Thursday, May 25, 2006

¡Más Mexico! 2: Culture Shock

The first thing most people tell you about living in another country is that you will experience "culture shock." They are very right. The first thing most people tell you about Mexico is "Don't drink the water." That's also right. The first two things I had to get used to about Cuernavaca were both sanitation-related, and from what I hear that's usually the case worldwide. The water here isn't drinkable, and it's a very new experience for me, coming from a house where I could drink water straight from a spring on our hillside, to have to lug a bottle of purified water with me everywhere. The other sanitation issue is the sewer system. The plumbing in most of Mexico can't handle toilet paper and other semi-solids en masse, so we have to throw our used toilet paper into a garbage can in the bathroom. It's cleaned daily but it's one of those things that most tourists would immediately shelve under "eeeeeeewwwwwwwww." Personally I don't care, as long as it's being disposed of properly it's no dirtier to throw it away seperately than to toss it into the sewers with the rest of your waste. Of course, I have no idea how it's disposed of...

Culture shock is also a big problem because of little things like gestures, mannerisms, etc. It's a different social system down here, and while many estadounidenses can get by without changing their ways, when you live with a family and have to interact with civilians every day it's easier to pick up on mannerisms than to be labeled as a clueless tourista and have everyone make an effort to speak to you in bad English.

Food: Big problems for some people. For someone like me who will try anything (and usually like it), mexican food only poses a challenge because it's a dietary change. For those picky "I only eat xxxx food" people you're better off finding a restaurant (there's a very nice chinese one in town...) and eating out. A lot of my classmates had major stomach problems while adjusting to the Mexican diet. I admit, I had a few days of mild discomfort, but I've adjusted much better than many others. The food here is a lot spicier at times (think salsa of some type with every meal), but it's also a lot less greasy and a lot more natural. Whole wheat bread, corn-flour tortillas, meat without growth hormones or steroids or antibiotics, fruit juice freshly squeezed, natural (unbleached) cane sugar. Mmmmm....

I think I like Mexico. It's hard to get used to taking taxis everywhere and remembering not to drink the water, eat fruit from street vendors, etc, but it's definitely not as much of a culture shock as I expected it to be. I thank my Spanish professor (Thank you, Sra. Parsons!) for that.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Más México: Manejando (Driving)

I figured since I was going to be here for a while I´ll do an entry a week or so, and since there is so much to talk about I am going to focus on one or two things per entry.

Driving in Mexico - yikes! The first thing I noticed about Mexico is that most of the cars here are tiny - Volkswagon seems to be a very popular brand name here. There are a lot of very old VW Bugs around, half of them painted bright green and acting as Taxis. The rest of the population drives VW Pointers (something like the US Jetta), the occasional Chrysler? Spirit (yeah, I don´t know, but it´s not Dodge) or Ford Focus, and other small family cars. The taxis consist of a fleet of Nissans, which makes me wonder. They´re not all the same company, but nearly every taxi in the city is a Nissan Tsuru. The only large vehicles on the roads are the busses, which run all over the city and beyond, and move very quickly despite the narrow streets.

Also interesting is that most of the cars here are manual transmission - I think I´ve seen one automatic in the entire week I´ve been staring at the city´s traffic. I am both amused and pleased by this finding. I think I like it here. Unfortunately, driving standard doesn´t mean the people move any slower or farther apart - every time we come to a stop behind someone else on a hill, I swear we´re going to be hit when they roll back.

People here drive like maniacs. I know in the US we think we´re bad drivers, but these guys aren´t bad, they´re good - at being very very dangerous. Turn signals are usually ignored (ah, it´s just like home!). Lanes of traffic? If no one´s coming there are usually two lanes going the same way in a two-way street. Passing is done wherever possible no matter what the lines on the road look like, and people cut in front of each other at intersections in ways that would result in regular 20-car pile-ups where I´m from. They´re all very respectful of each other, to a degree - if someone is more aggressive than you, you just let them go first. It´s awful to be a pedestrian here. What´s worse, there are speed bumps of various kinds all over the city but a lot of people will speed up between them and then hit the brakes just before they go over one. The speed bumps would be a good idea in the US, I think. At least they keep top speed down to 45 or so between bumps.

Pedestrians here don´t have any rights either. There´s not much protection in the way of crosswalks at intersections and even if there are crosswalks, good luck getting someone to acknowledge them. Mostly you just wait for a gap in traffic and run for your life. Of course, walking isn´t a preferred method of travel anyway, because the cities here are pretty much coated in smog. Cuernavaca´s not that bad comparatively speaking - Mexico City looks like it´s under a London fog on a good day.

It´s been an adventure, riding with our nice, tiny little host mother and nearly being t-boned, rolled back into, hitting police officers, etc. Beware, vacationers: if the water doesn´t kill you, the drivers will. :D

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Más Español

Grades are up. I got two B´s (How I ended up with a B in Core is beyond me but GAH!) and four As. My GPA is still intact at 3.6 but I´d rather it have been higher. *sigh*

(later) And I do not like these ten-minute breaks very much. I´d rather they give us a few 20-minute or half-hour breaks between classes than have ten minutes in the middle of a class to run and check email etc before going back to thinking in Spanish. Es difícil.

So far I´m thinking I´ll be okay and not run out of money - things here are cheap, although I buy a lot more here than I did at home because I get snack food, bottles of water, I´ve eaten out half the nights this week and I am also looking for souveneirs for my friends and family. If you have any specific requests or have heard of fun things I could buy in the region of Morelos, email me! :)

(much, much later) Okay. Bien. Now I have some time before mamá me recoge. This weekend our group is going to visit las pirámides de Teotihuacán. We watched a history channel video on it to learn something before we go, and found out that the reason the city/civilization fell is most likely because of overpopulation/deforestation - they were using up all their wood to burn limestone and make lime to plaster their walls and monuments with. Studying old civilizations fascinates me. If I weren´t a teacher or a librarian I´d be an archaeologist and go digging for all kinds of neat things. I think it´s more fun to read about them than to spend hours in the boiling sun digging them up, though...

Got to talk to the boy for a second time this week (twice isn´t much when you´re used to every day, but it´s better than nothing at all). I have an exam coming up in one of my classes and I also have to think up a short presentation-thing about my favorite movie using preterite and imperfect. Geh, grammar. I know mine needs work but I wish I could work on it some other way. I´m so tired of hearing the words Preterito y Imperfecto that when we actually move on to something else it will be very welcome.

So far every day has been a new adventure. There was the adventure of the Devil Key, the Adventure of Los Arcos, and the Adventure of the Lost Taxista. I think there was another one that I´ve forgotten, too. I´m writing un diario every day so I don´t forget, and so when I get back I can share everything without having to talk myself hoarse.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Estoy aquí en Mexico, y estoy diviertando, pero es difícil estar tan lejos de mi familia, de mi novio y de las computadoras.

I think my scalp is sunburned because we spend an hour every day sitting in the sun en el patio, for our conversation groups. Today we talked about los universitarios (los estudiantes de universidades), and about los mitos y leyendas Mexicanas. In our Modern Mexico class we´re reading una leyenda de los volcanos Popocatépetl y Ixtaccíhuatl (Popo y Ixi). According to la leyenda, Ixi era una princesa Azteca, y Popo era su amante. They were separated because Popo was una guerrera, a soldier, who had to go to war, and when he came back he found her dead because she had been lied to by someone else who wanted to marry her (he told her Popo had been killed). So he carried her to las montañas y los dioses les transformaron into two volcanoes.

It´s really warm here in the afternoons, although morning and evening are cool and usually damp. It´s rained lightly every day so far. I love it. I do miss everyone, though.

Time to go - my host mother will be here soon. Hopefully I´ll be able to do a once-a-week update while I´m here...