What I’ll miss about Mexico City
…and some things I won’t miss as much.
I spent this summer in Mexico, mostly in central Mexico City. My dog and I arrived on May 2, and we’re about to get back on a plane to Boston, where I’m starting grad school at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. It’s been an amazing summer, in an amazing city.
Here are the things I’ll miss about Mexico City and Mexico in general:
- Tacos. Really, any food starting with T (Tortas, tamales, tortillas, totopos, tostadas etc. — the famed “vitamin t” diet. Of course, there are downsides to this diet, like sluggishness and weight gain after 3 months straight of gorging myself on all of the tacos I could manage, but whatever. IT WAS WORTH IT.
- Extremely fresh produce and juice, for actual pennies. When you compare the price of a juice in the US — or more specifically, in San Francisco where I’m from, it’s painful. Just makes me want to cry.
- People who say hello, good morning, good afternoon, goodbye, excuse me, thank you — in nearly every interaction. Friendly and polite interactions. Certainly, this goes too far in some instances, and I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with the language of servitude that exists here in some transactions, (e.g. “para servirle” or “to serve you”), but in general, daily interactions on the street are much friendlier. San Francisco in particular is incredibly impersonal. Everyone, including myself, always has their eyes on their phone, and interactions are much colder.
- Living with my friends. I had the opportunity to live with some amazing friends, in some cases who I haven’t seen in years. It’s been so awesome to connect with women who are like my sisters. I’ll miss them — and some other people I was lucky enough to meet here!
- Speaking Spanish. I’ve studied Spanish for so many years — since middle school, if my memory serves me correctly. I even spent a couple of months in Cuba back in the day. After that trip and years of intense study, I was pretty good at Spanish, but then I messed everything up by learning German. It’s been awesome to be able to speak Spanish every day and to understand Mexican Spanish spoken at a normal speed, with all of the colorful local slang.
- Easy access to beautiful countryside and beaches. Mexico is really amazing. There are so many different climate zones and places to go. I barely scratched the surface — at this point, on this trip and on prior trips, I’ve been to San Cristóbol de las Casas, San Miguel de Allende, Tepotzlán, Taxco, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Vallarta, Sayulita, Punta de Mita and Los Cabos, as well as of course some parts of Mexico City. It’s massive. Every place is different, ranging from super high in the mountains, cold and rainy to tropical beaches.
- A great bike share program. Mexico City has a really wonderful bike share program — almost everywhere in the city center has bike stations. Of course, the traffic is bad, but in many cases it’s very convenient to just take a bike.
- Geographic arbitrage. I suppose I should feel ashamed about this one, a bit — it’s incredibly cheap for an American to live here, if you’re earning US dollars. But, on the other hand, I’m spending pesos (many) here, supporting the local economy. So I hope it’s a win-win.
There are plenty of other amazing things about this city — including the vibrant art scene. Small plug for my friends’ company, AtravesARTE. They create customized contemporary art travel experiences, and I’m pretty sure they know absolutely everyone in the art world here in Mexico City. Check them out!
What I’m not going to miss — and what was uncomfortable:
- The lack of reliable public services. Water, gas and power can be unreliable even in the most gentrified neighborhoods. While service is usually fast and friendly, we have to order natural gas every month or so to be delivered by truck — and while the water was fine when I was here, service is not totally consistent. It’s a massive city without reliable public services — and that’s just in the rich neighborhoods. Garbage is a negotiated thing. Some neighborhoods and parks have trash cans and frequent garbage removal, some not.
- Traffic, traffic, traffic. Well, to be fair, the Bay Area is also being crushed under traffic nowadays. Just like most other big cities — public transit was an afterthought, and they’re struggling to expand and upgrade it where it’s needed the most. Traffic in Mexico City is crippling. Along with this, pollution is of course quite bad, although since it rains almost every afternoon in the summer, the air doesn’t seem too bad to me most days.
- Standing out in a crowd. Honestly, I think every white person should experience this at some point — what it really feels like to be “other”. Normally when I walk down the street in San Francisco, I see lots of people who look like me. No one stares. No one makes comments. While there are plenty of light-skinned people here in the richer neighborhoods of Mexico City, like Condesa, Roma and Polanco, I still stand out, and I still experience what it’s like to feel conspicuous, giving me a tiny taste of what it might be like for a person of color in some parts of the US. This is good for awareness and humility.
- Shopping. I had no idea that clothing, shoes and other non-food items were so expensive in Mexico. This has been an absolute blessing in disguise, because I significantly reduced the amount I spend on unnecessary stuff, and became aware of how much money I was wasting on Amazon et al. At the same time, it’s clear that Mexicans are having to pay unfair taxes and increased prices for goods that are (probably artificially) cheap in the US. Most middle-class and above Mexicans seem to go to the US to buy clothes — that’s how much cheaper they are.
- Any type of food other than Mexican or American. I miss sushi. I miss Californian cuisine, Thai food, Lebanese, Ethiopian…you name it. Sure, there are restaurants here and there, but they’re just not the same. I’ve been incredibly spoiled from living in the Bay Area, with some of the best food in the world. That said, you can definitely get a great burger in Mexico City.
There’s so much more to this place than my limited experience, but those are the things that stand out the most right now. I didn’t touch on the government/political situation, which is unfortunate to say the least — in my experience, Mexico is a beautiful country with wonderful people, and my fervent hope is that the people will continue to push back against the corrupt regime.
Mexico City is absolutely worth a visit, and can even be a long weekend from most parts of the US — it’s about 4.5 hours by air from SF and Boston. And if you are someone who has the ability to work remotely and you’re looking for a change of scenery — it’s a great option.
Thank you for letting me enjoy your city! Gracias por todo, DF. ❤
P.S. Haha — I actually cannot believe I left this out. I must have been experiencing temporary amnesia from insomnia.
Things I ABSOLUTELY HATE:
- Mosquitoes. And the infuriating lack of screens on windows. This makes me drop any pretense of trying to understand and adapt to the culture. Mosquitoes are creatures sent from hell, by satan, to make my life miserable. I don’t understand for a second why most houses don’t appear to have screens on their windows. Screens keep evil mosquitoes out. Get them. Please. If/when I live here again, my first act will be to cover all windows with screens immediately, damn the cost. That’s it!