Vance, back at it again. This time, to talk a little bit about expats in Mexico City.
As my regular readers have undoubtedly noticed, I've had The Mexican Capital on my mind lately. And I'm sure many of you are getting sick of the onslaught of Mexico articles.
But what's one more?
I recently learned my good friend and former roommate in Mexico City is moving to Europe. Even though I haven't been to the capital for some time, I'll miss him - I know when I do go back, the city won't feel quite the same.
Upon hearing this news, I started to reflect on my time living in Mexico and all of the interesting people I'd met, many of whom were expats; I began wondering if the subject of expats in Mexico City was worth a blog post.
I determined that it wasn't...but I've decided to do one anyway!
So, without further ado, here is your guide to the types of Mexico City expats that you'll most certainly cross paths with.
1. The Digital Nomad
By "digital nomad," I'm referring to anyone who earns a location independent income through technology. You'll find this brand of expat all over the city, but the overwhelming majority live in the neighbourhoods of Roma and Condesa. Since the term digital nomad is broad (ranging from folks scraping by on Fiverr, to multimillionaire owners of online businesses to cam-girls (my fav), it's difficult to pigeon-hole this group. I suspect that most of the digital nomads I met here were earning about $1000.00 to $3000.00 each month. I found this collection of expats to be the most likely to live alone, probably due to the fact that they work from their houses.
I generally got along well with the digital nomads here - by definition, I suppose I am one of them...although I've always struggled to accept the term. We shared flexible schedules, similar values in terms of freedom and earning money and we were in the same age bracket. They weren't pretentious, and made a decent crew to hit the bars with (no being late for work the next morning; responsible enough not to be liabilities).
Their Spanish levels were decent, as many of them had done stints somewhere in Latin America before and/or in Spain.
Although my personal experience with digital nomads in the city was positive, I did notice a few things. First of all, most of them appeared to lack interest in the culture in which they were living. That is to say, many of them didn't seem to know anything about the city or country or have any desire to learn much about it. For them, Mexico City was simply a place to base up for six months or one year. I'll admit this bothered me - I've never understood living in a country in which you have absolutely no intellectual interest.
In addition, out of all of the expats I met in Mexico City, digital nomads lived in the smallest bubble. They'd spend an overwhelming majority of their time in the safe neighbourhoods of Condesa/Roma, only leaving if they caught wind of a good nightclub in another neighbourhood (basically, i.e Polanco). For many, the entire focus of their lives in the capital were centred around work, gym and picking up women. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly worse ways to live your life, but it does make for a lot of one-dimensional conversations.
And before I get any digital nomads chiming in saying "But I'm not like tha -" remember: I am one of you, my brother! And, at times, I was certainly guilty of all of the above. I'm not hating - just calling it like I saw it.
Income Level: Low-High
Level of Spanish: Moderate
2. The English Teacher
A second group of expats in Mexico City you'll run into will be English teachers. Since this is one of the only in-demand, low-barrier jobs a foreigner can procure in the country, it's often the most common way for young, native-English speakers to earn their keep south of the border.
Although I'd never become one myself, I have a lot of respect for English teachers in Mexico. The pay is often low, and the work is thankless. They also get jerked around - sometimes they'll commute an hour to work only to find that they don't have any classes to teach that day. Like the digital nomad, English teachers are hard to put in a box - they come from all walks of life. Some are passionate about teaching, some just need a way to make a living and don't give a fuck about teaching and others are somewhere in the middle. They range from responsible, to complete degenerates.
If I recall correctly, I met around half a dozen English teachers in CDMX. One was a cool Australian dude who wanted a way to stay in Mexico. Real decent fella. Equally good to chat or party with. The other was a stuck up British guy with a Master's degree in Education from Cambridge or something of the like. I didn't get along too well with him. Another was a Canadian girl from Quebec who just wanted to get railed by Latinos (she came down with her boyfriend only to break up with him and stay in Mexico City. Cold world). The other was an old, alcoholic woman in her late 40s in an open relationship. There was an old British guy who was just bitter as fuck about everything (he taught in Queretaro, not Mexico City, but I'm counting it). Finally, there was a gay (but tough!) American expat who spoke perfect Spanish. I got along fine with him.
Like I said, mixed bag.
English teachers don't tend to live in as small a bubble as digital nomads for a few reasons: One, they often have to travel to other barrios to work. Two, some don't make enough money to live in the expat neighbourhoods (although many opt to do so with several roommates). And Three, they actually have to interact with locals beyond trying to have sex with them.
Overall, a decent group of people.
Income Level: Low/Moderate
Level of Spanish: Moderate
3. The Journalist
My first roommate in Mexico City was a photojournalist, so I was able to gather some knowledge that I may otherwise not have.
In short, I was not impressed by expat journalists in Mexico City. At all.
Aside from one guy who was alright (bit of a dork, though), one guy who I thought was cool but turned out to be a fraud who stole other people's photos, the foreign journalists I met in this city were largely intolerable. I'm now convinced that foreign journalists in Latin America are about the most arrogant and entitled people earning $40,000 a year that you will ever meet. My roommate would essentially be scoffed at for not having been published "enough," and left out of the loop on travel arrangements made by other journalists. The ones I met tended to have grand delusions about how dangerous and important their jobs were. They're a weird clique that will make fun of you amongst each other with their eyes if your Spanish isn't as good as theirs, or if you don't appear to know as much about the country as they do. Many also think they've earned the right to endlessly shit talk Mexico and its people, while at the same time claiming how much they care about the country and are fighting to hold the powers at be accountable to make life better for the Mexican people. The egos are enormous. The hypocrisy is fucking surreal.
But! Let me clarify.
This was only my personal experience. I'll admit that the journalists I met were lower-wrung. Reporters for rags like Vice or Fusion. They were also all in their 20s or early 30s. I reckon this all has to do with why they were all shit people. According to my friend, however, some older journalists that he met working for New York Times, TeleSur and Forbes, specifically, were incredibly supportive and helpful. So, I can't say all journalists are scum by any means...just the ones I crossed paths with :).
Also, it's worth noting that the few local Mexican journalists I spoke with were some of the nicest and humblest human beings that I've had the pleasure of knowing (I don't want to completely shit on all journalists after all - some do good and important work).
Income Level: Low/Moderate
Level of Spanish: Moderate/High
4. The Artist
You will find A LOT of expats in Mexico City that are artists. A large majority will be from New York. It seems that someone told someone who told someone that Mexico City is the new Paris. Cheap living, good food and a thriving art scene. They aren't necessarily wrong about the aforementioned, but some of them seriously need to stop coming.
Only kidding :).
Much to my surprise, I didn't get along all that bad with the artists I encountered down here. I remember a long drunken conversation with a sculptor one night at a bar who said that I "get it" (I didn't, really). A drunken MORNING with two graffiti artists from England. A party at a house rented by music people from Boston...didn't speak to them much actually, but they let me in to the party so they're alright with me. A glorious tall, raven-haired photographer I met at AM Local at 4am a few days before I left Mexico City...still regret not sealing the deal with that one.
Although I fully expected all the artists down here to be intolerably pretentious, only some were. These ones tend to ruin the reputation for the rest of them.
My experience was generally good, but I will say one thing: be wary if you're sharing a bottle. These little fuckers will drink all of it and chip in for none of it.
On a somewhat unrelated note, one of my favourite young Mexican artists is a girl named Lourdes Villagomez. You can check out her stuff here.
Income Level: Low
Level of Spanish: Low/Moderate
5. The Employee of an International Company
My second roommate down here was an employee at an international company, so again, I got access to a group of expats I may otherwise not have.
I'm torn about this type. On the one hand, they're responsible, easy-going and always good for chipping in on a bill. On the other hand, they can be quite cliquish and very, well, for lack of a better term, left wing. I remember I was at a party where everyone worked for Google. I must have been asked 10 times whether or not I worked for Google. After responding that I didn't, we all of a sudden seemed to lose everything we could have possibly had in common. Same went for Amazon, PwC, etc, etc.
That being said, there are certainly some gems amongst this crowd (my old roommate being one of them), and they throw a respectable house party - a nice mix of locals and internationals, and often in a fancy apartment/rooftop.
I can't throw much hate on them for that.
Income Level: Moderate/High
Level of Spanish: Moderate
6. The Retired Guy
You're not likely to meet many people who have retired to Mexico City.
I just wanted to use this opportunity to give a shoutout to the retired people I've met throughout the country. People that retire to Mexico are usually positive, generous, good-natured folk, always open to having a chat over coffee or imparting wisdom. God bless these people. I've met a lot of good, old souls in Puerto Vallarta, Baja California and Guanajuato that have helped me think about life in a different way. As long as they aren't always complaining about Donald Trump (which gets annoying), these are some of the best people you're likely to meet.
One of my best days in Mexico so far was hitting a fair and bullfight in Leon with an old dog from the Yukon.
Drinks were drunk that day.
Income Level: Moderate
Level of Spanish: Low/Moderate
7. The Latino Immigrant
Here, I'm referring to people from other Latin American countries that are, for various reasons, living in Mexico City. The capital has a large number of young Colombian, Argentine, Venezuelan and Peruvian nationals.
In my opinion, these are good people to know. They can provide you with insight into other Latin American countries, and also give you a refuge from Mexican culture (which, lovely as it is, can be irritating at times). During my time in Mexico City, I met expats from just about every major Latin American country.
In general, I was impressed. Most of them seemed to be well-balanced people who missed home, but also had nice things to say about life in Mexico (Argentines can be harsh and negative, however). And Colombian and Venezuelan women are always a welcomed addition to any city as far as I'm concerned.
Another group that could be included here are Mexican-Americans. I bumped into a few. They kind of get the short end of the stick. Mexico City natives tend to relentlessly make fun of their accents if they're not downright hostile toward them. They lack both the advantages that come with being Mexican in Mexico City, as well as the advantages of being foreign. Cold world.
Mexican Americans are the most likely to make fun of your accent and/or Spanish-speaking abilities (because they are self conscious of their own accent, and are projecting).
Income Level: Low/Moderate
Level of Spanish: Fluent
8. The Model
Models. Fashion models, runway models, male models, fake models. Models of all stripes flock to Mexico City. You will meet at least one. Whether it's on Tinder, at a bar or at a party, you will encounter, at the very minimum, one model.
...OK, maybe not a real model, but you will meet at least one person who at least claims to be a real model.
Model is a term used extremely loosely among expats living in Mexico City. I met one guy who claimed to be working as a model. Average looking, skinny hipster white guy. He was living at the hostel I stayed at when I arrived (I'm still wondering why he felt the need to tell me he was a model).
Did someone pay him to take photos of him? Probably. Does that make him a model? Who's to say.
I went on a few dates with a half black French girl who said she was a model. Again, who's to say.
There was this overweight coke-fiend Argentine girl who always seemed to end up at the same parties I was at during my first year in the city who also made the claim.
Model? Well, I for one certainly hope not!
The real models you're likely to see here 3-dimensionally are the ones that are paid to go to clubs. If you're perceptive, you'll be able to pick them out. They'll be taller, whiter and sexier than the other women in there.
Although it sounds like a glamorous title, it really isn't - the vast majority of models here get paid shit and are largely employed because they are tall and/or don't look Mexican. Don't let the fancy designation intimidate you - you can definitely swoop a model or three during your time here if that's where you pitch your goals.
For more info on being a model in Mexico City, this post is mildly insightful. If you, for whatever reason, want to know even more about the lifestyle, check out the movie Rezeta.
Income Level: Low/Moderate (but with lots of free stuff)
Level of Spanish: Low-Fluent
9. The Jobless Drug-Addict
This expat is fun...but don't get too close! They're also a major liability.
It's the kind of guy or girl that doesn't work, consumes more drugs than hot dinners and lives in a house with about 9 other people. They always have money for drugs and partying, but literally nothing else. No one knows where the money comes from.
One fella comes to mind. An American expat in Mexico. He was allegedly a bike courier in New York City at some point in his life, but the remainder is a Nancy Drew mystery. How or why he's in Mexico is also murky. This guy would just turn up randomly at things. My first roommate met him on a trip to Mexico City years back, and we bumped into him years later, coked out at a random bar in Roma Sur when we were living there. I ran into him twice again around the time I was leaving the city - once at another bar, and another time at a burger street stall on the Doctores side of the Roma/Doctores border.
These folks usually make good first impressions, but don't let them in. They're parasites. Stay safe! Keep 'em at arm's length. Distant but cordial.
...And if they fuck with you, scare the shit out of them.
Income Level: ???
Level of Spanish: None
10. The "Start-Up" Guy
I've saved my least-favourite expat in Mexico City for last: the start up guy.
These are young people that are pondering a big idea. The next Facebook, UBER or Instagram. And yet somehow they never seem to provide any evidence that they've started on anything.
Like I always say, if fantasy meant anything, I'd have a 12 inch cock swinging between my legs.
Normally, I couldn't care less about people and what they're up to. But the "start-up" guy feels compelled to tell everyone that he's working on a start-up - including me - so he makes it my problem. He'll drone on explaining every detail of something he hasn't in fact begun to work on to an increasingly restless group of people.
I never envisioned this would be an issue. Where I was raised, no one is a start-up guy. But alas, I had the misfortune of meeting several people "doing" "start-ups" during my stint in Mexico City, so I feel compelled to include them in this post.
Fuck it. You know what? Here's a piece of advice for all the start-up people out there: stop saying you have a start-up. If you're running a business, tell me you're running a business. That's fine, and often much more interesting. If you have an idea for a business, tell me that you have an idea for a business, and you're trying to get it off the ground. Just. Stop. Saying. Start.Up.
I'm aware that there are probably some minor details that serve to differentiate a business from a start up (rapid growth, high-revenue goals, the need for angel investment).
But I don't give a fuck.
Neither do the other people you're talking with.
If you're talking to someone else that is doing a start-up, they'll be jealous, point out holes in your idea or straight-up steal it Zuckerberg style if it's any good (it isn't).
And, if you're talking to a normal person. They - you guessed it - don't give a fuck.
Income Level: Non-existent
Spanish Ability: Fuck them.
Finals Thoughts on Expats In Mexico City
It's no surprise that foreigners are drawn to this place. Mexico City is safe for expats, it offers more or less the same amenities as the United States or Europe at less than half the cost, the bar and club scene is impressive and the weather is pleasant year-round. Sure, the pollution and service might get ya down from time to time, but overall this is a very good city to live in. I was extremely satisfied while I was here.
And as for the types of expats...I know, I know - I've missed a few.
There's the hippy expat that sells handmade bracelets or necklaces to get by, there's the hardcore expats who have started physical businesses, there's the expats that work in hostels in exchange for room and board, there's the people studying abroad...
Can't catch 'em all.
(If you've bumped into any other ones, please share in the comments!)
But! I can assure you that if you plan on counting yourself among the ranks of expats in Mexico City one day, you will meet each and every one of the people mentioned above.
And when you do, I hope you fondly remember this post.
Thanks for listening!
Until next time,
Want to hear more about expats in Latin America? You might enjoy this post.