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Guanajuato: Too Many

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Guanajuato: Too Many

A friend of mine told me about a conversation she had with a person she knows in one of the Mexican Prime Living Locations on the west coast of Mexico. This area, one to which many Americans flock, had become too expensive for her to continue living there. When my friend asked her where she might want to move, Guanajuato was her first choice. But, she lamented; she couldn’t live in Guanajuato because she doesn’t speak Spanish. Three years ago, while sitting in one of Guanajuato’s plazas and doing nothing much but watching the tourists, a lady from San Miguel de Allende approached us and asked if we lived in Guanajuato. After exchanging pleasantries, she said she was in town looking for cheaper accommodations since the cost of living in San Miguel had become unaffordable for her. Then, almost in tears, she said she would have to retreat back to the States since she could not speak Spanish. She concluded she could not live in anywhere in Mexico other than the exorbitantly priced Gringolandias where she didn’t have to speak Spanish. Four days ago while strolling home from El Centro, we met an American couple from yet another Mexican west coast town that were visiting Guanajuato. They were looking for a cheaper place to live in Mexico because the area where they live has become too expensive for them to keep living comfortably. They were in Guanajuato checking out the lay of the expatriation land. While my wife spoke to the woman, the husband took me aside and spoke to me in hushed tones as if he were revealing national security secrets. He asked furtively, “I suppose we will have to learn Spanish?” That evening, I was doing some reading on the Mex-Connect forums when I came across an interesting entry. This lady expressed her indignation that while she was in Guanajuato visiting for a week or two, no one would speak English to her. She was, as many Americans seem to be, convinced the locals could speak English but were only pretending not to. She acted as if these Mexicans knew this woman was coming and decided to make a pact in order to torture her by speaking only in their native tongue? She said, now pay attention to this, “They should speak English.” I would love to tell you this is an isolated nutty woman but I’ve heard it in person and online too many times for it to be so. If you really want to see what Americans who do manage to make it to The Mexican Highlands think about the city of Guanajuato, you should read the travel forums. There seems to be a consensus among them that Guanajuatenses are all actually bilingual in English but in some deviously planned plot, all agree never to speak to Americans in English. One lady stood outside a sidewalk restaurant in El Jardin and shouted the “I know you speak English and are pretending you don’t” mantra in front of God and all his witnessesMexicans and Gringos alike! The truth is that when we first moved here, we found precious few who spoke English. We set about learning Spanish with a vengeance. Frankly, we couldn’t have cared less then nor do we care now if we ever encounter another English speaker. When we encountered trouble, we figured out how to handle it in Spanish. Our reasoning was that Mexicans decided long ago that Spanish was going to be the language they spoke and they have been very happy with the decision ever since. Of the many reasons I write what I do on expat and Mexico issues (I am most certainly an equal opportunity critic) is for the following reason. The people who make their way to Guanajuato, mostly Americans who come with ridiculous and outrageous expectations, go back to the U.S. as self-proclaimed experts on Mexican culture. They spend the rest of their lives mean-mouthing the city to all their friends, family, and neighbors. Would you not agree that those who return to the States and then write the following should not be allowed outside America’s borders? “I had to walk an entire block to my hotel and carry my own bags.” “Of all the nerve! I had to walk up some stairs to my room because there was no elevator!” “I know they all speak English in this hotel and are pretending they don’t.” “I screamed (in English, of course, since I don’t speak Spanish) at that Mexican kid writing graffiti on the wall. He acted like he didn’t understand me. I know he was faking.” These go on and on. So, how do you get through to these people who are flooding into Guanajuato? You tell the truth. I tell the truth in my articles so those who do end up coming will not be the types with silly and unrealistic demands. They will be the type who return to America and tell their reasonable friends they had a good time in Guanajuato in spite of the bumps and bruises one is bound to encounter in another culture. Can you imagine a hoity-toity American coming to Guanajuato and trying to make his or her way through the Pastita barrio to visit the Olga Costa Museum and encountering the not-too-unusual practice of some Mexicans who abandon the issue of their hyper-fertile female dogs alongside a trash dumpster? Dumping puppies at the trash bin will send most Americans I know into a tailspin of apocalyptic proportions. They will not describe Guanajuato kindly in any venue. It’s best they know what to expect before they get here. The Spanish issue is almost an unfathomable one. And, it is sad. Many could expatriate to Guanajuato if they mastered Spanish. They could live far more cheaply if they could live, shop, and function in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood. Most Americans have absolutely no idea how to begin the process. They resort to taking classes. One person wrote me and said I had almost convinced him not to come to Guanajuato to study Spanish. That isn’t the point at all. Study Spanish in America by using any number of the home study courses before enrolling in a class at home or abroad. The classroom will teach you a lot of things about the language but impart little to no spoken fluency. Someone wrote and said they had studied Spanish for nearly 20 years but still cannot speak the language. I rest my case. ? Guanajuato: Too Many False Expectations



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