Jim: Mexico City
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Mexico City, etc.
My name is Jim Johnston. I'm originally from New York City where I spent most of my adult life. I moved to Mexico with my partner Nick, also a New Yorker, more than 16 years ago. We first lived in the small, beautiful town of San Miguel de Allende, later moving to Mexico City when we needed a bit more urban energy in our lives.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I supported myself in New York City as a visual artist, and continued to do so and San Miguel. But when I moved full-time to Mexico City in 2005 I didn't have a studio at first, so I began working on a guidebook for Mexico City, based on notes I had been compiling for several years. The result was 'Mexico City: an Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler', first published in 2006.
I started my blog as an adjunct to the book in order to provide updated information and observations about Mexico City.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
One of my favorite blogs was a humorous piece I wrote in response to the questions I receive about safety in Mexico. Many people have a very distorted view of life in Mexico City, having only read news stories about violence and corruption. But life here goes on as in much of the world.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Mexico City differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
I did not experience culture shock arriving in Mexico. I had spent long periods of time here before moving full-time in 1997. So by the time I moved it all felt pretty much like home. I think what I experienced might be better described as culture awe rather than culture shock. I was prepared for the move to Mexico because I had spent so much time visiting as a tourist before moving here as a resident.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Mexico City? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
One of the greatest differences between my old life in New York and my current one in Mexico is the change of pace. Chilangos (slang for Mexico City resident) are much more relaxed than New Yorkers, less likely to get angry, and walk so much slower! The sense of history here, both Aztec and Spanish, is palpable, and I think that accounts for some of the laid-back attitudes. Time is experienced as a long arc, so why rush? (The phrase ‘Time is Money’ seems ridiculous here.)
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Mexico City?
My tips for anyone moving to Mexico? The first thing I would say is to learn some Spanish. Many ex-pats learn just enough Spanish to function, but they are really missing out on the depths of the culture. Second, leave your judgments at home. So many times I've found myself saying "why don't they do it the right way?" I now realize that the idea of 'common sense' simply doesn't cross every border. Third, rethink the concept 'time is money'. The two rarely coincide in Mexico. And once you realize that, life becomes much more enjoyable.
How is the expat community in Mexico City? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Although I have many foreign friends in Mexico City, I do not feel that I am part of an 'ex-pat community'. There are many organizations that cater to that community, but I do not find myself drawn to them.
How would you summarize your expat life in Mexico City in a single, catchy sentence?
Living in a foreign country has given me the opportunity to see what it means to be an American, in both good ways and bad. The education I received in the US for example, which stressed reasoning rather than memorization, has given me a lot of advantages here. Taking the leap to live in a foreign country opened my mind to other opportunities, like writing a book, building houses, and teaching art classes. At the same time, Mexico has given me an appreciation for enjoyment, rather than accomplishment, as the basis for a happy life.