On Being a Local

When I first came to Cancun someone told me that once you had made it through a year in Cancun you were from Cancun, you were a Cancunense, a native. This was a recognition of both the fact that it’s hard to adjust to living here and also of the fact that (because Cancun is so young) no one over the age of 25 is actually from here. Cancun has no elders, it has no older people who have lived here all their lives the way normal towns do. And so the requirement for becoming a native, a Cancunense, is simply to survive here for a year.

And Cancun is difficult to adjust to. At least I have found it to be. I think that when older people move here, with money, to retire here in a lovely home, they probably do not find Cancun so hard to adjust to. But the people who move here as working-age adults do seem to find it hard to adjust to, especially if they face making a living here as a foreigner.

The things I did which most helped me to adjust were to make friends and to find people I could trust. At first it was hard to make friends, but then one day someone invited me to a gathering and I met people who introduced me to more people and my social circle began to expand exponentially.

Eventually, as the circle grew, I found Cancun’s elders, it’s transplanted elders. Especially a group of, primarily American, women who have each lived here 10, 15, 20 or 25 years. These women have seen it all, lived through everything Cancun can throw at you, they’ve fallen in love here, raised kids here, had careers here. They’ve been broke here, they’ve been rich here. They’ve seen loved ones die here, they’ve done it all and they’ve made it through.

And as I met them and got to know them I found that, almost without exception, every one of them reached out to me and gave me a tip or piece of advice that eased my adjustment to living here. This group treated me with a subtle relentless generosity of spirit and of affection that I’ve never found in another community.

When I look back, I remember that Cancun seemed like such an unfriendly place when I arrived. But that sense slowly abated and has been replaced by a sense of community and belonging that I have never felt anywhere outside my own family.

It’s a wonderful feeling, of course, but I miss my kid and long to return to Colorado to live with her. Yet I’m afraid that a return to the social climate there will be a huge let down for me. I truly don’t know if I can be happy there. I lived there for 14 years and while I know hundreds of people there still, I only have a few good friends there. I don’t know if my ability to make friends has gotten stronger since I left there, or if this has something to do with the difference between the cultures of these two places. But I’m afraid that it is the culture and not that I’ve just suddenly become a social butterfly…flap, flap, flap.

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2 Responses to “On Being a Local”

  1. Fned
    March 20th, 2008 23:59

    I have to admit I envie you.

    I think the opposite has happened to me. I don’t know how long you’ve been living in Cancun but I’ve been living in Paris for 6 years. Some people would say I am now fully integrated… a local. I work for a French company with only french coworkers, I speak, think and even dream in French, I eat like a french and I’m pretty sure I act like a French too (at least I find I don’t shock people as often as I used to when I first came here).

    But I have yet to make friends here. Real friends. The kind that make you feel that this is the place where you belong.

    And I’m pretty sure I am a friendly person, yet somehow I’ve noticed I unconsciously refuse to “invest” in friendships here. It’s almost always our friends (mainly friends of hubby) that call us to go out or invite us over and almost never the other way around. The few mexicans I’ve met here have also dissapointed me by being either too obnoxious (the kind that left Mexico to never go back and spend their time citing all that is wrong with our country compared to France) or either too isolated (the kind that hate it here don’t make any effort to integrate, always moaning and groaning about the French food, french attitude, etc, etc)

    I also often think about going back home but, as you, I too wonder if it will still be “home”. I know that Paris will never fully be “chez moi” yet Puebla always seems so different and changed and hostile whenever I go back to visit that I’m not sure it’s still “home” either.

    I guess it’s the eternal “expat” dilemma. I home really where the heart is????

    P.S. Apologies for all this blah-blah… I wish I could it put it much simpler and intelligently as you do in your post. 😉

  2. RiverGirl
    March 21st, 2008 10:04

    Fned, I think you were pretty simple and straightforward in your comment. It’s funny because Colorado feels like home because of the land, I miss the land there. But Cancun feels like home socially (mostly). Maybe there’s no one right place.

    I’ve been here more that 4½ years now.

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