people arrive to start setting up! I’ve made mental notes to try to arrive an hour late. Sometimes even that has resulted in my “early” arrival.
I cannot lose the knack of arriving on time for things like doctor appointments. Once I was actually seven minutes late, and I found that the doctor wasn’t even in the building! Why do I bother?
I also try to shop in the afternoon. Often busy with volunteer work in the mornings, errands are relegated to the afternoons. Trying to support the local economy and buy from the smaller stores, or vendors. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I arrive ready to shop only to find the shop closed. Why doesn’t it sink into my brain that these businesses close between two and four? I’ve been in Mexico long enough to know better!
My timing just always seems off. I show up at restaurants before they open, or when they have closed for a day off, or worse yet—when they have closed permanently. I’ve made plans with people to meet at a restaurant, only to meet them there and find our two cars are the only cars in the parking lot. I am learning to adapt, but not fast enough. Now I make a plan “B” and select two possible locations.
I’ve noticed that I am not the only expat with a problem with time. The other morning I watched a man walk into a restaurant that was overflowing with people, with only one waiter on staff. After sitting there an entire 30 seconds, he was complaining about being ignored by the waiter.
Where does our sense of urgency come from? Are we born with it? Was it our culture? How do we learn to let go? The man in such a hurry, for instance, he’s retired, would a short wait really be harmful? Sometimes I find myself in traffic muttering, “Hurry up, move it!” And yet, just what is the rush? Mexicans seem to make time for a conversation, take all the time they need to accomplish their task, and make time for both family and fun.
The one thing I have learned best from the Mexican culture so far is their ability to cherish their families and friends and to celebrate life. Every possible life event is given the attention it deserves. Every Saint is celebrated, along with a few Virgins. Each village celebrates their Patron Saint. And now, as we move towards lent, the ultimate celebration in Chapala will begin—Carnival! Where there will be parades, and bands, fireworks, fiestas and pageantry galore. It is a time I look forward to and sometimes dread, as the celebrations and bands go to the wee hours of the morning for nine days straight.
To live amongst a culture that lives “in the moment” and celebrates so much when many have so little is an inspiration to me. I wish to embrace this Mexican “time.”