Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Gringa in Gringolandia

Yesterday I took one of several day trips I plan to take to places that are near San Miguel de Allende (SMA) and also have American expatriate populations. We took the car an drove to Guanajuato, the capital city of the state of Guanajuato, about an hour west of SMA. I've been to Guanjuato several times. It is the home of the state's flagship university and it's an amazingly beautiful place. While I was there I met with an American couple, Doug and Cindy Bower, whom I met via an internet chatroom for Americans who live in Mexico. I'm using their real names here at their request and because they've written a travel book for Americans who want to live in Mexico. It's called The Plain Truth about Living in Mexcio, and outlines Doug and Cindy's advice for a realistic expectations for any gringo who wants to settle in Mexico.

Our interview focused on their experiences as writers/researchers in Mexico, and why they decided to settle here permanently. Their from Kansas, and decided nearly 5 years ago that they wanted something different from their lives from what the U.S. could offer. They are both young, but their past health issues lead them to believe that eventually they would need to live in a place where they could walk easily to get to the market and entertainment; they also worried that they would not be able to afford health care in the U.S.

In searching for a a place to settle, they visited the normal places Americans settle: SMA, Lake Chapala, and Ajijic. The chose Ciudad Guanajuato because there were few Americans living there and they knew it would be a place where they could get the full experience of living in Mexico. They also felt that the aforementioned communities had problems that they did not want to become embroiled in: problematic Gringo-Mexican relations and too much Gringo influence being top among them. They had visited here several times, and some of the Gringo-Mexican interactions indicated that, at least among some Americans, there is a group, perhaps a very small group, that lacks adequate respect for their Mexican neighbors. Some of the things they observed I have also heard from Mexicans in SMA myself: a Gringa woman slapped a taxi driver, another shouted down her driver because he refused to accept American dollars for his fare (a note to those of you who have never been to Mexico: the peso is the official currency and you HAVE to change your money to do business here). I wil also add here that, to date, I've never seen anything like this transpire in SMA, although I've heard enough stories from a number of Gringos and Mexicans to concur that these things do take place here.

Doug and Cindy have a different approach to living here. They believe that Americans should come here understanding that they are moving to Mexico, and they should be ready to accept life as they find it here. For instance, the growing development in Guanajuato, coupled by climate change and steadily decreasing rainfall means that water shortages are becoming more common in this part of Mexico. (Just this morning we woke up to find our househould water supply non-existent.) They are also big advocates of learning to speak Spanish, and as you can see from Doug's comments on my previous posts, there is able evidence that anyone who wants to learn Spanish can, and should. They also think it best that Americans should proper respect and deference to their Mexican hosts, regardless of their social status (this, I believe, is just common courtsey, something that demonstrates that you are a civilized person). These issues are all part of living in the developing world. If you want to living in Mexico, these are things you should be able to live with and accept.

They also said that since they have moved to Guanajuato, they've seen Americans moving in to the city and other close areas of Mexico. Guanajuato is not a city that would be easy for a retiree to live in. It is wedged into a small valley and all of the living is up and down. In many places, there is no real road to drive up to, just a long winding stairway. Walking around Guanajuato is much like climbing a ladder on some streets. The city is attracting young American families with children, however. Doug and Cindy confirmed what I've been hearing here in SMA, that younger Americans are coming here because they're disenchanted with life in the U.S. and want to raise their children with values that they believe are hard to come by in the U.S.: the importance of human relationships over the pursuit of material objects, a slower pace of live, working to live as opposed to living to work.

In addition, health care is quite affordable here, so much so that (to me at least) it seems only logical that anyone who is worried about being able to pay for their health care in the U.S. would think about living here. To join the Mexican national health insurance program, the premium is $250 USD per year, and that's for comprehensive physical, dental, and optical care. You have to pay for medications, but they are about 60% cheaper here than in the U.S. The only caveat: you have to speak Spanish. The doctor's who work in the Mexican national system will not speaking English, as a general rule.

Overall, my time with Cindy and Doug was very profitable. They've given me a broader perspective about Americans who live here, as well as the names of Mexican communities that Americas seem to be flocking to when they choose to settle here. When we finished our interview, I felt like I might one day be the Gringa in Gringolandia (gringoland).

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