After writing about my current internal struggle between staying here in Mexico and moving back to Europe, a few people asked for more info about what it was I looking for, or what are the differences between living in Mexico vs Europe that matter for me. I figured I’d address that since it might help others.
Of course, noting the differences between life in Mexico and Europe is a bit like trying to compare tacos and pho.
To compound the problem, we generally have stuck to small- to medium-sized cities in Mexico partly because of their cost of living and charm and partly because larger Mexican cities tend to have massive amounts of pollution.
I don’t expect there to be similarities, and I’m not complaining because our medium-ish town lacks things that a city the size of Prague, for example, would have. That’s a big duh. I’m just answering the question about what are the differences and the things we miss.
Food & Water
Yes, I’m beginning with food. Are you really surprised?
Mexican food is absolutely delicious, and it’s hard to find really good Mexican food outside the country. Even reproducing it at home doesn’t quite give you the same flavors. The best Mexican I’ve ever had outside Mexico and the US was in Prague. Turns out they import a lot of their ingredients which explains why it was so darn good.
However, food diversity isn’t something that is easy to get in Mexico, especially in smaller cities. One can sometimes find a passable version of ethnic cuisine, but you’ll often also pay quite a bit more for it. In European grocery stores, we usually had a wide selection of foods like wild boar, goose, duck, ostrich, etc., something that is much less common here.
San Miguel has been better than some other Mexican towns I’ve been in thanks to having a sizable expat community.
When we lived in Brasov, Romania, which is of a similar size as San Miguel, we had a huge Carrefour hypermarket so it was really easy to get a lot more food diversity.
Needless to say, finding good cheese wasn’t an issue in Europe. In Mexico, I’ve managed to find a good bleu cheese and goat cheese, but that’s it.
I do enjoy not having to pay for condiments such as ketchup in restaurants in Mexico, though.
Not a big deal, but in most parts of Europe it’s safe to drink the tap water. In Mexico, that’s not always a good idea, and even if the water is potable it still may not be a good idea to drink it. For example, in the Yucatan the water is very heavy with minerals which can drastically increase the risk of developing kidney stones. Where we live in San Miguel, many areas have been found to have very high amounts of arsenic and fluoride.
This means that part of your daily life is making sure you either live somewhere that has a filtration system for drinking water, or you always make sure you have enough jugs of water. We have a service that I call who will deliver the large reusable jugs to the house. The price is extremely reasonable. I generally spend about $3 USD per week on purified water.
Getting Around & Away
It is really hard to beat Europe’s rail system and the bevy of low-cost airlines. Sometimes you can get really good deals on domestic flights in Mexico, but generally speaking if you want to go to another part of the country you’re looking at several hours in a bus.
Granted, if you want to pay more you can get some rather comfy buses, but you’re still stuck in a bus for hours and hours. Mexico is a big country.
We have 2 international airports near us, but they have very limited service and flights are often much more expensive than flying out of Mexico City (MEX), which is at least 5 hours away (from here to the airport) by bus. If we decide to fly somewhere out of MEX, we’re looking at $100 USD for the roundtrip bus trip for 2 people. Then we have to tack on the airfare.
In Brasov, it was a 2-1/2-hour train ride plus about 30 minutes in a bus or taxi to the nearest international airport, and that journey was a lot cheaper.
Geographically, it’s just easier to get around Europe. From most places you can be in another country in just over an hour which makes it so much easier to do a weekend trip somewhere new. Or to visit old favorites.
Flights from Mexico to other countries just aren’t as inexpensive. You can still find decent deals, but it’s hard to compare a $140pp roundtrip fare to the US or Central America to the 20-or-so roundtrip flights I found in Europe for under $100pp. And there were a ton that were under $70 USD.
It’s also very nice having a public transportation system that can be looked up online to find a time table, plan a route, etc. Even in many large cities in Mexico that still isn’t always available. And the buses often aren’t all that comfortable either. I will often pay for a taxi in San Miguel simply because my back and knees (lack of leg room) often hurt after even a 20-minute ride on the buses here.
Of course, you do pay more for that comfort and convenience in Europe. A bus ride in San Miguel costs about 27 cents USD so you can’t really expect too much.
European neighborhoods are generally better designed for ease of acquiring necessities. We usually had at least a couple of well-stocked small grocery stores within a couple of blocks of our home. Additionally, there was always a produce shop nearby and usually a bakery, too. We only went to the bigger stores about once every two weeks or so to stock up on items the smaller stores didn’t have.
In Mexico, you usually have a tiny mom & pop store nearby, but those are for the extreme basics. Our local shop often doesn’t even have milk or eggs (which is rare for most of the Mexican towns we’ve lived in). It’s about a 15-minute walk for us to get produce. Better than the US, but Europe spoiled us in that regard as well.
Clothes shopping in a smaller Mexican town is no breeze either. Especially if you aren’t the size or shape of a typical local. I had similar issues in some places in Europe for me because I’m on the big boy side of things, but we’ve even had problems finding Tigger clothes in Mexico because of his height. And they don’t usually last as long either.
Almost every Latin American country we’ve been in has a love affair with noise. It can make bus travel much less enjoyable because of the loud movie or music. San Miguel, in particular, loves things that go boom! In some ways it’s fun because you can pretty much bet that every single celebration will include fireworks. Or for no apparent reason at all.
On the other hand, I don’t appreciate the firecrackers so much at 3 and 6 AM.
Unless there’s a really big celebration, I haven’t found European cities and towns to be nearly as loud as here. Even in large cities like Paris, Prague, Vienna, etc., the neighborhood noise level goes down quite a bit at night.
In eateries in Europe, I also haven’t had to deal with a random passerby deciding they have a great voice who feels I should not only have to listen to their awful song but that I should also pay them for the privilege of having been tortured.
I know some people find that to be quaint, but when you live with it trust me it isn’t so cute.
It’s much easier to blend in when we’re in Europe. I can enjoy a meal or drink at an outdoor cafe without having someone trying to sell me something or ask me for money every 5 minutes. Of course, they aren’t shy and will even come inside a restaurant if you’re indoors.
In Mexico, I’ve seen people spot me from across the street and watched them cross a busy road to approach me with similar motives. They’ll even pass a crowd of better dressed non-gringos.
We like to eat at one of the lunch counters in the local market, and we’re often the only gringos around. I’ve seen someone spot us from quite a distance and come over to ask me for money.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not faulting them for trying to make a living. I get why they do it, and I get that I have privilege and opportunities they don’t get to enjoy, but it gets tiring being constantly in their crosshairs. Especially when you feel like you can’t even eat a meal in peace.
San Miguel is better with that than some places, but we both miss being able to simply be part of a crowd instead of feeling like a walking dollar sign.
Heat & a little thing
Central heating and/or radiators are not something Mexico does.
In Europe, we almost always had either a decent-sized water heater or an on-demand system. This meant you could enjoy a nice, hot shower for more than 10 minutes. And some decent water pressure, too.
Or even better you could soak the cold out of your bones while relaxing in a hot bath. Bathtubs are not particularly common here, though.
No, I wouldn’t cross a place off my list because bathtubs are rare finds, but they do get put on my list of things we both miss.
These are also the things you notice more when you’re living somewhere/doing long-term travel as compared to more vacation-type travel. Things that seem charming and endearing when you’re staying for a week can make you want to rip your hair out when you’re there for 2 months.
January 27, 2016
Wait did I hear they had good Mexican food in Prague?!?
January 28, 2016
There was one restaurant when we were there 2 years ago.
January 27, 2016
I love this comparision, and I am struggling with those differences, too. I can’t believe I just flew in a plane within Mexico (1 hr flight from Mexico City) but the entire journey took 12 hours. I’m getting ready to find a place easier to travel from, for sure!
January 28, 2016
Good gawd! Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Insane.