Recession and Mexico – Living Without So Many “Needs”

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So here we are in a global recession, with the United States having led the way. This isn’t a trickle-down effect, it’s a tsunami. I moved to Mexico in June 2004, and have lived here comfortably and frugally. What does it take to ride out an economic recession? Well, many are suffering the loss of jobs and homes. Layoffs are rampant. We’ve all been there before if we are old enough to remember. Recessions come and go and the last big one was in the 80’s. Worst economy since the Depression? We don’t know that yet as this is just beginning.

Life here in Mexico is going on pretty much the same as always. People here work hard for what little they earn, most have no credit cards and the ones that do pay astronomical interest rates. Mexico is by no means a cashless society, nor have they fallen prey to the “bigger, faster, more more more” mentality.

I do say this in general, since there are Mexican nationals that have adopted the American lifestyle in some places. In Mexico, there is a definite caste system in some places. The wealthier people employ their not so fortunate counterparts, thus building a loyal relationship between employer and employee in an often long-term position. Some domestic workers have been with one Mexican family for over 20 years and have become a fixture in the household. To me, the entire idea of having household staff was a shock, probably due to the subconscious guilt over the issue of slavery. But the household help are not slaves. The employers and employees have an acculturated understanding that is not often broken. The boundaries are clear. The employees are there to help the homeowners/family and they do. In doing so, the homeowners don’t need all the fancy technological trappings that we as Americans think we can’t live without.

Mexico, especially Mexico City, is an example of human endurance and adaptability. It is an amazing place of extremes and a global microcosm. And people there continually adapt. It’s a part of life, and they just do it. This does not mean there aren’t protests and outcries. Those are definitely present, but the way of getting things done is very different, very complex and so outside of the average American’s way of getting things done that unless a traveler or expat is very open to learning, it can be an awful experience.

There are things that Mexican nationals know about living. They won’t tell you what to do, but they will tell you what not to do. Let’s take the green Volkswagen taxis in Mexico City. They are aplenty, all over the place. Cute and charming and potentially dangerous, because you never know who is driving and those vehicles are often used for kidnappings. Something as innocent looking as a green VW Beetle can be dangerous. Those in the know use private cab companies that value their reputations. One calls the cab and gets where they need to go.

In the town of Ensenada Baja CA, where I live, life is simpler. That is the way I like it. Most people live within their means, they take more time, they do with their hands what we do with convenience items. The people here don’t have any use for time-saving devices because they prefer to invest their time differently. They don’t like efficiency. They use time-honored methods, outstanding balance and their senses to get the job done. Many Americans can’t handle that because getting anything done here takes days, weeks or months where back home it would take mere hours.

Recessions are good for us. They help us put things in perspective. They are opportunities to use hindsight and see where we went wrong. They are times when we can, if we have the wherewithal, pause and see how we ourselves have been consumed by something.

In many places in Mexico, equality is better than in the U.S. Ensenada is one such place. I have lovely conversations with the locals about everything under the sun, and I learn how they think. With such a tumultuous history, Mexico seems to have an attitude of, “the more you have, the more you are afraid to lose.” And Mexico has lost an awful lot. It lost half of its territory to the U.S. not so long ago. The Mexican American war is a fresh wound still, and having visited some of the battlegrounds of that war, I can feel the sadness. Perhaps none of us will ever know the true story. The way we Americans learned about that war is very different to the way Mexican schoolchildren learn about it.

Recession? It’s a product of greed. That is obvious. Greed is the grand consumer of souls and lives. Many people saw this recession coming. Our government, in its infinite wisdom, denied it right up until the market crashed. And we “lead the world” in preparedness? I think it’s time to say, “Whew! I won’t do THAT again!” But we won’t. So, as my host country says, “ni modo.” That’s just the way it is, get on with life, and let’s go get a taco. Nothing is forever. We had our day in the sun, now it’s time to have a siesta. It’s all about attitude. And Mexico is, statistically, the home of some of the happiest people in the world, while the United States is somewhere around the 19th.