February 15, 2017

Part 1: Five Skills Every Foreigner Should Master While Living in Mexico City

This is Part 1 of a 5 Part series...

If you have ever lived in a foreign country you know there are certain survival skills that will contribute to your overall health, well-being and sanity.  Here I present those that apply to Mexico City.

#1 Interpersonal Communication Skills  aka  Expressing Ideas
This is most commonly known as learning the local language.  Now I’ve already talked in recent posts about my limited linguistic depth related to speaking Español. I’m not sure I have the “language chip”, (taking a line from our good friend, David Telepak), although I strive to improve and continue to wrangle with it daily.

What is most important here is to cultivate your sense of humor and to rely on it often.  I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve tried to express myself in what I thought was Spanish - only to have a group of store employees burst out laughing then turn and walk away with shaking heads.  Thick skin is a requisite. 

It’s also important to know that some Spanish words have an undercover meaning.  Take for example, the word ahorita.  Ahora means "now", and ahorita means "right now".  But here in Mexico, what ahorita reeeeally means is:  maybe one day...but definitely not right now. 

For example, if a repairman says “I will fix the pipe explosion that is flooding your apartment ahorita”...expect to see him in a week to 10 days.

If you are without a smartphone or any sort of Internet translation device - the only fall back position is to charade it out.  One thing I know for sure, the game of charades is not a common entertainment pastime in Mexico.  

One day I was lost searching for a bowling alley to meet friends, without my phone.  Luckily I found a group of people nearby and stopped to ask for help.  I realized I didn’t know the words for “bowling alley” and therefore had no option but to charade it out.  And really, to properly represent the action of bowling a bowling ball, there is no choice but to act the whole thing out - the proper stance, the wind up, the back swing, taking the required 4 steps, the ball release in a crouching stance and then of course at the end, the massive hand and arm gestures with a "POOOOOOOOSH" sound effect that represents the ball striking and bowling pins flying. As I concluded with this theatric ten-pin portrayal, I looked with eager anticipation at my audience.  Aaaaaaand...nothing.  I got nothing.  The non-reaction.  Blank stares.  Nada. 

I mean, come on...I’d vote for the falling down laughing then turning and walking away reaction vs. the null set.  

Imagine trying to smoothly walk away with dignity from this scenario.  You can’t.  


The elusive bowling alley, finally found, bruised ego in tact... And note:  Bowling was actually spelled in English!!

Stay tuned for Part 2...Managing Risk!


  1. Can't you just buy a language chip implant these days?
    Would loved to have seen a video of that charade - so after all that, what IS the spanish word for bowling?

    1. Sally, thank you for the comment! And great idea...if you know how I can acquire a language chip, please share - need one pronto! And the Spanish word for bowling alley is bolera but note in the photo below, when I finally found it - it was written in English all along! Where is the EASY button?

  2. So glad I'm not the only one! One day at the grocery store the lady rolled her eyes and went and got another guy and I had to do it twice! He was clearly the patient employee and after a few tries I got my wax paper:)


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