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The Yin And Yang Of Retiring At Lake Chapala

Cindy Paul

What to do with those pesky cultural contradictions?

For some people, taking the plunge and retiring in Mexico turns out to be a bit more than they can handle. New Yorkers, for example, often do not cope well with the laissez-faire attitude that seems to permeate Latin living. They can't believe what they see with their own eyes, some of them. You mean they let people cut in line in this country? Why? They actually encourage their children to run and play in restaurants? But why? They can stop their cars in the middle of the street and make everybody wait while they talk to a friend on the sidewalk? But why, oh why?

The usual "gringo" coping mechanisms don't seem to hold water here, either. Raising one's voice, trying to reason to make "them" see the light, even frowning are all met with Gibralteresque resistance. Mexicans see such displays as immature and certainly don't cotton to the idea that they should be the ones doing the changing, especially in their own country. Expats, on the other hand, often take the attitude that since they have the gold, they should rule. The proud and nationalistic Mexican, far ahead of gringos when it comes to self-esteem, doesn't see things that way. Unlike Americans and Canadians, Mexicans do not put money ahead of their principles maybe that's why many of them don't have much of it.

What to do with these pesky cultural contradictions?

I've lived in the Lake Chapala area for almost 30 years now and had the opportunity to watch the way people adapt. Those expats who possess the wisdom of age, a calm heart, an easy-going acceptance of life, or a combination of all three are usually able to consciously adjust just fine. These folks are capable of choosing a live-and-let-live way to cope and seem to be much happier for it. On the other hand, the proverbial New Yorker (a grossly simplified stereotype, but you get the idea) inevitably has a much more difficult time of it.

Me, I'm a type AAAA personality, even though I was raised in kicked-back San Diego, and long ago accepted the idea that I'll never understand or be altogether happy about the Mexican ways that grate on my own value system. But at least I know enough not to bark at the waiter. God knows what he'd do to my food before bringing it!

There are, however, so many other little problems that seem to constantly crop up when one has retired to a foreign country, that they usually take precedence over the deeper, but more elusive, irritations. How can you find one of those two-step ladders with a handle on top for your kitchen? Who can you trust to design a drainage ditch that might work? Where does one go for a pedicure that won't result in toe-bandages? Is your mechanic ripping you off or isn't he?

These and other pressing questions are, more often than not, the kinds of things that rule our retirement days here in the depths of Mexico. One of the easiest solutions is to ask your gringo friends. Web boards, blogs and online forums can be great sources of information and problem solving. And experience, that universal teacher, is always the best companion for seekers of truth and justice.

Retiring at Lake Chapala is not for the faint of heart, but the rewards are so vast that most of us hang in there. Mexico, while definitely run in a casual style, is full of wonderful surprises. The open-minded retiree can learn much by adopting the gentle, happy way of life of almost every Mexican they see. There are flowers everywhere, huge, showy fabulous flowers. The weather is almost perfect, an excellent reason all on its own to retire in the Chapala area. And the lake is a constant source of glorious beauty, a force that both soothes and nourishes the lucky Lake Chapala retiree day and night, night and day.

All in all, we're here, and we stay, because the grass really is greener. And we know it, too.

Published or Updated on: April 30, 2007 by Cindy Paul © 2008
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