Home Expat Blogs Ode to My Fellow Expats in Mexico

Ode to My Fellow Expats in Mexico

Sarah DeVries and daughter in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico
Sarah DeVries and Lisa

Most of my friends in Mexico are, well…Mexican. If you’ve read my past blogs, you know that I am a big fan of the Mexican personality in general, and am completely charmed by the culture, the food, and the language. I’ve done my best to integrate myself into the society and my local community, and believe I’ve done a pretty good job at it so far. That being said, this is an ode to my fellow expats in Mexico.

One thing is for certain…I’ll never not be a foreigner, and the fact that I’m a foreigner will always be obvious here. It’s in my accent, in my mannerisms, even in my gait.

And being a perpetual foreigner (even a privileged one like me) is hard. Having people to connect with from your own culture eases the discomfort, and my desire to do so versus my insistence that I should focus on integrating myself with Mexicans is something that’s always brought up a bit of insecurity and discomfort for me.

As I get older, though, I’ve learned to really appreciate my time with my fellow norteamericanos, seeing it not as cultural insulation, but as a chance to come up for a breath and maybe a different kind of fun once in a while, like whales or dolphins do. Sometimes, you just need to spend time and talk about things with people that share a basic understanding of “what makes sense” to you culturally.

For quite a while in my city, I could count the number of paisanos I knew on one hand. Xalapa is far from any kind of expat hub, though it does have a somewhat sizable “international” population due to its world-class orchestra and just all-around artsy and intellectual awesomeness.

Most English-speaking foreigners I know are people who’ve retired here, though I know a couple too that, like me, have been here long-term and spent a good chunk of their adult life here. Younger people are harder to find, as they tend to come for a year or two, then go back. This garners no complaint from me as I’m fairly settled-in myself, and I’ve come to enjoy and expect spending time with people who are closer to my parents’ generation than my own, especially at this point in my life in which I’m actively seeking the wisdom of those who’ve “made it through” this tricky phase of adulthood.

Just because someone else is from your same country, of course, doesn’t mean you’ll get along with them. I’ve met people whose political views have turned me green, and a few people that are just plain creepy, anywhere. Mormon missionaries I pass on the street tend to refuse eye-contact with me, though I’ve met some nice Jehovah’s Witnesses (I’m a rather cynical agnostic myself, but I’ve rarely met JWs that weren’t really, really likable).

I just returned from a trip to Texas that was a great big gulp of familiar air. My family by now has spread out a bit, but my sister is home base, and where I always land when I visit. We have a great connection, and I have some wonderful friends there that I love hanging out with. But I can’t help feeling foreign now everywhere I go. I often think of the title of the book “You Can’t Go Home Again.” Truly, you can’t. In Texas, at this point, I might as well be a foreigner that just happens to be fluent in the local language. Though I’ll never give up saying “y’all”, people that don’t know me ask where I’m from, and I tend to maintain a wide-eyed, somewhat startled look on my face most of the time as I realize what “adulting” in the States entails, as I’ve never done it there (I’ve been in Mexico since I was 20, and I’m almost 38!).

Still, despite my initial state of disorientation – the first day is always full of awkward and unexpected kisses on the cheek and half-started buen provechos and buenos días and gracias to bewildered-looking recipients – being in Texas is like sleeping in my childhood bedroom. It’s not 100 percent suited to me anymore, but it’s comforting and smells like home.

Now I no longer see seeking out companionship with others from my culture as a guilty pleasure, but rather a needed connection to home, in all senses of the word. In the end we’re all just people who seek to be understood. Someone from your culture who is living in the same foreign culture that you are is a fairly good bet for finding your sometimes-tribe. You don’t need to spend every day with them, but when it’s time to come up for some air, find them and take a deep, cleansing breath.


  1. I enjoyed your article. I am going to visit Nuevo Casas Grande in December. I was wondering why Mormons won’t look you in the eye. In Nuevo Casas Grande there is a large Mormon and Menonite population. I would be more comfortable around the Menonites as they are so friendly. Thanks for your input. Nancy

    • Thanks, Nancy!
      Honestly, I’m not totally sure…I guess I’ve always assumed that they’re just really focused on the mission they arrived for, and maybe I look like an obvious non-candidate? 😀
      I hope you have a great time on your visit!

    • Right you are, Leslie! I actually have so many thoughts on that point that I might write a blog about it in the future! 😀
      In this case, I used “norteamericanos” since that’s how Mexicans themselves lump people from the US and Canadians together – after all, our cultures are more similar to each other’s than they are to Mexican culture (I say that with about 30% hesitancy, since I don’t really know much about the French part of Canada). But you’re right, geographically, Mexico is also North America. I suspect, though, that Mexicans say “norteamericanos” just as a way to say “the people that live in the countries further north on this continent than us”.
      I didn’t dare say “Americans”, as people always take issue with it since “we’re all Americans”, which yes, technically, we are. I personally am not bothered by the terminology too much, especially since, at least in English (and all emotions aside), there’s not another adjective that we can really use. “Estadounidense” doesn’t have an adjective English counterpart other than “American” – maybe we should create “United Statesian”? 😀 But even that could turn out to be problematic (at least for the nit-picky among us) as Mexico is also technically “The United States of Mexico”.
      I actually don’t mind saying “gringos” which is also a kind of catch-all for Anglo culture north of Mexico on the continent, but I think it’s technically considered derogatory at worst and naughty at best, like saying “pussy” instead of “cat” or something, haha!
      We’ll figure out a good word someday! 😀

  2. Thanks for your reply to my comment. You’re right…Mexicans do refer to us as “norteamericanos”. We do need a better word to describe and distinguish ourselves easily. Unitedstatesofamericans is too long winded. Its a conundrum….
    I call myself Mexican American because I’m of Mexican heritage, born in the USA, but that’s probably not a technically correct term either. Im enjoying reading about gringos ( hehe) living in Mexico since I’m planning to live part time there in the very near future. My mother instilled in us a love and pride for her country that has been a part of me all my life and as I get older I find myself being pulled in that direction. It’s my happy place! So I look forward to your next posting.?


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