It’s been almost two months since my last post. No, I haven’t succumbed to a taco coma. I may still be learning to eat them in moderation, but my taco tolerance grows greater each day.
Unbelievably, my sweet baby girl is four-months-old today! Where is time going (besides to the taco stands)? She is a fun-loving little girl who hates to nap because there’s too much to do and see. Needless to say, she keeps me pretty busy. I love it, though. Sure, life is different from before, but it’s so fulfilling (even when Baby Girl gets up at 4:45 in the morning and refuses to go back to sleep until 6:00, so Mommy is now up while she snoozes).
We spend our days playing, singing, changing diapers and, twice a week, doing yoga. Baby Girl has really taken to the class—especially when she gets to do superman or show off how she is able to balance on her two legs (with support from Mommy, of course). Twice a week, after Baby Girl and Matt are in bed (he has to get up at 4:45 for work these days), I take Spanish. Somehow I also squeeze in paid writing work for my clients.
So, it’s been pretty busy, but I’ve had time to really settle into life in Mexico before writing this post. It’s no surprise that life here is very different than it was in France. It’s a lot more similar to the U.S. (at least here in Monterrey where we are about 100 miles from the borders), but it is still obvious we aren’t in Atlanta anymore. I thought I’d share some of the interesting parts of living in Mexico.
I’m going to skip over the obvious—the amazing tacos, burritos, enchiladas, etc. We definitely indulge in our fair share of tacos, like these that we found at a little stand in San Pedro.
Tortillas are staples and the stores stock shelves and shelves of them. Surprisingly, though, tortilla chips aren’t quite as popular—at least in Monterrey. Instead of chips and salsa, restaurants here tend to serve pork rinds or crackers and salsa. You can find some bags of tortilla chips in the store, but definitely not as many as I thought I’d see.
In Mexico, you can (and should) put chili on everything. Little packets of chili-lime seasoning are tucked into everything from bags of baby carrots to chopped pineapple. Our taste buds have had to learn how to handle spiciness again after more than a year of rich but mild food in Europe.
While tortillas reign, the bread here isn’t great (in fairness, though, it’s hard to compete with French baguettes). Traditional pastries, such as Pan de Muerto, are quite enjoyable. So are these little gems from Mérida, Yucatán.
I don’t really eat mayonnaise, but here lime-flavored mayonnaise reigns (just as Dijon mayonnaise was popular in France). I’m game for trying most foods once, so we picked up a little jar. I found the lime flavor very mild.
I can’t speak for all Mexican cities, but so far we haven’t found a place to get fruits and vegetables as fresh as we had access to in France. That’s a disappointment, but we are making up for what we lack by enjoying the foods Mexico does best.
One of the first cultural things we learned when we got here is that it’s customary to have a flavored drink with meals. Most people don’t drink water while eating. So, at least while we are dining out, we’ve started drinking limonada mineral (lemonade with sparkling water).
When we were in France, Matt complained about the lack of good beer. Maybe it’s because we are so close to the border, but Monterrey has quite the craft brewery scene. We’ve found dozens of great brews at our local Beer for Us store.
The wine is also surprisingly good. We brought a few bottles of French wine with us because I thought it’d be a while before we had access to good wine again, but we’ve really enjoyed the wines from Casa Madero—especially their 3V red and 2V white.
When we aren’t enjoying the great wine or beer, we drink a lot of bottled water. The tap water in Monterrey is treated and we use it for our coffee, ice cubes and to brush our teeth, but giant jugs of water are so cheap that we play it safe and hydrate with them.
Obviously the main language here is Spanish. I studied two years in high school, but was surprised to struggle when I got here. Unlike French and German which came back to me pretty quickly, my brain struggled to make the transition to Spanish (it kept thinking in French). I’ve since started taking Spanish classes twice a week and that is definitely helping.
In France and Germany, most people in the bigger cities (especially the younger generations) had some understanding and ability to speak English. Here there seem to be far fewer people who are bilingual in Spanish and English, which makes it a fun (and sometimes stressful) challenge. It helps to pick back up a language quicker, but can be hard when you need to do things like schedule doctors’ appointments or mail packages.
Even with the language barrier, I’ve found people much more patient and willing to try to understand my poor Spanish with my funny French/American accent (yes, I pronounce some words—especially those close to the same word in French—with a weird Americanized French accent). My sweet yoga instructor, who speaks only a couple words of English, seems to have no trouble understanding me even when I stumble over pronunciations and use bad conjugations.
People in Monterrey are warm and welcoming. They are also very hardworking. You really don’t see people begging on the side of the road. Instead, most people who don’t have a full- or part-time paid job seem to work for tips. For example, the baggers in stores aren’t paid employees—they work hard for tips from customers. We’ve seen people walking the store parking lots and helping people find spaces and load groceries in their trunks for a few pesos. There are also plenty of people selling everything from flowers to freshly made tamales on the side of the road.
As in the U.S., there’s a constant assault of commercialism. Giant billboards litter the roads and the stores are stocked with holiday products months before the big day. In France, we got accustomed to subtle commercialism; small billboards in the cities and nothing on the highways and a more limited season for holiday products. In Monterrey, one holiday isn’t over before the next one is advertised.
The peso (which means “weight” in Spanish) is the Mexican currency. That’s been one of the hardest things to get used to here. Currently the peso to U.S. dollar is about 20-to-one, so we divide all the prices by two and drop a zero. The dollar sign is used here, so seeing “all you can eat shrimp” advertised at Red Lobster for $250 and racking up regular grocery bills over $1,000 is pretty amusing. Even though most things are much cheaper here, it still requires math when we go shopping or out to eat, but it is pretty fun taking money out of the ATM.
One thing that is consistent across cultures is the love of babies. Here, as in France and the U.S., people coo over Baby Girl and stop us to ask about her or give her a blessing. It’s little things like this that serve as a reminder that, no matter where you go in the world, people really are the same.
Climate and Geography
One of the things I love most about Monterrey is the view of the stunning mountains. We live in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range. Some of the peaks are covered in lush, green foliage while others feature sharp, rocky peaks.
The weather here is sunny and hot. Even now at the beginning of November, we’re strolling around in shorts and t-shirts, swimming in our apartment pool and running our air conditioners 24-7. The leaves are still green and we feel like we are in a long, never-ending summer. The only hints that we’re approaching Christmas are the lampposts decorated like candy canes and the billboards promoting holiday sales. There’s part of me that is sad to not be wearing my fall boots yet, but the part of me that hates being cold loves it.
Overall, living in Monterrey is an enjoyable experience. We fell in love with France and, after living there for about a year and a half, miss it. Still, we can’t complain about getting to experience another culture and give our daughter exposure to yet another language at such a young age.