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What Mexicans in San Miguel de Allende Want Expats to Know

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Woman beautiful sunset
Credits: Jose Luis | Adobe Stock images

I’ve wondered what Mexicans in San Miguel de Allende want expats to know. I’ve lived here for quite some time now, so I did a straw poll and asked a few what they thought about expats living here.

As always, I try to picture the situation in my own culture.  If you want to attain citizenship in the U.S., you have answer certain questions about the government that, frankly, those born and raised in the U.S. have a hard time answering. I mean, can any of today’s high school graduates explain how the Electoral College actually works?

In my straw poll, answers to what Mexicans wish every expat already knew about Mexico varied. Many wanted simple manners implanted into our noggins.  If every expat could say “good morning” or “enjoy your meal” we would be so much better liked.

Others in my straw poll went to the other end of the knowledge scale and wanted every expat to know why there was a celebration and what, exactly, that day’s fireworks and bell clanging meant.

Meanwhile, some wanted to go even deeper and have us know who revolutionary heroes like Pipila, Aldama and others were, plus more details on major holidays, like Christmas. Revolutionary heroes would be a tough one. I doubt my adult kids would know five revolutionary heroes in the States.  Plus, Christmas is way more tactile and ritualized here, lasting from December 12 through February 2.

Some were simply tired of our whiny nature.  As one respondent stated: “There are so many flights daily to the U.S., expats can just hop on one and be much happier back there!”

Others waxed longingly about expats who were kind, helpful and who fit into San Miguel de Allende, like Jaime “Jim” Morris, Stirling Dickinson and a small handful of past expats.

Many were exasperated at our constant displays of wealth.  Now, in case you were thinking that means wearing Rolexes or diamonds, allow to me to elaborate. It’s the everyday wealth that is tiring.  For example, when I spill a drink I use a dish towel to mop it up, showing I’ve got money to burn. A Mexican would use a mop.  A towel has to be washed and dried to be reused, which demonstrates that I have money to burn.

There’s a good reason an expat’s trash gets picked through here. Handy daily items are tossed without a thought, but can be reused.

Others stressed how expats fit in here. One respondent told me that “if you are a Mexican as old as I am, you, your parents and grandparents all grew up here with a small subset of foreigners. We have all learned to live together. That takes give and take on both sides, which needs to continue.  No one likes a carpetbagger who comes to town and tries to stop the fiestas or bells, and that includes the virus!”

The movie “Coco” did wonders for spreading knowledge about the Day of the Dead festival, though many still wish we knew more about La Llorona or the Catrina.

Respondents who were really into food wished for an increased awareness of local cuisine with the hope that pizza and burgers don’t become the restaurant norm.

Geography buffs expect expats to know how the streets of San Miguel de Allende got their names, which, honestly, is no small feat.

Business owners mentioned how they appreciate expats who keep some locals employed, though they truly wish everyone realized the San Miguel de Allende economy is based mostly on domestic tourism.

Religion is another subject Mexicans would like expats to understand. The Inquisition lasted 300 years here and it took another century, until the 1920s, when the Church lost any real power in governing Mexico.  Believe in the faith, or don’t, it doesn’t much matter. What is important is realizing Catholicism has an impact on daily life.  Mexico is a Catholic country by culture, if not conviction.

Simply put, moving to Mexico with animosity toward the Church is the equivalent of being anti-semitic and thinking Israel would be a perfect new home for you.

38 COMMENTS

  1. An excellent description of exactly how the expats behave. I have lived here in Mexico for 20 years, married to a wonderful Mexican lady and have three young adults.If you want to live in Mexico, you must learn the language, have some idea of the culture, food varieties, and the exceptional Mexican people. Arriving with an arrogant attitude demanding everything in English creates a significant problems for many. I always say, MEXICO IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. Fortunately, many of this ilk end up hating everything about Mexico and ultimately, return from whence they came. I have seen more disrespectful gringos, many from Canada as well whose abhorrent attitudes are embarrassing to those of us who love and respect everything about Mexico. Blaming a Mexican person for not speaking English is about as idiotic as one can be. I have found that my happiness is avoiding gringos altogether.

  2. Maybe tell us what is bearable about gringos/gabachos being here because it sounds like a soap box discontent From your end with all of us NOBs

    • Oh, that’s in the article too. It’s always nice to employ someone, plus foreigners have been living here for generations and with a bit of give and take on both sides, have been getting along for a long time.

  3. ” I doubt my adult kids would know five revolutionary heroes in the States.” And that’s okay? You say it as though not understanding the history of your country is the expected standard.

    • Not a matter of being OK, I was just surprised when my kids were little how little time was spent on American history or how politics works. Honestly I was more horrified that things that really matter in life – handling finances, death and alike – aren’t taught at all.

  4. San Miguel is like a halfway house. Many foreigners here only mix with each other. But it’s good for us to travel outside of San Miguel and see different faces of Mexico, hopefully from more than simply a hotel room. And to get to know some of our Mexican neighbours, enough to begin learning about the culture from them and not simply from each other.

  5. Joseph Toone, I couldn’t agree more. I actually prefer the word immigrant to expat. Expat is a word of privilege and exceptionalism, it’s a word of colonization.

    I came to Mèxico not to escape, but to embrace. My español isn’t as good as I want it to be yet, but at least I’m not like the woman in my Nivel 1 clase who confessed to taking it again after living here for 15 years because she could not find anyone to speak Spanish with. What!?

    If one doesn’t love it here and find the amazing respectability of mexicanas, go somewhere else. You have choices. Though I fear unhappy people pack their disagreeable nature up with their other belongings and take it with them.

    Choose happiness. It is a choice.

    • Peter, we couldn’t disagree with you more. An immigrant is a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country. An expatriate, or expat, is someone who lives outside of their home country. There are many different types of expats: corporate, “snowbirds”, those who “try on” Mexico and then return to their home country, and yes, many who either become permanent residents and sometimes even citizens of Mexico. We use expats because the term encompasses more than just those who seek a permanent life in Mexico. And, no, historically expatriate is not ascribed to colonization. The Spaniards were definitely not expats.

    • I know my Mexican pals don’t like our use of Ex-Pat, right along with calling ourselves Americans when they are too. “Person from the United States” takes a bit longer to say but is appreciated.

      Peter, like the Alison Moyet song says, “And if we are to find our Heaven here, we just have to look harder.”

  6. I agree with these sentiments. During extended stays in San Miguel, I have witnessed the varied behaviors of expats. Through these observations I have remained polite, however, distanced myself from expats. I have the local people and merchants much more interesting and friendly. I am not fluent in Spanish, however, I speak it all the time and find it is welcomed no matter how much I don’t know. I love, love to shop at the local produce market on Collegio and bought my grandson cowboy boots there. And one thing I do not do, is bargain a merchant down on the cost of products. The price that is asked is the one I pay. I once watched an American woman, who was buying a hat from the man that wears a multitude of hats on his head in the heat of the day, bargain the price down by $1.40. To her this was a victory, to me, this was sad. To her this was nothing, to him, this was probably food for his table. So embarrassing to me as an American. I absolutely love San Miguel and want it to remain the most amazing place I first visited in 1974 and continue to return to as often as I can.

  7. I finally made it to San Miguel de Allende this past February. A place I was to go with my husband (passed away) but life took us both by surprise. Anyways I fell in love with the people, culture the city offers and the breathtaking views during many many walks amongst many other things. I’m Hoping to return for a longer stay next year if the virus is under control. I use to be able to speak broken Spanish. I have lost that and need to learn again. I’m challenged ecause I lost my hearing in my left ear due to a ear infection. My question is where could I take classes for hearing impaired?

  8. Friends of friends who have lived there for many years have discouraged visiting SMdA due to recent Cartel activity and has begun to pervade the area. Have you noticed a rise in their presence there?

    • Some before the virus, but nothing now. We’re a high end tourist destination and lots of folk want to do drugs on vacation which, in turn, lures the cartels. If you aren’t in the business (buying or selling) you won’t be impacted in any way.

  9. I wonder why I read so many negative posts about gringos. It’s never ending. I have yet to meet a disagreeable gringo hating Mexican, and my Spanish is poor. I’ve found that when I stumble in my Spanish, Mexicans enjoy practicing their English. Look, foreigners spend a great deal of money. Mexicans welcome that boost to the economy. Repeated posts such as yours simply makes gringos less enthusiastic about visiting Mexico. Your post serves absolutely no purpose, because no one will change his behavior because of it. It’s nothing more than a rant from a disaffected gringo. Just Puleese, knock it off.

    • David, you’re the one who needs to “knock it off.” Your attitude is typical of people who don’t want to become immersed in the culture in which they live. If you only want to ingratiate your self with your money, when you could be be getting so much more out of life, you’re really missing out. And, no, it doesn’t make gringos any less enthusiastic about visiting Mexico, it only makes us steer clear of people like you. I hope this post changes behavior! If you can see yourself in this post and you don’t change your behavior, move on to the next country that will have you.

  10. I like to learn about the holidays and Fiestas that used to be loudly celebrated in SMA before the lock-down. I once asked our Mexican contractor what the ringing of the bells and fireworks were all about on one occasion and he said he had no clue! 😉

    • Hi Laurie, You might like the calendar feature on CatholicSMA.com for that type of information. However, all celebrations are sponsored by people, not the Church, so how and what gets celebrated changes year to year. Feel free to email me directly when curious and there’s a decent chance I’ll know why. Joseph

  11. Well, I’m somewhat in the middle here. My husband and I moved here because we loved so much about SMA, the architecture, the food and most importantly, the warmth of the people. I did not expect to have as much trouble as I have had learning Spanish. I guess I’m just bad at language and a little old but I try! I must admit that classes in art and history are more interesting to me. I find the Mexicans kind and patient when I am polite. I find the gringos are the ones who judge and are unpleasant if they hear me trying to communicate badly. Some on this post have implied that people like me are unwelcome. I’m not sure if the local businesses who cater to tourists and snowbirds would appreciate that.

    • I didn’t mean to imply unwelcome, it was just, if wishes were horses, what would you put in everyone’s mind that came to town. Also, businesses that cater to tourists (and what ones here in San Miguel don’t?) the focus is on domestic tourism. We foreigners do tend to over-inflate our minimal economic impact.

      Lastly, I can’t imagine anyone from anywhere fault you trying Spanish! You go, girl! I, too, am far from fluent but you got to keep trying at any age! Joseph

      • One other thought on this. I lived most of my life in NYC. So many languages! I was always happy to help when I could. I did not expect everyone to speak English, amazing what you can do with sign language. I guess being the granddaughter of immigrants( my grandmother never really learned to speak English well) also colors my thinking. Very interesting what you say about minimal economic impact. I believe you, but think I’ll do some research!
        (You don’t need to post this if too much)

        • The town gears towards the uber-wealthy from Mexico City. Hence the gated communities around town to lure 2nd and 3rd home purchases and why bars and restaurants have been remodeled in recent years to look like what you find in NYC or Miami as that is what those crowds are use to. (Today’s trivia – my father was born on the kitchen table of a 5 story walk up in Harlem and it was always fun to take my parents back into the city.)

  12. Every body has a different story. I’ve been here for over 50 years, I came down just before the Olympics, got married during the Olympics, I knew No Spanish but started learning it to be able to communicate better, Things have changed over the years, some things are better some worse, but it’s better for me here in Mexico than back in the USA. Especially now, I have always worked in Mexico. Once you get a grip on the undercurrents of Culture, Government, how things really work you will be surprised how much alike we really are. I know many Mexicans who worked in the USA and were deported but I don’t hear bitterness from then, they still love the States.
    San Miguel is a different Culture, I live in Tlaxcala and Americans are at a Premium, I only know a dozen and we dont really get together much.
    I became a Citizen several years ago and that has advantages also, I found if you look around you’ll discover things. I talk to everyone, the Director of Tourism invited me to take courses in Tourism, along with about 50 Mexicans and I wound up as a tourguide for 20 years. A similar Course in the USA would cost around $3000 dollars but it was free here.
    I advise immigrants ,exoats or wanderers to learn Spanish, study History and Culture, be flexible and don’t try to turning Mexico into Little America. Mingle with the Natives.

  13. I lost who said this above but it struck a cord with me as a walk-on-eggshells Texan who ended up in the Bay Area (but happily live in SMA now)…that we gringos who try to speak Spanish may judge those who don’t more harshly than the Mexicans do, especially if the English speaking, hand waving gringo is being humble and polite. Not the same culture foul as rudely expecting Mexicans to speak English. I’m saying this to remind myself cuz I can be that judgmental gal who wants at least to hear Buenos días, cómo está, por favor, gracias.

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