Howdy chicos und meninas,
So unless you’ve managed to avoid any sort of contact with me and my Facebook profile for the past couple of years (you lucky thing, you), you will already be aware that in 2010 I ventured out to live for a year in the land of cacti, fiestas and tequila, also referred to as ‘Mexico’, as part of my university studies. Now a couple of weeks into my séjour in Rennes, crepes have been eaten (greedily), lessons have been taught (shakily) and French has been spoken (poorly), and as is natural, I’ve begun drawing comparisons between two very different experiences abroad.
Of course, as countries, France and Mexico couldn’t be any less similar to one another. Geographically, socially, politically – they’re worlds apart. And indeed, my experiences in both countries have, themselves, varied considerably. Within my first seventeen days in Mexico I’d been to a Mexican rock concert, been invited to be a judge at an “English festival” and experienced homesickness to a degree I had never thought possible for me, all whilst being drenched in my own sweat. Conversely, my first seventeen days in France have revolved mainly around flat-hunting, desperately sorting out administrative issues such as a bank account, and working out how the hell to teach English to French students, all whilst being drenched by the Breton rain.
Neither of these experiences would be ‘easy’ for anyone, and certainly they weren’t/aren’t for me! But what follows is a comparison of the most salient areas of concern when moving abroad – in an attempt to judge which is less tricky; moving to France, or moving to Mexico.
Whilst the idea of moving to a country where the average winter temperature is in the high twenties might seem appealing to some of you, as someone of English and Irish descent, with skin so pale it makes many recoil in abject horro, I have to say, the heat is not all that it’s cracked up to be. OK, so we’re not talking unbearable, Sahara Desert heat here – but I feel obliged to stress that cultural conventions also play a role, simply, it is just not considered normal in Mexico to wear summer attire outside the month of May. Maybe it’s just the Latino blood, but Mexicans don’t seem to feel the heat like us poor Anglo-Saxon types from chillier parts. As such, if you want to fit in (i.e. avoid attracting even more attention to yourself as an ambling milk bottle), you can forget shorts and t-shirts. That’s right – it’s jeans, jumpers and even winter coats in 25 degrees. Still sound good? We don’t have this issue in France. I live in Brittany, a region mocked by the French and by themselves for having shit weather, i.e. rain, and whose thermometers probably don’t even go up to 25. Indeed, we are not too far geographically from the UK, the weather here is very much like in England: windy and rainy, then randomly sunny before being randomly cold – in short; it’s mixed and unpredictable. Conversely, in Mexico I went seven months without seeing a drop of rain. OK, so I act constant sunshine is a real burden – that’s not really the case. In fact, on the whole, I do prefer Mexican weather. Sure, it has its disadvantages – the lack of rain makes Mexico fairly devoid of greenery (unless they’ve got fancy sprinklers installed), fans become indispensable tools that you’ve step over your dead mother’s body to get (not really, love you mum!) and buying about twenty bottles of water a day is less than ideal, but once you’re used to all that it beats the cold. Plus, it rains shitloads in July there anyway, so even rainophiles eventually get their fill. But in terms of moving to a new country as a Briton, it’s a damn sight easier going to a country, for the most part, puddles on the ground are due to the rain and not your sweat. France wins this one.
MEXICO 0 -1 FRANCE
This one is pretty easy. France is expensive. I mean seriously, I’m not even in a big city like Paris and, every time I get lunch, it’s still about six euros. Long gone are the days of the £3.29 Boot’s meal deal. A formule at a creperie will invariably cost about 12 euros. Forget your “Beer and a burger” at ‘spoons for a fiver. And don’t even get me started on phone deals – nobody seems to pay less than 20 euros here, for which they are granted about 17 texts and 3 minutes of call-time a month. Conversely, whilst you’re not going to be able to invest in anything too grand in Mexico on a limited budget, you can still live very well on less money. A session at your local taquería (Tacos Pedro in Aguascalientes was my preferred eatery) will only set you back about £1.50 – even if you’re a fatty like me and order about three or four rounds. I brought 1,000 euros to France with me, and I wish I’d brought more – if I’d taken the same amount to Mexico in October 2010 I’d probably have some left over to buy people Christmas presents. Of course, once you’re established in the country, your income will reflect the economy of the area, so that feeling of ‘richness’ will soon level out. But for now, I award the point to Mexico.
MEXICO 1 -1 FRANCE
This one’s a tad trickier to evaluate because I arrived in Mexico with a much lower level of Spanish than my current level of French. Not only was I baffled when people told me I was a ‘strawberry’ and advised me not to ‘suck’ nor to ‘stain’, but many a Mexican eyebrow was raised when I came out with gems such as “I’m going to fuck my masturbate” (Voy a coger mi chaqueta) and “I’ll ring you if I touch myself” (Te marco si me toco). Obviously, I was always going to have more linguistic problems there than I do here in France. Nonetheless, it seems apparent to me that a more linguistically-challenging experience awaits you in Mexico than in France – and here’s why. Like in many European countries, there are people from all over the world living in France. Of course, you hear and speak a lot of French, but the English language is also (irritatingly!) totally abundant here. In fact, I have heard more English the past two days in Rennes than I think I did in an entire year in Aguascalientes. Americans, Australians, Irish, British, you name it, we got it. Not only are there several native speakers of English in my department, there’s even an “authentic Irish pub”, which is a must for any Francophobe, but to my mind the last place you’d want to go in France. In short, contrary to the widespread belief that the French are very fond of their country and their language, surviving socially here without the lingo is completely doable. Meanwhile, in Mexico, at least outside tourist hotspots, you’ve got no choice but to speak Spanish. Of course, there are many people who speak English, but there are very few native speakers. I basically had two Anglophone friends during my entire year in Aguascalientes; and if it weren’t for the classes that I gave in English then I could have easily gone days without speaking the language. I lived my daily life out almost entirely in Spanish, and I loved it. All in all, the complete language immersion is one of the most gruelling elements of living abroad, but also one of the best and most rewarding.
All this English-speaking in Rennes has, lamentably, left the French part of my brain feeling somewhat neglected and undernourished (the poor thing). Perhaps, as I am still technically homeless, my focus shouldn’t currently fall on making Francophone contacts, but as a linguaphile I am powerless to resist the lure of the French language. But I digress. To conclude – France gets the point here for adapting to language immersion. It’s still not easy linguistically here – you face challenges on a daily basis when you realise, for example, you need to ask for a stapler but you weren’t paying attention at school when they taught you that (i.e. never), but it’s a much gentler experience so far, and has nothing on the amount of Spanish I had to speak in Mexico. I really hope it becomes less saturated with English, I’m not afraid of the challenge!
MEXICO 1 -2 FRANCE
So currently, it appears just that little bit easier to move to France than to move to Mexico. Tune in next time when I’ll be tackling the tricky topics of people, administration, work, accommodation and homesickness in both France and Mexico. Be good, now!