Thursday, March 13, 2008

Misconceptions

When we decided to move to Mexico last year, most people had at least one of the following misconceptions: that (1) we would get kidnapped; (2) we would be “rich” here, able to afford anything and everything we wanted because; (3) everything in Mexico was cheap. I could easily look down from my high horse and lament about how ignorant people are, but the truth is that when Sonny mentioned Mexico City as a possible assignment, the first image that came to my mind was the kidnapping scene from the movie Proof of Life. I was also shocked to learn - a few weeks after arriving - that our company paid apartment and car would be mere trinkets for many of the wealthy Mexicans and foreigners who went on weekend retreats to their haciendas, regularly shopped at Louis Vuitton, and vacationed in the Galapagos Islands on their family yachts. I also found out the hard way that nothing in Mexico is cheap, except for labor and maybe produce, and learned to bring back from the U.S. a lot of children’s toys and generic gifts for birthday parties, as the exact same items in Walmart and Costco here cost 40% more than in the U.S.

So I think it is time to clear up any remaining perceptions. Yes, like any other city in the world, there are seedy areas and petty criminals abound, waiting for people who are careless and imprudent about basic safety. Yes, the aiport happens to be in one of those areas (although I'm sure all Jerseyites can relate to the bad rep airport neighborhoods provide; afterall, is Newark airport an accurate depcition of our lovely home state?)
However, there are also fancy areas of Mexico City where people walk around wearing Channel shoes and Seven Jeans, carrying Gucci bags and pushing Bugaboo strollers. We are fortunate enough to live in the wonderfully safe and lively area of Polanco, which, according to Lonely Planet Mexico, is an “affluent residential quarter . . . where the streets are named after writers and scientists, contain[ing] lots of restaurants, art galleries and embassies [as well as] some luxury hotels . . . .” The main avenue and reference point that runs through Polanco is Avenida Presidente Masaryk, which has been called the Rodeo Drive/5th Avenue/Champs Elysees of Mexico City, and is home to nearly every upscale store that I have ever heard of, such as Cartier, Valentino, Bvlgari, Hermes, Ferragamo, Tiffany and more, and many that I haven’t heard of but which I could never afford. I can safely say that since these stores do so much business here, and since no matter how nicely I am (sometimes) dressed when going out, there are always people more affluent and better dressed walking around. In other words, any potential kidnapper would have bigger fish to fry than me!

For us Polanco is a great place to live because we get that city atmosphere plus great parks and lots of restaurants in walking distance, and always feel safe, even when walking around at night. In fact, the only downside to Polanco is that I am constantly confronted with the gaps in my education because, while I am familiar with the names after which streets like Tennyson, Galileo and Lord Byron are named, for the life of me I cannot figure out who Eugenio Sue or Francisco Petrarca were. Still, there are neighborhoods of this city that are far more affluent, charming and trendy than Polanco. I suppose my point is that, while Mexico City has its negatives, it is a vibrant city with various interesting neighborhoods offering world renowned shopping, museums, art galleries, parks, markets, and ancient cultural sites, as well as a number of cultural and social events, from Italian Operas to Cuban Jazz to big name rock concerts like Lenny Kravitz (appearing in April). All this, plus being surrounded by mountains and having great weather year round.

So for those friends and family who are considering visiting, I promise you this: you will not find bargains here, you will not feel rich. But on the flip side, you will not get kidnapped.

6 comments:

Guera said...

I was exactly the same, Rupal, when we first considered a move here. And most people we know had the same reaction (and probably thought we were crazy). I was surprised at how European and beautiful Mexico City was - we stayed in Polanco (probably near you) and loved the leafy streets and park. And yes, we wandered down Masaryk and felt very underdressed!

Nipa said...

I know how much I love getting comments on my blog so feel its very important to write on other's when I have something to say! I am still not convinced I won't get kidnapped...but you have done a wonderful job of making Polanco sound beautiful and I really hope to be able to come and visit this year =)

Lorie said...

Your blog is just what I have been looking for!! My husband is considering a job that would relocate us to Mexico City and this is just the type of information I needed!

Rupal said...

Guera - the one weird thing has been just how non-mexican it is around here. Most of the newer apartment buildings here are super modern (almost institution-like) and have absolutely no Mexican flavor. The beautiful Mexican looking buildings/houses that we see from the street always seem to house stores and offices :-(

Nipa - Yeah, I hope you do make it down here before we leave Mexico for good. I know you have been here for work but you will see the city differently when you visit someone (and it is soooo reminiscent of India). Plus, it would be fun to hang out, get cheap massages and sit around drinking coffee all day long together. Trust me, you and I are small fish for any potential kidnappers (just don't take street taxis and you'll be fine).

Lorie - Thanks! If you do move here, you will love it. It took us a while to adjust but now we just don't want to leave. Let me know if you ever need more info.

fitziane said...

Hi,
I discovered your blog while browsing, and I love your style. You're going on my reader! Keep it up!
Hope you continue loving Mexico and that you won't be too surprised when you return to the US. Reverse culture shock is, well, shocking. Plus, after the first time you go back, no one is interested in your stories about life overseas, not even if you got kidnapped.
We've been overseas for 12 years and we love it. My children only know the US as the summer vacation place. We tell them it's a nice place to visit but we won't live there. :-)
My blog is at http://web.mac.com/fitziane. You're welcome to visit.

Purvi Vora said...

I think that we all have stereotypes when we visit some place new. Whether you can get over them totall depends on if you are willing to keep an open mind, have a positive attitude and accept the differences without judging, in the process discovering its beauty and unique culture. Or, you could walk around cribbing and complaining, merely reinforcing your stereotypes. No?