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How Mexico has changed me

- The strange habits and valuable attitudes I developed while living abroad

Two weeks after moving back from Mexico to my native Germany, I keep noticing some habits I adopted while living abroad. Mexico has changed me. My experiences overall have definitely changed me for the better, no doubt about that. I am more relaxed and positive and really make a conscious effort to stay that way and not let German negativity weigh me down. But there also are some habits that simply are a reflection of daily life in Mexico that I would not mind shaking off bit by bit.

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First of all, I have become super conscious in public spaces. One day, I travelled from the airport to my parents’ house here in Germany late at night. It was a Friday night and there were still lots of people around, but some of them were visibly drunk. I was wearing my engagement ring. In Mexico, I never ever wore this beautiful ring outside the house, because the likelihood of it getting stolen was just too high. Here, in the Stuttgart area, people probably would not even notice the ring, since it is completely normal to wear expensive jewellery. But still, I felt very uncomfortable and even turned the stone towards the inside of my hand so as to hide it.

When I walked the last bit from the train station to the house, it was past midnight. I kept looking over my shoulder to check if anyone was following me and always kept an eye on the other people that were walking from the train station. Before moving to Mexico, I walked home alone many times without even thinking about it.

On one hand, I think being a little more careful does not hurt. On the other hand, I do not want to make my life harder by being unnecessarily paranoid. But I think the feeling of unease will fade away over time and soon I will behave just like everyone else here.

Some of the stranger habits I adopted in Mexico

But I am not just more careful in the dark. Even in broad daylight, I scan everyone around me on the streets and especially on public transportation. In Mexico, this was so normal and necessary to stay safe. I did not even notice that this behaviour had become second nature to me. While scanning the surroundings without having to think about it was a very useful skill to have, I now notice how stressful it actually is. If you suspect a thief or attacker behind every person that enters the S-Bahn, you will not enjoy a relaxed journey.

Another thing I noticed is that I practically run across the street. Even if there are traffic lights. The idea that cars would actually stop at a zebra crossing seems alien to me, so I keep checking until there is no car approaching and then quickly run to the other side. That’s how you do it in Mexico. Here, cars actually do stop. One day, I stared at a driver who slowed down to let me cross the street in disbelief. You cannot imagine how comfortable it is to have this kind of safety as a pedestrian.

So those are the stranger habits I have adopted during my year in Mexico.

... and some wonderful attitudes I learned from my Mexican family

But there are also some wonderful things I have adopted that I do not ever want to let go.

The most significant habits I have learned in Mexico are probably patience and making the most of something.

It will not come as a surprise to you if I tell you that in Mexico, things often are a little slow. Most of all, you never know when a subway train will come, e.g., or when the waiter will bring your food. It may be 5 minutes, it may be 20. So you just get used to waiting. Somehow, Mexicans have understood that complaining only has the effect that they make themselves miserable during the wait, while the desired event will not happen any faster.

This is not something many Germans seems to be aware of. It is not like you never have to wait in Germany. Far from it. If you use public transport, delays and waiting times are pretty much always included. But still, we complain, walk up and down restlessly and shout into our phones in angry voices. Mexicans just chat to their fellow travellers, check their Facebook and wait patiently with this deep knowing that the train will come when it will come.

I also noticed that my attitude has become so much more positive. I mainly credit this to my husband’s awesome ability to always shine light on the good things. Many things that used to really annoy me or caused me to feel sorry for myself (Hello victim-mode!), now do not really bother me anymore. I see them in the grand scheme of things. In reality, as long as your plane gets you safely from A to B, waiting in the security line for a long time really is no big deal. Neither is having to run for your connecting train, spilling ice cream on your favourite shirt or being rejected for a job. In the end, those things do not really matter. What matters is our outlook on those events. 

We need so much less to be happy!

Another thing that I want to remember is that we need a lot less to be happy than what our Western society makes us believe. My in-laws have so little, but they are happier and more grateful than most Germans I know. My husband and I also lived a very basic life in Mexico, but I was more content than as a lawyer in Stuttgart.

When I enter a shopping centre or large supermarket here, I am still flashed by the sheer amount of choices. Shops are crammed with items that scream “buy me, buy me!”. Everything comes in twenty different shapes, forms and colours. People are well dressed, in this season’s fashion. They drive new, expensive cars. Sometimes, I get literally overwhelmed by the luxury of ordinary life here in the south of Germany. I felt the same when I returned from a vacation in Ethiopia. The shock was even bigger then. So I know I will soon get used to the overload of consumer goods and the wealth so casually displayed in this part of the world. However, I want to remember that this is not the norm. I want to stay grateful for hot showers, real natural yogurt, very affordable books and a huge choice of clothing brands for every taste, worldview and budget.

When I look around, I see so many tired, disappointed, annoyed, envious or angry faces in this wealthy country. It makes me sad to see that many people cannot value what they have. At the same time, my in-laws back in Mexico who have so little are so much more grateful for every beautiful moment they get to share with each other. It has never been clearer to me that happiness has nothing to do with material wealth and everything with what you believe about yourself and the world around you. My year in Mexico has been a true school of life experience for me.

What experiences have really changed your outlook on life? What have you learned?

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