I had considered myself a fairly well-travelled person. I’d never done the whole SE Asia backpacking thing after university and I’d never inter-railed during the summer. But I’d racked up a respectable 9 countries and a handful of islands by the time I was 21, 3 of which I have lived in for a considerable length of time. Not too shabby.
Nothing could have prepared me for Mexico. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t experience culture shock the way that I’ve heard India can reduce even the most steadfast traveller into a trebling wreck. But it was a shock nonetheless.
I’ve boiled this down to two things: the language barrier & the unadulterated love I felt for Mexican culture as soon as I’d set eyes on it. I’m serious when I say that for the first two weeks, I felt like I was in a parody of a Latin film because it was all just so deliciously Mexican I couldn’t believe it was actual reality. True, as a tourist destination the ‘Mexican culture’ here is kind of on steroids. Even so, this made me feel utterly mundane with my spice-less European heritage. This place is way too cool for me.
Now the language barrier was a less pleasurable kind of shock. In France, I’d been able to lean on my half-baked A-level French. I was still completely useless for the first two or three months but at least I could be polite. And in the times when embarrassment flooded my veins, sweat beads sprang up on my upper lip and I had to choke out a few words, at least I knew the unfortunate French person stuck having a conversation with me was thinking ‘what an utterly incompetent but polite foreigner.’ This background knowledge stood me in good stead. I built on it quickly and I could even communicate with my housemates after a mere 4-6 weeks of completely disastrous attempts at conversation. Seriously, 6 months down the line they admitted that they felt the need to lock their bedroom doors for the first 2 months before they were able to get to know me (did I mention I’m great at making friends?).
On the flip side, I have NO prior knowledge of Spanish. Not even weird Spanish that they speak in, like, Spain. And to make it worse, the Riviera Maya where I’m based is so full of tourists that you’re more likely to bump into a Canadian than you are a Mexican. I know what you’re thinking. Resort town = easy! You don’t even NEED Spanish! This is where you’re wrong. Did I mention the lovely Mexican? His one request has been that I learn his mother tongue (duh, of course! What do you take me for? *nervous sweating*) and I fully intend to do this. Second of all, my mundane European heritage has bestowed on me a somewhat “year-round tan” meaning that the tourists and Mexicans alike all assume I’m a local. Utter confusion ensues once they hear me speak with a British accent. Both funny and makes me wish I was invisible.
SO, first things first: 1) get cooler 2) learn a language 3) potentially stay out of the sun because you know this whole ‘what, you’re not Mexican?!’ thing is seriously not helping matters.