Monday, July 06, 2015

Misconceptions about San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

 I read a lot.  Often articles about places in Mexico that I haven't visited as yet.  In review after review, there is often a comment about how wonderful the featured place is and sometimes a little bit about
San Miguel de Allende, my adopted home for the last 14+ years.  I find these comments, from time to time
to be inaccurate and sometimes downright incorrect.
LANGUAGE for instance.  In two separate pieces I read last week the comment was made that if you move to San Miguel de Allende, Spanish is not required!  Huh?  Well, possibly if you're only there for a short time and only going to use a taxi, check into a hotel or order food in a restaurant.  But, if you live there and
need to deal with every day things like paying utilities, reporting utilities not working, street lights not working, well you get my drift, you better be able to speak Spanish.  In addition, when going in small stores or to schools or just about any place, other then restaurants, you better be able to speak some Spanish.

It has only been very recently that if you called the emergency phone number for the police, that there is someone there who speaks English.  And, I'm not sure that is 24/7 but the luck of the draw.  You better be able to communicate your issue.

People move down here only able to order a beer or to take a taxi.  They are shocked, if while looking for a place to live, the person showing them the home (except for the US franchised real estate firms) do not speak English.

Plus there is always the situation if you don't understand Spanish that you will misinterpret what is being said.
That happens a lot here when people, myself included, don't pick up the nuance in the conversation.

If I have to do something, at this point, that is critically important, such as renew my visa or handle something at the courts or police department, typically I pay an interpreter or facilitator to accompany me.  It is worth the money not to have bad consequences.

It is most important, if you're going to live here, to invest the time and money in Spanish classes.  You'll be so glad you did.

NUMBER OF EXPATS   The articles that I have read have said that there are at least 10,000 expats in
San Miguel de Allende.  Trust me, there is no way there are that many ex-pats living full time in San Miguel in that range.  I asked the INM (Immigration) office manager and was told that in the entire area that they are responsible for, which covers factories in Silao, and other distant places, that there are not 10,000 expats.  He said the number actually in the town of San Miguel is closer to 5000 expats.  Even that number seems high to me.  Don't shoot the messenger, but I would say its more like 3000 here full time.  And, that is a stretch.  San Miguel itself has a population of 61,000 people.  The municipality, including the town is 140,000 inhabitants.  It is a very large municipality with many villages included.

COST OF LIVING  In some instances, such as real estate, San Miguel is more expensive then places like Lake Chapala or Patzcauro.  Meals in Mexico City, I have found, in many instances, to be less expensive then San Miguel.  With that said, however, unless you are going to the top ten most expensive restaurants here, you can definitely have a lunch with a drink for close to, if not less then, $10USD.

I had lunch yesterday at one of my most favorite dining places, Mansion de Montitlan, or as we affectionately refer to it as Gayle's place, and for a three course delicious individually prepared meal, with drink, home baked focaccia, and dessert, the cost was $24.50USD.  That meal in Houston would be $75USD....maybe a bit less.  Gayle's is a mid priced restaurant in San Miguel.

NUMBER OF TOURISTS  Everyone is always surprised when we tell them that the mix of our tourists is about 80% Mexican Nationals and 20% other.  Europeans, Asians, US Citizens and Canadians make up that 20%.  We have way more tourists on the weekends causing the streets to become very crowded with vehicular traffic.  Now that the roads that allow access to San Miguel have been greatly improved in the last eight years or so, the influx from Friday afternoon until the egress on Sunday night is startling.

WEATHER  Although most of the articles I come across refer to San Miguel as having "year round spring like weather", I always cringe when I read this.  Our spring and summer are mid February to mid June.  Once the summer rains come, our temps drop into the mid 70's.  I guess in parts of the country mid 70's are springlike, so it is all relative.

The months of October and part of November are Fall like and then in December, January and part of February the cold sets in.  For us, five days in a row of lows of 27 and highs of mid 50's is cold.  What, you say?  Well, consider that our houses are made without insulation.  Many are stone houses.  If not stone, brick.  Consider no insulation and no insulated windows.  I never did until the first winter here.  Quickly, I was out buying space heaters for every room possible.  Also warming blankets and flannel pajamas.  People have come down in the past to stay for the Christmas holidays but have left early due to the cold weather.

In people's minds, it is Mexico, it shouldn't be cold anywhere.  Ahhh, but we are at 6400 ft elevation.  (Think Colorado).  No, we almost never have snow, but it is cold.  There is snow around us up near Durango, Mexico or down around Mexico City and Puebla.  People are astounded when they see the photos as we did this past winter.

The purpose of this article is to dispel some of the misconceptions and myths of the articles.  It's also to say to do your homework before deciding to move here so you are not disappointed or dismayed.  The articles are interesting to read, but one must do their own research before making a life altering decision.

Even with all the misconceptions, I love living here.  That doesn't mean there aren't absolutely many wonderful places to live, but for me, this works!

Viva Mexico!


living.boondockingmexico said...

I agree with you on all points. But, I am anxious to start my trip down next week. Two reasons; the weather and, the weather! The heat here in the north is getting bad but I like eating out in SMA. Compared to Monterrey things are very inexpensive there including restaurants, taxis buses, etc.

Babs said...

Oh gosh, Chris, I owe you a huge apology. I forgot to get back with you! I asked around and the only thing I found was an RV park that is located between San Miguel and Delores Hidalgo. I'm so so sorry I didn't get back with you. Did you find a place?

DO let me know when you're settled and we can meet! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

For us, five days in a row of lows of 27 and highs of mid 50's is cold. What, you say?

I say that in much of the Northern US, those temperatures are "spring-like." Certainly those temps describe Boston spring to a "T," and I'll bet the same goes for Chicago, Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, most of Canada, much of Northern Europe, etc. Of course those temps would be quite uncomfortable without a centrally-heated and insulated house. But that's spring in the great, frozen north.

As for Spanish, I have to say I read a lot of blogs where the writers are unintentionally dropping hints about their lack of Spanish, and based on all those hints, it seems to me that there are plenty of people living in SMA with barely any Spanish at all. Certainly in all the restaurants I've been to in SMA (admittedly not a big number), the waiters were eager to serve me in English.

Unfortunately, I can't comment on how easy it is to get around in English anywhere else in Mexico, but at least in DF, many restaurants have menus in English, or both languages simultaneously.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where it'd be tough to get around speaking only Spanish.

Retired Teacher said...

Concerning temperatures...
Whenever I talk to Alejandro on the phone we compare weather. Mexico City has been consistently cooler than Cleveland the last several weeks. Back when I was a teacher, my travels to Mexico were always in the summer. People would say, "Isn't it awfully hot down there?", and I would say, "I go to Mexico to escape the hot Ohio summers." Of course at sea level it's a different story. In Mexico temperature is more about altitude than latitude.

norm said...

Nice post.
I went to Guatemala one winter with my brother-in-law for three months of travel, little spanish is spoken by either of us. Our family was laying odds on the likelihood of our return... We got on fine, the road stops were awkward but my paperwork was in order so down the road we went. That said, it is always much easier with Linda along to translate.

Babs said...

Kim, as I said in the post, as long as all you're doing is eating in restaurants or taking taxis, you'll be fine, it's the day to day living of dealing with regular life that you need Spanish, IMHO

As far as the weather, when its in the low 50's inside your house, to me and many others, it is cold. Often, it is warmer outside then inside the house even with the heaters on! BUT we don't have snow............

Bill you're so correct. It is all about altitude not latitude. Good point!

Norm, I LOVE Guatemala. I would love to have three months of travel there. In fact, I could live there - Spanish or not! Thanks for posting.

Shannon said...

These are all very valid misconceptions Barbara. I'm sure glad that I learned to speak Spanish before I had to venture into the Mexican medical system!!

Unknown said...

That is why it is so important to do your DD about a place. Funny thing tons of tourists flocked to Cuenca equador for its spring like temperatures and found it cold and rainy! Also people found the elevation difficult.
We have been to places in France, Italy, Spain and Crete where pointing was our best friend for language skills.
We read in a blog recently that a few tourists were at a restaurant and complained bitterly that the waiters did not speak english! Heck you are in their country, they get to speak their mother tongue.

Babs said...

Shannon, for sure! I remember when I had only been here a short time and had an emergency "episode" that required my hospitalization at De La Fe under the care of Dr. Alvarez the cardiologist. NO ONE spoke one word of English. It was pretty darn scary for me but thanks to the Doc, he saw that all was well a couple of times a day.

I now, maybe, would feel more confident.

Babs said...

Shelagh, it is highly unusual in a city to not find some waiter that can speak some English, but in small towns, NOT!

If you had come here the last five weeks, we have had a highly unusual amount of severe storms with lightning and thunder, high winds and lots of rain. Not to mention temps that have stayed in the mid 60's during the day!

Had I been a tourist who didn't know better, it is doubtful if I would want to have lived here. And, just yesterday, someone visiting talked about how the altitude was affecting him. He was extremely concerned. Had only been here for two days, but, was leaving. So, it can happen anywhere.

And, all the DD, can't prepare you for actually being there, I don't think.......
If you're not a "roll with the punches" person, you won't survive as an expat, IMHO.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

For me, as an expat living in Mexico for over 5 years, the question is not whether I **CAN** get by speaking only English... it is whether or not I **SHOULD** get by only speaking English.

I agree, it is possible to visit, but living here is another thing altogether. I challenge anyone to go into the cable company and explain to them that your router is misbehaving and you would like a service call... in English. (Now, my feeble attempts led to the lady inviting me around her desk and having a technical conversation via Google Translate... but I **STARTED** my conversation in Spanish!)

As I find here on the Caribbean, there is a VAST difference between visiting (even if for an extended period) and LIVING.. in Mexico.

Plus, the BEST restaurants IMHO are the hole in the wall, mom and pop places that do not cater to visitors. You will find it tremendously difficult to enjoy them if you don't at least TRY to speak Spanish...

...and I could not agree more.. if you are not a 'roll with the punches' type person, you will quickly grow to hate your experience and will not last!

Babs said...

Thanks David for your comments. We are very sympatico on our view points! Daily something happens that is so convoluted that some Spanish is required. I too am a
"hole in the wall" places off the beaten track........Just today traveling the backroads of Mexico, I was so glad that I could speak Spanish, even if it wasn't grammatically correct. The people of Mexico are so gracious about our mistakes and appreciate our efforts to honor their language.........Question, where are you "on the Caribbean"?

Droelma said...

A comment re: weather.
When I speak to people about the Mexico City weather, many don't understand that it gets regularly to almost freezing at night. Or they are surprised that I complain about 19C, because they don't understand ( and which I now clarify ) that I am talking about 19C inside ! I come from a mountain area in Germany and even if it is minus 10 degrees outside, it is always cozy warm inside.
This does usually not apply to Mexican homes. When it's 18C outside often it is not more than 19-20 C inside and that for me is the problem. Even heating makes no difference, because my home is built for warm weather, with all glass fronts in all rooms, open spaces for better ventilation and 330 cm high ceilings ( 11 foot ).
But just like you, I love living here and all the good and wonderful things outweigh the few complaints I have.

Babs said...

Yes, Droelma, as someone said, its not about latitude, it's about altitude! I have friends who wear gloves inside their homes because they can't get their hands warmed up.
We can always gauge the coldness by how many expats are sitting in the sun in the jardin during the day as it is often warmer outside then inside the houses!

Luckily I won't experience that this coming winter as I'm off to the beach for Jan and February. The people who have rented my house are from Vancouver, so I'm sure they are used to cold weather.......and I have plenty of heaters for both houses.