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NOTE: I've been working on this post for a long time, and though I am publishing it now, on the six-month anniversary of my move to Mexico, I may revisit it from time to time and add additional observations.

In the months since I moved to Mexico, I have had to adapt in many ways to a different way of life. Some of that was fairly easy; other things have been harder to get used to. And in many ways, it's more a matter of adjusting my way of thinking than my way of acting. The culture here is different. Customs are different. Things that are commonplace in the US are not done here, and vice versa.

Especially vice versa.

There are so many things I've seen and experienced here that would be either unheard of in the US or seriously frowned upon if people did them there. At first some of these things astonished me; now they are becoming ordinary.

Other things are just different.

Car wash

There are no automatic car wash facilities here. If you bring your car to a car wash, it will be washed by hand. They have pressure washers, but no do-it-yourself. It cost 90 pesos ($4.50 US) for a wash and vacuum.

If you park your car at Walmart or in front of other businesses (supermarkets, restaurants, etc.), a guy with a bucket and rags and sponges might offer to wash your car.  I had my car washed once while I was eating breakfast. The cost was 70 pesos ($3.50 US).


At supermarkets, there are baggers at every checkout. They are often elderly, sometimes kids.

They work for propinas (tips). They are not paid by the store.

Rules of the Road

It is not uncommon for motorcycles to be used for family transportation.
From Mexico News Daily
Usually motorcyclists ride with orange vests and helmets, but it is definitely not universally enforced. Motorcyclists also pass cars on single-lane roads, typically on the right. I generally don't see them until they are already next to my car, and I fear one day I will swerve to avoid a pothole and bump into a motorcycle.

Passengers also commonly ride in the back of pickup trucks.

There is a lot of traffic, especially on the main highway through town (the carretera). If you want to turn onto the carretera from a side street, you might have a long wait. But it is very common to let people in. Drivers will blink their lights to indicate that you are welcome to turn left in front of them, turn onto the highway, or cross the street if you are on foot.

Streets and Sidewalks

The streets in Ajijic are cobblestone. But that's actually a generous way of describing them. They are stone, but not of any uniform shape or size.

They can't pave the streets because there are no storm drains. When it rains, the water would have nowhere to go.

Not that the water has anywhere to go when it does rain hard (see below, "When it rains").

Walking on the cobblestone streets is like getting a free foot massage. It's also an invitation to an ankle sprain or a bad fall.

The sidewalks, unfortunately, aren't much better. They start and stop, they are very narrow, they are not level, and trees and utility poles emerge from them. Two people can't walk side-by-side on the sidewalks here, and if someone is coming the other way, usually one of you will have to step into the street. And the curbs are often very high.

A sidewalk where it pays to be very thin

One of the nicer sidewalks, but those tiles are very slippery when it rains.

Try to negotiate this sidewalk!

Free Enterprise

In addition to the guys washing cars, creative entrepreneurs are ubiquitous. They come into restaurants selling empanadas, baked goods, fruit, baskets, candy.

I have seen this guy all over town laden with wicker baskets.
People also set up little shops in or in front of their homes. Down the block from my house most afternoons is a woman selling grilled corn. And nearby at night a family sets up a grill and cooks tacos. Shops selling abarottes (groceries) are all over town.

If you're sitting in a restaurant or cafe, it's likely a musician will come in with a guitar or ukulele and a singing voice that might be brilliant or agonizing. They'll sing a few songs, accept propinas, and then move on to another location. Recently a guy came to the front door of the bar where I play trivia and banged on a drum for about five minutes. I wanted to give him a propina just to stop.

I've had kids knock on my gate with trays of cakes. I've had older kids and adults asking if I need my car washed or anything in my house repaired.


It seems as if there are as many pharmacies here as there are Starbucks in Seattle. The biggest chain is Farmacias Guadalajara, which has at least four locations in the area. But there are also tiny discount pharmacies everywhere.

You don't need a prescription for most medications. The only meds that require a prescription are antibiotics, opiates, and antipsychotics. If you want one of those and don't have a prescription, Farmacia Guadalajara has a medical professional next door whose only purpose, as far as I can tell, is to write prescriptions.

There are no "pharmacists" as far as I can tell. The people who work in the pharmacies simply provide the meds you ask for in the original packaging. Many meds come in blister packs, including things like aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen. I was trying to push an ibuprofen gelcap out of the blister pack once, and the gelcap burst before the aluminum foil gave way. Lesson learned: I now pierce the foil with my fingernail before pushing the pill out.


Which brings up the topic of quality.

Products are cheap here, but many of them are also cheaply made.

Go to the baño at a restaurant. Wash your hands, and then be prepared for the paper towels to disintegrate as you dry.

Buy a roll of plastic wrap. There is no metal cutting edge, just cardboard perforation on the box, which does nothing except add to the frustration of trying to tear off some.

Toilet paper is single ply and the squares are actually small rectangles. (This is actually a good thing, because the sewer system is not really good at handling waste. I flush my toilet paper at home, but I limit it to three "squares" at a time. In many public baños, there are signs telling you not to flush the paper. It goes into a trash bin.)

Napkins are small and thin. At most restaurants there is a napkin holder full of them, so at least you can compensate for their poor quality with quantity.

Light switches

The light switches toggle horizontally here, not vertically. So which way is  on and which way is off is anybody's guess. Some of them have a little green stripe to indicate "on."

At home I have many switchplates with three switches. I've been in my house for over four months and I still can't keep track of which switch is for the hall light, which is for the room light, and which is for the ceiling fan.

Trash pickup and bins

They have daily trash pickup in Ajijic. Six days a week. And recycling once a week. Free. 

There are also bins for trash and recycling at the corner, so if I don't want to put out the trash and have it sit in front of my house hoping the dogs don't get to it before the sanitation workers, I can just bring it down the street.

Though the bins are often overflowing. They may pick up trash every day from in front of my house, but the bins at the end of the street are almost never emptied.

When it rains

Rainy season starts in June and can last through October. For the most part, it rains only at night, though we had a few daytime downpours this summer.

There are no storm drains. Rainwater from the hills runs into town and it all channels into a few of the streets that run toward the Lake, turning the streets into rivers.

I was trying to get across this street to my Spanish lesson, but I was afraid I'd be swept away and end up in the lake. I was already soaking wet in spite of my umbrella.

Most houses and other buildings have rain gutters but no downspouts. So the water pours out of spouts and onto the street. If you are walking in the rain, you have to dodge these waterspouts. And if you are using an umbrella, narrow sidewalks and trees and utility poles make it impossible to get past and stay dry.


Except when it's raining, it's dry here. Frequently, therefore, people can be found in front of their homes sweeping the sidewalk.


I think it's well-known that Mexico and Mexicans can be noisy. Cohetes (fireworks) are part of every celebration. Bands play music on the street. When someone throws a party, the music is loud. Music also blares from car radios.

One source of noise that I was not expecting is the cars and trucks equipped with PA systems, selling everything from various food items to propane gas.

There's actually a noise ordinance in effect in Jalisco that went into effect this past April. Apparently enforcement in the municipality of Chapala (which includes Ajijic) has been lax.

Right now we are in the midst of the nine-day celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The festival culminates on December 12, the anniversary of the appearance, in 1531, of Guadalupe, the Mother of Mexico, on a hilltop outside Mexico City. The cohetes start at 5:45 every morning and continue until about 6:30. The Santuario de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (the church honoring the Virgin) is not far from my house, so the noise of the explosions sounds like it is coming from right outside my house. And there are more cohetes throughout the day.


There are a lot of extranjeros (foreigners) here. Many are snowbirds who have arrived in the last month or so and clogged the streets with traffic. And many also seek to change things, to make things more like what they're used to from back home.

I'm the first to admit that there are things here that could change. Not being awoken every morning at 5:45 is one of them. Less noise in general would be okay. Fewer stray dogs would be nice. Better road maintenance would be great.

But I'm a guest here. Yes, this is my adopted home, but this is not my country. I am grateful that I have been welcomed here, but I am not about to repay the hospitality that has been shown to me by trying to impose my culture.

Part of living here is about going with the flow, accepting how things are different, and embracing the culture. The large expat population has brought about many changes to this community, some good, some bad, some welcomed by the locals, some not so much. I recognize that I am partly responsible as a member of the expat community. But I hope I will be able to adapt to life here more than the local residents will be forced to adapt to my being here.

Mexico is a beautiful country, and there are so many warm, caring, kind, generous people living here. I've been given a great gift by those who are sharing their culture with me.

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