Burger King. MacDonald's, Sears, Kentucky Fried Chicken, TGI Fridays. And, always and everywhere, Coke and Pepsi.
Drive around any mid to large sized town in Mexico today, and, if you can easily believe you're in the States. Foreign brands are everywhere. You can go to a shopping center in Puebla, Mexico and feel like you're walking through the Westchester Mall in suburban New York.
These signs of modernization-I won't call it progress-are gradually erasing many visible differences between Mexico and the US. And while access to familiar products in familiar surroundings may help some expats chase away the homesick blues, appearances are deceiving. Underneath the surface this remains a very different country.
The similarities on the surface actually can produce unpleasant and unintended reactions. Mexico, by comparing itself to more thoroughly modernized societies, often comes across as a poor imitation. Expectations raised by the appearance of modernity frequently are dashed against an intransigent Mexican mediocrity. Things don't work, as you discover almost immediately. Service can be lousy. But you have to ask yourself: Is this why I came to Mexico in the first place? To go to the mall?
The road to a genuine appreciation of what this fascinating country has to offer lies in a quite different direction: away from Mexico's current, frantic and badly executed rush toward commercialization, and into places more remote, less pretentious, and, very often, set in areas of breath-taking natural beauty. Here the people retain their Mexicanidad in ways that are disappearing in the cities.
A tour through the Sierra Norte of Central Mexico, for example, will reveal both the distinctiveness and the richness of this culture. Here you will find old traditions still evident in the style of dress, the food, the language and customs. There are towns in the highlands where Spanish is many people's second language, their first being closer to the language of the Aztecs. And if you stay a while, you are also likely to find yourself welcomed with genuine warmth and hospitality that goes beyond even the traditional Mexican cortesia.
So, the first word of advice to any newly arrived expatriate or sensitive traveler to Mexico today is this: leave Cancun behind. Señor Frog's will do just fine without you. Pack your bags and head off for the quiet towns, the deserts, coastlines, jungles and Sunday village markets. You won't regret it.
And don't worry: if you really need that bottle of Heinz 57, there will probably be a Walmart nearby.
My name is John Lord. I am a teacher and a personal coach based in New York city and Puebla, Mexico. My personal mission is to help individuals who at mid-life are looking for proven ways to achieve personal transformation and success.
You can find out more about me and the work we are doing at:
http://anotherolddog.blogspot.com or in my new blog about living as an expat in Mexico at: