In my first book about issues involved in expatriating to Mexico, I wrote rather extensive diatribes about how American gringos need to understand that Mexico is not America. In elaborate detail, I spelled out exactly what I meant. Some readers think I went too far.
One lady from New York, which explains a great deal actually, was so incensed about how I emphasized Spanish is spoken in the town in which my wife and I live, she wrote a “review” on Amazon.com and threatened me with physical harm. She said she ought to come to Guanajuato, find me and slap me. But, cut her some slack. She’s from New York.
In the book, I tried to make heads or tails at the utterly shocked surprise gringos seem to go through when they find their way to central Mexico and discover that Spanish is the language of choice here. Many apparently are not aware that Mexicans chose Spanish as their preferred language centuries ago. They have been very satisfied with that decision ever since. You would think that by the way many gringos act when they finally find their way to Guanajuato, that this fact takes them totally by surprise.
What I want to know is how in the world did they manage to get to central Mexico in the first place?
Once, my wife was in the center of town running some errands. A frantic, panicked couple rushed up to her and asked, in trembling voices, if she spoke any English. You see, we gringos, pale-faced and pasty-legged, are dead ringers for English speakers. My wife found out that these two were in mild shock over the fact that they could not find anyone who spoke English in Guanajuato. They were rendered helpless linguistically.
Well, one has to ask just what they expected.
What I have postulated in almost everything I’ve put in print is that gringos, especially the American variety, simply do not get that Mexico is not America.
That has got to be the only logical explanation. That’s all I have been able to surmise in all the years we’ve been watching American gringos who miraculously find their way into central Mexico. Just what else can it be?
There was a time when going to a foreign country to visit or to live was truly a foreign experience. You flew into a place where everything was different. The language was strange, the customs baffling, the accommodations substandard compared with American hotels, and the food, though delicious, mostly threatened to make you sick. Not so anymore!
Now, when you fly into Vallarta or another resort town, you encounter everyone speaking English. From the cabbies to the hotel staff, everyone speaks English as though they were born and educated in the United States. The customs seem Americanized to the point of being indistinguishable from America. The hotels have been so Americanized. There are no differences about which to complain.
The food? Well, McDonalds or KFC is just a block away for your Americanized eating pleasure. If American tastes are what you came to Mexico to experience, then tasty American things are here in all their Red, White, and Blue Glory.
There is also all the American television you can stand, by cable and satellite, so you don’t have to miss any of your favorite shows.
Coming to a resort town in Mexico is like taking a trip from Kansas City to Saint Louis. Nothing changes. Nothing’s different. The foreign in the foreign country has been sterilized clean for American tastes.
All I am able to deduce is that this so confuses Americans, they think they are still in America. They thought they were going to some place foreign and what they hear is English being spoken massively, everywhere, and seemingly by everyone. They are confused.
Then, when they finally tire of watching the surf while drinking round after round of margaritas on sandy beaches, they think it’s time to explore more of Mexico.
The fun begins.
Just the other day, my pal Walter told me he was sitting in the plaza, El Jardin, when he heard an American tourist whip out his cell phone and start talking.
And, let me pause this story right here. This has to be another source of mind-numbing confusion for Americans. They come here and can call home on their cell phones as if they were at the mall and not in another country. But, I digress.
This guy called home to the U. S. of A to exclaim in a voice loud enough that he certainly could have been heard back in America without using one of its imperialistic technologies, that,
“…you just wouldn’t believe it. All these people speak Spanish and I can’t find a soul that speaks English. ”
This guy was in a state of red-faced confusion and anger that “not a soul spoke English in Guanajuato. ”
Americans apparently really do believe, and most sincerely, that because English is massively spoken in Mexican resort towns specifically designed for English-speaking monolinguals, that all of Mexico is bilingual. And, by the way Americans act out once they find out they are stuck in a land where Spanish is the language of choice, you would think it never occurred to them to open a Spanish phrase book and learn a few phrases before coming to Mexico.
There is point that must not be missed. America, supposedly the land of milk and honey for so many foreigners who want to live and work there, is massively monolingual. Less than 9% of Americans can speak a foreign language fluently enough to get by in a town like Guanajuato.
The horrible indictment is that in Mexican resort towns, in a country that most of my American friends would call a “third world country, ” where locals do not have the opportunity nor the money to take English lessons or study English in an English-speaking country, the locals become fluent in English.
They do not have the money, much less the opportunity, Americans have to become bilingual, yet they do.
The vast majority of American expatriates who move here, some having lived here for thirty years, cannot string enough Spanish words together to engage in the most rudimentary life tasks. They have the money, the time, and the opportunity to become bilingual and yet they don’t.
Do not miss that point!
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