Leaving the U.S. behind: Things you miss and don’t miss when you become an expat

Oct 17, 2023 | 8 comments

By Chuck Bolotin

Our views of living or even visiting different places are of course based largely on what we’re used to. That’s where we get our baseline from which we form our perspective. For example, if we live in the U.S. and then move to Mexico, we would naturally compare our life in Mexico with our life in the U.S. This happens all the time, and I and others have written a lot about it. But how about the other way around? What’s it like to live in Mexico for a while, get used to it, and then visit the U.S.?

I’ll let you know what my wife reported to me after we had lived in Mexico for a few years and then she visited her parents in the Southern California area.

The first thing that shocked her was how expensive everything was. (It probably hadn’t changed much since we lived there, but now we had a different baseline.)

The view from the author’s office.

The second was the traffic, which also probably hadn’t changed much in a few years, but now, we had something to compare it to. Pretty much anyone who has flown into LAX and had to drive pretty much anywhere has experienced the freeway onramp and then… “the stop;” i.e., parking lot otherwise known as the 405 Freeway. How can people live like that? And how can they put up with the rat race they need to be part of in order to earn enough money to purchase nice things? I am reminded of that same rat (the one in “the race”) on a wheel, running hard, accomplishing nothing. Why go to work and put up with traffic? To earn lots of money. Why earn lots of money?  So you don’t have to go to work and put up with traffic. That calculus doesn’t seem to work out so well.

From the perspective of living here in Mexico in a place that has traffic jams lasting for minutes rather than hours and a cost of living somewhere around 40% of a similar lifestyle in the U.S., the contrast is pretty stark. Then why do people put up with the traffic, the costs, etc.?  I believe there are four principal reasons:

1) The boiling crab. It wasn’t always that bad. I’m old enough to remember when Los Angeles wasn’t that crowded and wasn’t that expensive. But now, it’s very much both. However, it didn’t happen overnight. It happened slowly enough that people didn’t notice it that much and they had time to adapt. If it had happened all at once, you would be able to hear the yowls all the way to Las Vegas.

2) Parochialism. Have you ever seen the map of the US, from a New Yorker’s perspective? From my memory of it, it shows Manhattan in elaborate detail, down to individual streets, then dissolves out to a distant place called Chicago with very little detail, and then, nothing else but the great wilderness that comes afterwards. (I believe it may have said something like “The Great Wilderness” or something similar.) For the most part, people who live in the US can’t even imagine living anywhere else. In some vague, unspoken and unthought out way, no other place is even worth consideration.

3) Inertia. Never doubt the power of people not changing, “just because that’s how we’ve always done it.” I’m not qualified to write about the reason, but I feel I can confidently state that people tend to resist change.  As Carl Jung said, “There is no birth of consciousness without pain.”

4) They have a job … that they need where they can’t move, or they have very strong ties to family and friends that would be broken if they moved to another place. This of course is extremely legitimate but this “other place” would include places in the US, which has nothing to do with moving to Mexico.

After listening to my wife on the phone, I walked out of our home in near perfect weather to enjoy the view of the lake I included above (price in Malibu for a home with a view like that: $4.6 million; here in Mexico, the equivalent of about $350,000), thought about my upcoming appointment at the podiatrist (the equivalent of about $12.75) and considered the dinner I would have with friends at a local beer pub and restaurant (flight of six beers to share and great Philly steak sandwich, the equivalent of about $6).

And I laughed.

I laughed the laugh of a self-satisfied and contented person who believes he has figured out something others have not and for the most part, don’t even care enough to try.

Referring to my previous life in the Los Angeles area, I thought, “They can have it.” With their little yards, leased cars, expensive restaurants, clogged freeways and outrageous healthcare bills. I won’t fight them for it.

I thought again of the people back in the US who asked me when we were “moving back.” Considering their question, I have many times made a mental “Franklin T,” in which I put all the positives of “moving back” on one side and the negatives on the other. The result isn’t even close.

Are there issues living in Mexico? Are there problems? You bet! Is it perfect? No, but in the real world it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be better than the alternative. I’m comparing living in Mexico as a whole with what my life would be like in the U.S., as would any well-adjusted adult.

Just the other day, I was reading a series of posts on Facebook from expats who were complaining bitterly about the lack of road maintenance here in Mexico. Were they factually correct? Yes, without a doubt. Had they put it into perspective? No, they had not. Property tax on that $350,000 house I mentioned above may be around the equivalent of about $250 a year. How much street maintenance do you suppose that would buy? It’s amazing the roads and public services are as good as they are here in Mexico.

As Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying, “A person is about as happy as he or she chooses to be,” and of course, that applies even in Mexico. When someone responds to our complaining Facebook friends with something like, “If it’s so bad here in Mexico, why don’t you leave?” they’re usually met with some lame additional complaints, or with silence. People vote with their feet, and evidently, most people’s feet are not registering a vote to go back to the U.S. Do people go back? All the time. Just like we move people to Mexico with our moving company, we do move some people back. And many times, there is a sad story attached usually revolving around health reasons. Another common reason to move back to the U.S. or Canada is to be closer to the grandkids.

And some people just don’t like it here in Mexico.

You can’t please everyone.

Credit: Forbes


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