Expat Adventures Part II: So you think you can… telephone?

My very favourite student M. left me. Not because I am such a terrible teacher, or so he says (although he consistently referred to my classes as “German curse” instead of “course”), but because he moved to Germany to be with his German wife.

The poor guy really had to pay for falling in love with a German lady. Literally. First, he had to learn German in order to pass a German test for his visa. Once he had moved to Germany, he then had to attend an integration course of 645 classes!

Moving to Mexico is a lot easier. However, if there were integration classes there are a few points I think they should cover, like e.g.:

  • The various kinds of chili peppers. So your eyes won’t pop out because you thought it a good idea to take a big spoonful of salsa habanera.
  • How to bribe a policeman.
  • How to kill a scorpion.
  • Tequila tasting.
  • How to increase resistance to non-stop mariachi music for hours. Might come in handy if you decide to spend some time in the delivery room of a local hospital.
  • Differences between tacos, tortillas & friends.
  • Basic knowledge of (Mexican) Spanish. For those expats who have been living here for years and still don’t speak a single sentence are just unbearable.
  • How to make a phone call.

Say what? – Yes, how to make a phone call.

My son is a lot smarter than me in that he uses his cell phone only.

My son is a lot smarter than me in that he uses his cell phone only.

I never understand how people here do it, and whenever I bring up the subject it causes hysterical giggles from everybody. The best thing is to not use a landline phone at all, because if you do you need to use a whole lot of prefixes that are not required if you use a mobile phone. But if you are a little old fashioned and belong to a generation that’s still used to using landline phones (“Oh, I’d rather use landline, mobile is far too expensive!” Sounds familiar? Welcome to the club…), and if you have just moved to Mexico, this is for you:

Long distance call landline to landline: 01 + area code + phone number

Long distance call landline to mobile: 045 + area code + phone number

Local call landline to mobile: 044 + area code + phone number

Local call landline to landline: no prefix, no area code

Since you cannot tell from the number whether it’s a mobile or landline phone, smart people always point out which is which. But if you don’t know what number you were given, you just have to try the different prefixes. That’s no big drama, but again it shows that Mexico is not on your side if you are in a hurry.

And if you want somebody from outside Mexico to call your Mexican cell phone, make sure they dial a 01 between country code and area code. This doesn’t apply for your landline phone. See, it’s a good thing to have a landline phone, even if only for incoming calls from abroad.

On second thought, using a banana might be just as effective.






Last Year was just 5 Minutes ago, or: Mexican Yip Yips

Even if some people will hate me even more for saying this, I claim that time specifications of any kind should be considered redundant in Mexican Spanish, hence could be deleted from the dictionary. Let me explain:

Everybody knows that the Mexican “mañana” can actually mean anything from “tomorrow” to “never”. I also learned that there is a difference between “en un rato” and “en un ratito” which may be translated into “in a while” and “in a bit”. At first, when someone told me “I’ll be there en un rato” I expected that someone to show up within the next hour. But in fact, “un rato” is not much different from “mañana” as it can mean “in a few hours” or “never”, whereas “un ratito” seems to mean at least “today”.

Well, time is relative anyway, isn’t it? I was reminded of that today when a friend of mine announced she’d swing by for breakfast for all of a sudden I remembered that our doorbell is broken so she had to call me upon arrival for me to open the door. You would think a broken doorbell could easily be fixed when in fact, I’ve been waiting for those repair guys for 5 minutes now.

It all started when we moved in here in October and I quickly discovered that our doorbell wasn’t working. So I talked to our property management and they promised to send handyman R. over. He came en un rato which in this case meant the next day and uninstalled the interphone unit. He then said he needed to go and buy a missing tool in a shop that’s just down the street, so he’d be back in half an hour.

At 9 pm I sensed that R. probably wouldn’t show up again. Yes, sometimes I am a bit slow. 2 days later I decided to phone the office again, maybe there had been a misunderstanding of some sort. The lady told me to stay in for she would send him over again. En un rato.

To cut a long story short, he showed up a few days and many phone calls later, installed a new interphone and as that didn’t work either, he shrugged his shoulders and told me the system was faulty in the entire building. Nothing that could be done about it. We both sighed, and to me that was the end of the story.

However, a few weeks later I got an angry text from the lady at the property management company asking me why I wouldn’t open the door. As I was driving on the highway at that time, I called her a little later and explained to her I was out. Bummer. Apparently, some other handyman had decided to stop by and take a closer look at the matter. We made a new appointment for the following day which I didn’t take too seriously, but sure enough at 7pm somebody knocked on my door. 2 guys entered, examined the interphone and told me that it was the wrong device, that we were the only apartment having this problem, and could I please hand them the old unit. When I informed them that R. had taken that one, they deliberated for quite a while, very much to my delight bearing a striking resemblance to the Sesame Street “yip yip” Martians. Finally, one of the yip yips told me to stay put, they’d be back in 5 minutes.

Well, I am waiting. Boy, those are the longest 5 minutes of my life!


Merry Christmas from Playa!

Today I took a little walk to capture a few Christmas impressions. Have a look!


This Christmas tree is standing in our stylish new mall “Alegria”.


This tree is in front of our Palacio Municipal. The nativity scene includes a horse and an elephant!


These statues made from sand are really impressive and a total tourist attraction down at the ferry terminal.


Wishing you a wonderful Christmas wherever you are!

It’s all fun and games at the Mayan Riviera – or is it?

I’ve just come downstairs, sweaty and exhausted. It’s a good thing you can’t see me, believe me. Why am I sweaty? Not because I did some kick-ass workout, let me tell you. No, I was mopping up water. You see, it started raining again. After our last rainy adventure, Mr. R. discovered that those geniuses of builders built in the door leading to the roof top the wrong way, so the outside is on the inside and vice versa. So the little thingy that is supposed to keep the water out is on the inside. How very convenient. At least the house is waterproof from the inside.

That's the paradise part of the deal!

That’s the paradise part of the deal.

And while I was merrily mopping and moping, I was thinking of a conversation I recently had with a friend of mine,  a Mexican lady who also used to live abroad, but came back with her European husband to try how they’d like living here. She surprised me by telling me that she would actually prefer to live someplace else, but that her husband is the one who refuses to leave. And I can see why, I mean, it is just stunning out there with the turquoise sea, the white beaches and all. People are genuinely friendly, everything and everyone is pretty relaxed. If you are into golfing and water sports, you can’t go wrong either.

What I understand is that this area is unlike every other area in Mexico – at least, that’s what everybody tells me. When I ask people from different parts of Mexico how they like living here, a lot of them say, “I like it, because I have a job.” Or, “I like it, because this area is so safe.”  It all seems pretty welcoming at first glance, and there are most certainly beautiful things to enjoy here. But like everything and everywhere: Nothing is perfect!

Another friend of mine put it in a nutshell when she said, “This place is paradise – if you get the chance to get away on a regular basis.” And yes, I do know a lot of expats who spend about 6 months of the year abroad and just come back to relax.

I remember when we got here, I felt like this was going to be one big vacation. And I was joking around that my husband’s company now made up for our honeymoon we once had to cut short in order to move to Seattle. Well, we had our honeymoon here for about 2 months – which definitely made up for the lost time on Hawaii. Then we moved out of the resort and into our new home, and that’s when I got a first glimpse of everyday life.

Yes, there are things, nobody tells you before you move to the Riviera Maya.

So if you consider living here, this checklist might help you to determine whether you are ready for this Caribbean adventure or not:

A bit of water.

A bit of water.

Play rainy season:

  •  Set your entire house under water and let the water stand over night. Remove water in the morning. Repeat for a week and see how you like the experience.
  •  Put on a cocktail dress, squeeze your feet into high heels and put on lipstick. Then head to the nearest spa and request access to the steam room. Stay in there for at least 3 hours. Maybe you can persuade someone to pour you a glass of white wine so you get the full cocktail hour experience.
  • Take your car to the next public open air pool and drive through the water for an hour. Maybe you can get some mariachi radio station to keep you entertained?

Test your patience muscle:

  • Ask a friend to cut off your electricity and then make a plumber appointment for you within the next 3 days without telling you when. Sit around and wait and see if you like it.
  • Do the same thing with the water supply.

Ready for some fun?

  • Visit the next funfair and hop on the bumper cars. Drive around for an hour to pretend it’s rush hour in the city.
  • If you intend to give birth in Mexico or undergo any kind of surgery, ask some friends to strip you to a bed for the amount of time that procedure would take and play some Mariachi music real loud.
  • Try to find someone who can set loose cockroaches, millipedes, geckos and whatnot in your home. Maybe in addition, they can throw in a tarantula as special surprise. Also, try to raise ants in your kitchen.
  • Invite your friends for a supermarket scavenger hunt: Everyone goes and hides products in various supermarkets in town. Then hand out and receive shopping lists and go look for those products. This might even add a more festive note to the Easter holidays.
  • And last, but not least, as we must not forget that this a touristy area: Go to a typical spring break location and mingle with the teenagers. Ask some random adults to come too and hand out free liquor. Lean back and enjoy.

Oh dear, have to rush. It started to rain again!

Need an Interpreter? Call Superdad!

Being an expat often includes learning a foreign language and we all have different learning styles. When I was trained to be a language teacher, I was taught that there are three different types of students: Some monitor very closely what they are saying (we used the expression “filter”), i.e. prior to speaking they think it all through in order not to make any mistake. They try to figure out the right sentence structure, the right tense, and of course the right vocabulary. If in doubt, they rather don’t talk at all. I belong to that category, and may I say, it doesn’t help. I sometimes find myself standing vis-à-vis of someone and am almost bursting with what I want to say, yet I only nod or shake my head, looking rather foolish, while my brain is oh so busy trying to find the right tense. Once the threat chance of a conversation has passed, I believe to come up with the right answer and think about what I could have said and how clever a remark it would have been. Instead, everybody must be under the impression that I am the biggest bore on earth. Or that I might have swallowed my tongue. It’s pathetic. What helps, though, is a glass of wine – turns the unforgiving filter into a soft focus!

Like that one evening in Madrid: I went to a college there just for the duration of my holidays to improve my Spanish. My group included one guy from Scotland, one from England, one from Ireland, a Canadian girl and a giggling Chinese guy who had a fetish for large noses which I was very grateful for, since he was the only person ever who made me believe that my nose was tiny. But I digress. What I wanted to say was that apart from those few lessons in the mornings, we hardly spoke any Spanish, and I still felt very shy displaying my poor knowledge of the language in front of my brother who was living in Madrid at that time. However, wise man that he is, he took me dancing in the evening and bought me a couple of drinks – oh boy, was I fluent in Spanish! So, dear over-users of this annoying language filter: Start drinking! And yes, this is the perfect excuse for every expat to get drunk every now and then!

No drinking excuse for people who belong to the remaining two categories, I am afraid. There are those who do use this filter but at the same time aren’t afraid of making mistakes – surely the most desirable group. Yet a dull subject for a post. And then there are those who hardly ever use their filter but who just talk without fear. Mr. R. is one of those, and though I sometimes found it rather entertaining to listen to him when we first arrived in Mexico and he didn’t speak a word of Spanish, I first and foremost admired him for his courage. The thing is, somehow everybody understands, and that’s the main thing, isn’t it?

Another person who belongs to the third category is my dad. My dad moved to Latvia when he was 6 and didn’t speak Latvian. That made him a target for bullies, and the poor guy got beat up at school every day, but luckily he managed to become fluent very quickly. When he moved back to Germany at the age of 18, he didn’t speak German but again picked up the language pretty fast. So he naturally is used to making himself understood and overcoming his fear of making mistakes. I guess that’s the reason why he can talk to ANYBODY. Like when he was here and I overheard him chatting with the gardeners. Since he had been doing the gardening, he wanted to let them know there was no need to remove leaves or trim hedges, but he only wanted them to mow the lawn. But how do you say that in Spanish when you don’t speak the language? I would of course first consult the dictionary to look up the right vocabulary, my dad however just said, “No, no, nix clean – cut!” and he was waving his arms, pointing here and there, and the gardeners nodded and understood.

The same thing happened with the pool boy. There they were, chatting like two old friends, my dad using a mix of English, German and some Spanish words like si and claro, and all went well. In fact, those workers got so fond of him that they always requested to talk to him and I could clearly feel that they had a lot more confidence in him than in me.

My dad wouldn’t have needed an interpreter for this, that’s for sure!

But it didn’t come as a surprise to me. Ever since that one Christmas I knew that my dad had a special talent in making himself understood: My sister-in-law’s sister from Madrid was visiting, and since she was studying German, we tried our best to speak slowly and clearly. So in an attempt to make conversation, I asked her very politely whether her parents had been to Germany yet. Que? “Have your parents ever been to Germany?” Que? That’s when my dad lost his patience with me and said, “Mama – Papa – Alemania – eh?”, and with the “eh”, he threw his arms up in the air which looked very Mediterranean, and L. beamed at him and said No, and my dad looked at me and said, “See, that’s not so difficult, is it?” Right he is!

Language Mishaps (or: How I turned my brother into a smurf)

Starting a new life in a strange country with a different language can be many things. It can be scary, exciting, intimidating, and: highly amusing when you apparently say the weirdest things and thus confuse everybody around you.

About a year ago, I already told you about my biggest language mishaps which I am still laughing about. Of course, and luckily so, my language skills have improved, but sometimes I miss those funny incidents. So when they do happen and I realize it, those just make my day!


May I introduce my brother. (Photo credit: momono)

Like the other day when I had a hairdresser appointment. After almost 2 years, my hair stylist Ixchel and I have developped kind of a friendship, and we share a lot of personal stuff with each other. Ixchel is very excited about the arrival of Mr. R. Jr. and doesn’t get tired of picturing what he might look like. That’s why she tends to ask me in detail about every single family member. We must be quite an exotic bunch to her, especially my redhead, fair-skinned grandmother fascinates her a great deal. Last time, I wanted to tell her about my brother who has a slightly darker skin which would be “piel morena”. However, instead of “morena” I said “morada” which almost FELT strange on my tongue, but I couldn’t figure out what went wrong. Ixchel started laughing, tears were streaming down her face, and she could hardly breathe. Once she caught her breath again, she pointed at my purple bag and gasped, “That’s morada”. So now my poor brother looks like a modern purple take on a smurf… Maybe I should get him a smurf hat for his birthday…

As a teacher of course, I have to get a better grip on myself when my students get things mixed up. Like one day when my student turned an “important man” into an “impotent man”. I really had to pinch myself not to burst out laughing! Or another student who constantly referred to the “English course” as “English curse” – well, at least, I hope he meant “course”!

Do you sometimes get confused by a new language? Any funny slip of tongue lately?

Grocery Hunt, Part II

It’s already 2 weeks into the new year, and slowly, supermarkets are starting to stack up on products again. Before, many shelves had been empty, fruit and vegetables seemed quite rotten. But at least there was a sense of community while we were all browsing through mushy tomatoes to find a few good ones. Chitchat shouldn’t be underestimated, right?

Yesterday I spent an hour hunting down 3 jars of unsweetened yogurt, one of the few essentials I feel I can barely live without. Which is crap, of course, I mean, I have never heard of anyone dying of yogurt shortage, but hey, you never know.

In a previous post, I already expressed my frustration about the daily grocery hunt. However, since then I feel that things here have improved, we actually get more stuff more frequently, and I have no idea why (certainly not because of my little blogpost, but it almost seemed like magic!). But still, some days should be avoided when it comes to grocery shopping, like payday on every 1st and 15th of the month or apparently the beginning of a new year, that’s when you have to queue up for hours, yet end up getting nothing.

And while this fact can be annoying, it also makes me realize how spoilt we all are being used to getting anything anytime. In Seattle, we were very lucky to have a World Market just around the corner, so we could even buy German gingerbread and marzipan for Christmas. And yes, it is nice to get a touch of home every now and then. As long as it is only now and then, because otherwise, things become ordinary and we enjoy them much less. Same goes for produce, I find. I don’t want to eat strawberries all year round, even though it is possible. For me, strawberries require sunshine, eating them in winter feels just wrong.

483500_10151251065709861_213020058_nHere, I came to appreciate some things more than I did before. Like the other day when I discovered stroopwafels, most delicious Dutch caramel wafers that always take me back to a dreary autumn day in a suburb of Amsterdam where I met with a colleague to sort things out for a big promotion. There we were in this large, dusty warehouse, getting things into order while it was the raindrops kept lashing against the window panes and the cold crept in, and we felt tired and terribly dirty, and then this lady popped up with mugs of hot tea and stroopwafels that we placed on top of the cups so the caramel got all soft and chewy inside – it tasted like heaven.

So now I spotted them here and bought a pack (yes, I restrained myself!), but I know this is like a one-time thing only and not the standard assortment, and actually, I am glad for they remain special and this is something so rare nowadays! We are so used to having access to everything all the time that everything has become more common.

English: A pile of Maltesers candies and one s...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember when I was little and we were travelling to England, we were always looking forward to Maltesers, those little round things that have crunchy biscuit on the inside and milk chocolate on the outside, and to Walkers shortbread. I don’t know why but English sweets always tasted so much better than what we had in Germany. .

A few years later, I was excited to see that you could actually buy Maltesers and shortbread in Germany, too, but the truth is that they became just ordinary things after a while. Well, luckily, I suppose, otherwise I would have turned into a big fat Malteser ball myself!

My first attempt at bagels - I feel I have improved since then...

My first attempt at bagels – I feel I have improved since then…

So yes, undoubtedly there are a few things that I would like to have access to on a daily basis, like e.g. unsweetened yogurt. Other things I learned to make myself like bagels which frankly are a pain in the a** to make, BUT our Sunday bagels now are a real treat. (Come to think of it, maybe I should get out my old yogurt maker and make my own yogurt again…) And with other things I just have to be patient and wait until we are in the respective country again – which is not too bad given that some things never taste right anywhere else, like Swiss cheese fondue. Which we can buy here, by the way, but only the instant version that Mr. R. and I snobbishly sneer at.

How about you? Do you miss things from home? Or do you actually feel you get to appreciate some things more because you cannot get them just anytime?