Costco, Home Depot, Walmart, malls. In the city of Guadalajara there is plenty of shopping and many familiar stores found in any mall in America. If you need a fast food fix, McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, Tony Roma's, etc. are all around in Guadalajara. Yuk!
Automobiles. Do not come down here with a Lexus or Hummer or giant SUV. Too big and they won't fit nor park well on the narrow cobblestone streets. Good news is body work on cars here is ridiculously cheap. It is one tenth the cost and the work is fast and as good as anything you get in the USA. Man oh, man are Americans ripped off by the auto body business in the U.S. The best automobiles you can drive here are a VW, small truck or smaller SUV. Big, fancy, low slung cars do NOT do well in Mexico.
Insurance, Car. Yes, indeed you need to carry car insurance. There are plenty of agents here that will sell you insurance. Shop around. Don't drive without insurance. Mexican jails don't serve snacks when you get hungry.
Gas. Gas, full service only, is roughly $2.33 a gallon. It is sold by the liter. Right, the USA still uses different measurements. Get used to it. The price of gas is the same everywhere. Don't worry when you give money to the attendant and he/she just puts it in his/her pocket. There are no cash registers in gas stations. See #1.
Car registration. When your car's registration comes due you register your car in South Dakota. Yes, South Dakota. I won't tell you how, but it is easy and 1/4 the price of California registration. You can get a Mexican drivers license. The traffic laws are different but make sense. Sort of. If you study you will pass. They give the English version test once a week around here. Just think, when you drive back into the USA and get pulled over by a cop and you can show him a Mexican driver's license and he won't know what to say or do. If he gives you a ticket, smile and ignore it.
Car wash. You can get your car washed, by hand, for around $3. They leave your windshield wipers up to signal the job is done.
Traffic. Even in the big cities there is not much traffic. Mexico City is the exception. Why? The US is a nation of cars. Mexico has considerably less cars. Hence less traffic. If you are from the death highways of California, New York, New Jersey, Dallas, Seattle, Atlanta, Miami Beach or and any major metropolitan city ... well, you will find the traffic challenging at times but you can do it.
Roads. There are two kinds of highways. One is free and the other cost. The free one is fun and dangerous. Take the toll highways. It is like driving on a freeway in 1955. No cars. Traffic laws are merely suggestions. But don't get into an accident. The police, if there is any dispute in an accident, will tow your car. If anyone is injured, as in blood, you will go to jail until responsibility is sorted out.
Topa. Pronunced "Toh-pa." Otherwise know as Mexican speed bump. Mexican road engineers have fallen in love with these. They are all over the roads, particularly in small villages, side streets in big cities, and even on highways. Of course they are not always marked and sooner or later you will hit one driving 40 miles an hour. At night they become invisible. The physics works this way: Car hits bump, car goes up, passenger's heads goes up, roof comes down.
Passing on the roads, Mexican style. Mexicans, whenever they get behind the wheel of a car, mostly men, go loco. I don't understand it. Mexicans will pass you on the left, right, off the road, across double yellow lines, over blind hills, any time they can. Before you pass a car on the open highway you MUST check for a Mexican driver already in the other lane passing you.
Speed limits. What are those? Only a suggestion. Only on highways and only by federal police will they use radar.
Street signs and one way arrows. Most street signs and direction arrows can and will be posted on walls, trees and poles. (Sometimes.) These markings can be before or after a corner or intersection. Street signs (except on major streets) are on the corners of a house and measure 8 inches by 14 inches. No lighting at night. The signs must have been put up in the 19th Century when wagons zipped by at 7 miles an hour.
Jobs. You need a government permit to work in Mexico. This is hard to get. Why? Thank American immigration policy. If you want to start a business you pretty much have to hire a Mexican. The highest paid job for gringos is a realtor. Understand, the seller has to pay 7% commission and a seller of land has to pay 10%. By law. That is, unless you want to sell it yourself. I suggest doing that on your third sale of a house.
Employing a Mexican. This is a little complicated. Construction workers, maids, etc. average about $3.00 an hour. They get two weeks vacation pay and there are six national holidays for which they are paid extra. If you let them go, except for stealing, they get two week severance pay. Be generous with them. They know where your valuables are kept.
Mordita. Spanish word for "bite." It means, in the pejorative, a bribe. For instance, if you are pulled over by a traffic cop you can pay the reduced fine right there. The infraction does not go on your driving record. Not that you can "mordita" yourself out of murder or mayhem, but minor offenses can be negotiated. As the saying goes in Mexico: "There is always a way."
Drugs. Prescription drugs are generally cheaper. Generic drugs are readily available. Many drugs that you need a doctor's prescription in the USA, you can get without a prescription here. If you can't find the drug here, chances are a Canadian can get them from a friend in Canada or bring a prescription back for you with a deep discount. They have cheaper drugs in Canada too. (I know you know that.) Again, Americans are ripped off by the drug companies and can do very little about it. Illegal drugs are generally cheaper. Drug crimes are a federal offense. Not good.
Drugs, crime. All the troubles you have been reading about Mexico, a la the drug cartels, are in the frontier towns like Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo or in the state of Michoachan. Acapulco is also in the throes of drug wars. But the rest of Mexico does not have running drug battles in the streets. The vast majority of Mexico is safe. Don't believe the news reports.
Crime, general. There is very little violent crime except #44. The biggest crime is theft. Leave you house unprotected, it could be broken into. Walk around dripping with gold and jewelry, flashing money, you are asking for trouble. Many of the houses here have bars over their windows and dogs for a reason. We have a Giant Schnauzer.
Sex. In Lake Chapala, the ratio of gringo women to gringo men is 8 to 1. Yes, 8 women to one lucky guy. Hold on guys! Before you sell the house and bust a move down here, the aforementioned women here are NOT 35 years old divorcees wanting to PARTY! Most of the women here ... this is where I must be sensitive ... are more mature women. It doesn't mean that they don't want to ... you know what I mean ... it is just they are more mature. Viagra can be purchased without a prescription. The attractive, single, vital man with a sense of humor can develop carpal tunnel syndrome in an important part of their anatomy.
Mexican culture. Diverse. Lake Chapala is in the state of Jalisco. Home to tequila and mariachis. Mexican people are in many ways very formal. "Please" and "thank you" are always heard in conversations. Many of the Mexican merchants speak English. You don't have to speak Spanish to get around here. I recommend you learn common sayings and expressions of courtesy.
Mexican holiday, civil. Mother's day is the biggest holiday here. On Mother's day it is a tradition to give your mother flowers and have your mother serenaded by a small band. Not a Mariachi band, but a marching band, the kind you heard in junior high school. These bands only play on Mothers day. Mother's day starts at 12:01 a.m. The bands travel around and play all day. ALL DAY. Father's day is just another day.
Mexican holidays, religious. They celebrate Christmas, Easter, and all Catholic religious holidays. Every church has a patron saint, and that day is celebrated. Usually for 10 days. Easter or Semana Santa is celebrated big time in Mexico. At this time every Mexican heads for the ocean. They also celebrate the patron saint of Mexico, Our Lady of Guadalupe. Of course the biggest holiday on a reoccurring schedule, bigger than Our Lady of Guadalupe is, whenever the local football (soccer) team plays. If their team wins see #41.
Holidays (Fiestas). Mexicans have more holidays than the USA. Way more. Five times more holidays. No, make that ten times. Mexicans will "fiesta" for any reason.
Special Holidays. San Lunes: (Saint Monday) This is when a worker does not show up for work on Monday because he or she is hung over and the people say that person is celebrating San Lunes. Day of the Dead: This is a very special festival in Mexico. This is the day most Mexicans go the cemetery of their family and decorate the graves. Then at night they come and sit around, play music, eat, drink and carry on until late at night. The cemeteries are all decorated with flowers and paper streamers and for Americans it is a macabre sight. In the city of Patzcuaro, See #11, they have a lighted procession to a cemetery out to an island in the lake. The down side is the hotels are booked for miles around and are three times the normal rate.
Holidays, noise. Mexicans love to celebrate holidays (especially religious) with fireworks. They have a firework called a "cohete." A person lights the end of a small rocket and if flies out of his hand into the sky and explodes. It is loud. It is dangerous. Do not become alarmed. The Mexican revolution has not started. On certain holidays different groups try to fire off the most rockets. The rockets are usually fired off in the very early morning, during the day around noon and at sunset.
Mexican modesty and mores. Mexicans are modest in dress and manners. Except young women and they, like all young women around the world believe in fashion above all else. If the Mexicans are modest in dress the roadside billboards are not. Along the highways you will see half naked women in pornographic poses. Bill boards that you will NEVER EVER see in the US.
Mexican women. Mexican women like American men. Why? It is the American woman's fault. American women have trained American men in their own wants and desires. Consequently American men are known world wide, not only in Mexico, to be gentle, courteous, generous and nice to women. Of course, all ex-husbands are excluded from this generalization. The rule of thumb for having a young Mexican girlfriend is: Half your age plus one year. Many gringo men have trouble with math on this question.
Mexican, interpersonal. Never argue with a Mexican woman. There is a saying here in Mexico: When a Mexican man fights with a Mexican woman, God is on the side of the man. But even at that, it is only a fair fight. A Mexican woman will love her man with all her heart and soul forever. However, if you treat her badly and don't have God on your side? Don't ask what will happen.
Mexican men. The stereotypical macho Mexican male is dying away. Thank goodness. Nowadays, young Mexican men can be seen carrying their small children and walking together with their wives. However ... don't kill the messenger, gringas ... as domestic partners, most Mexican men rarely cook, clean the house, do the laundry. And don't ask them to iron your clothes. They will not call and say they are coming home 10 minutes late. They will rarely talk about their feelings. They WILL do all the driving and car maintenance without asking. Of course, the education and sophistication of the Mexican man can make a difference. But remember, Mexican men are not American or Canadian. See #1.
Mexican girls. The age of consent for Mexican girls is 16. I do not recommend having, dating or seeing a 16 year old Mexican girl. Birth control is for married women with children. If you marry a Mexican woman you marry the family also.
Mexican children. Unlike MOST American children, who are spoiled, Mexican children are well behaved. Mexican children of the affluent fall in between on the spoiled meter. Mexican children are not like all American children who go through life feeling entitled because self-esteem mongers say they are "special."
... To Be Continued