The “Real Merida”

If there’s one thing that bothers me about idealistic folks coming to retire and/or live here semi-permanently, it’s those individuals that don’t visit northern Merida or go to a mall or eat at Carls Junior because it’s not, in their constrained and limited perception of what a modern Mexican city can be, the ‘real Merida’.

Maybe it’s because I have lived here for over 20 years and consider myself more local than foreign or maybe it’s because I am just a neurotic bastard, but this comment always manages to piss me off. It’s right up there with the ‘the children are so beautiful’ comment, which I have also had the pleasure of hearing on more than a dozen occasions and which also provokes from me the same, negative reaction. I feel like saying “of COURSE the children are beautiful – ALL children are beautiful, not just the brown ones that smile hopefully up at you, wealthy foreigner in shorts and sandals and flowery shirt.” It just seems so condescending, somehow.

Like the idea of a “real Merida.”

What is the real Merida? Are we (and I am speaking as a Yucatecan now) all supposed to run around in guayaberas and alpargatas and dance jaranas with trays of glasses on our adorable heads? Are we to eat only salbutes and panuchos and ‘typical’ food all week? The mistakenly romantic idea that in Merida time stands still and sushi, malls and Office Max are somehow contaminating someone’s vision of what the city should be is, again, condescending and frankly offensive.

I am motivated to write this little rant thanks to Beryl over at who just had a brush with the ‘real’ Merida; the Merida that most gringos don’t have to deal with and that, for the most part, lies just under the surface of the charming mess that is modern Mexico. You can read all about her brush with the ‘justice’ system in her fun account of what happened when she ran into Big Caesar (check out her photo to get a glimpse of Big Caesar)

Put your feet up, serve yourself a glass of typical cebada and enjoy a tale of one womans immersion into the ‘real’ Merida.

12 thoughts on “The “Real Merida”

  1. Ah yes, cute people, adorable villages, happy happy happy. And isn’t it a shame when potable water comes to a village and eliminates the darling scenes of the men sitting on the wells at night getting drunk, while the women traipse back and forth with heavy pails? And how sad that there are schools in every little podunk now, untraditional concrete buildings where there used to be open space. Some of them even have teachers. Have you seen those ugly Aurrorera (low-end Walmarts) in previously non-commercial countrysides? People were much happier laboring over their little milpas, eking out food from nothing during the increasingly common dry spells. Patronizing, self-satisfied, superior. The worst kind of tourists, some of the ones who live here.
    Not that the availability of supermarket junk food hasn’t contributed to the obesity problem. It’s complicated.

  2. William, you are right. When I came here first time, it remined me 1960′ in Korea. Our country was very poor. Tx to my daddy, he was army officer so we raised pretty good & got good educations. Korean are very strong & very competitive, high work ethic, education is no. 1 priority for whole country. So now, Korean is wealthy counry. Mexico, it’s sad. It was disappoinment for me at first but I am better to getting know their cultures. Crazy now showing up appointment, no tel, nada. I was bullet in the fire. Walter said tranqilo, shit damm tranquilo, Walter , my time is very important, sweetie. Walter said this is their cultures. Now I understand. Mayan are so poor & no power. I bet most of them are so depress & no motivation. How can I help them? So I started with my house lady. I do not speak any Spanish , I choosed French & english, bad decisions. But I will get it sooner the better. I know I can do it just mind set. So I got her Spanish English dictionary & I got English Spanish dictionary. I tried emphases on education for her children. At least she is very motivated person so she kind of understand me where I came from & time is money & time is important, I emphses on her. 9 am is 9 am. Korean will show 8:30 am. But I am not expect to them like a Korean but if we can teach little by little at least so better than nothing. When I retire full time in here , my brother -in-law is physician, such an angel, John Cromer, I called him JC. We are going to do going to Mayan villege & open clinic for poor people, I am a RN so I will assist JC. Anyway, I would love to give them my love & care instead pussing. I know I cannot change the world but at least I love to help them. I wish for merida someday a smart Mayan boy will be a Mexico president so he can do more equal oppotunity for everyone. I know it will happen. SB

  3. That ‘real’ Mexico or Mérida or Yucatán thing always irritates me too. Usually I hear it about Cancun and the QRoo coast, that it is not the ‘real’ Mexico. Fools! That is how MEXICO goes about taking tourist money from foreigners and it is very, very Mexican. In addition, Cancun itself is a large, thriving Mexican city. Argh! They want to keep the zoo displays locked in the past and never, never allow change.

  4. Thanks guys, for weighing in – nice to see I am not the only neurotic foreigner out here in the ‘real Mexico’.

  5. The one that irritates me almost as much as the “real Mexico” (I guess the rest is a holographic projection) are people who lament foreign cuisines arriving here. Seriously, folks, if foreigners didn’t open restaurants there would be no Chinese Food in NYC or good Thai and Vietnamese food in California.
    I have had correspondences from people regarding moving here. One time when I suggested a privada as being perfect for someone (they had kids), they replied with the “real Mexico” thing. I told them that living among the class conscience who own those houses was as Mexican as it gets, unless they wanted to rent a house in Miraflores or some other bastion of Meridian working class. Those of us (this includes me) who live in a restored colonial are living a less “authentic” life than someone living in a house in a frac.
    Don’t even get me started on some of the “restored” colonials whose original owners would never have recognized.

  6. I think this is why I have a general aversion to tourism-focused attractions. I find my best times occur when I run across things people deal with in everyday life. Even with things that serve non-locals, I am more fascinated with the lavenderia than the Casa de Artesanías.
    Oxo, Elektra, banks, public restrooms, comida china, public transportation, cops – all sort of familiar but with a lot of subltle differences. Like waking and finding yourself in a slightly skewed reality, like the result of some sort of butterfly effect. The ‘Real Mexico’ stuff is available in photo-illustrated books in the local NOB library. I mostly enjoy the ordinary.

  7. @Mr. Lawson

    You are a fool.

    Only white people are allowed to use computers; compose insipid Twitter “tweets”; use cellphones; download MP3 files of Lady Gaga ditties; wear blue jeans, thongs, and Wonderbras; eat junk food; listen to rap and hip-hop; treat their illness with state-of-the-art medical technology; drive fancy cars; and stand on line for hours to see “Toy Story 3.”

    Indigenous people must wear only festive hand-sewn native costumes made from natural fibers and plant-based dyes; communicate with friends and family exclusively via smoke signals, “talking” drums, or the psychic powers that accrue automatically to all peoples who have a mystical connection with Nature; eschew Western medicine in favor of shamans, folk remedies, and messages from their ancestors relayed via propitious dreams; perform and enjoy only their own indigenous songs and music, and only that which can be played on only handmade musical instruments fashioned from only natural eco-friendly materials such as bamboo, seashells, and stone; prefer beasts of burden to planet-destroying internal-combustion vehicles; choose careers in slash-and-burn subsistence farming over anything that involves morally perilous contact with inauthentic and spiritually alienating urban economies.


    My only quibble with your take on what people expect of the “real Mexico” is that foreigners have far fewer opportunities for learning and practicing colloquial Spanish if they choose to live in the newer suburban-type neighborhoods up north.

    The “real” Mexicans who live in those neighborhoods hermetically seal themselves in their homes and venture out only in their cars. (And you need a car because stores and services aren’t within walking distance.) These people may very well be wonderful, charming, and intelligent, and they very well may have lots of interesting things to say, but your chances of running into them casually and striking up a conversation with them are very very small.

    By opting to buy or rent in more typically middle-class neighborhoods where most families can afford to air-condition only their bedrooms and, occasionally, their living rooms, foreigners will find that daily life entails regular contact with their neighbors and local shop-keepers and business owners.

    When your daily life requires that you try your best to speak and understand Spanish, you learn a great deal, and a great deal that’s useful and interesting, very, very quickly.

    And foreigners who move here shouldn’t feel at all shy about speaking imperfect Spanish, or about asking locals to speak more slowly.

    One of Yucatan’s most attractive aspects is that the people here, compared to the stereotypically reticent, but polite, Mexicans in the northern states, love to talk and explain and joke around.

    If you love learning for learning’s sake, then Yucatan, and Campeche, are very likely the best states in the entire republic to choose as your full- or part-time home.

  8. It’s like visiting Colonial Williamsburg and then expecting the whole USA to be in costume, making candles and riding in carriages, and then being sadly disappointed that they’ve moved on.

  9. Coach – do you sit around doodling on a napkin when these flashes of inspiration strike? Your most recent rebirth as Coach Anita had both me and the Better Half laughing out loud, which for me anyway, at this time of the day – 9:30 AM – is a real miracle. Are you going to do a comic strip with these characters?

  10. Dear WilliamLawson, (for some reason your name always makes me thirsty)

    I’ve got a stack of napkins as tall as a hacienda smokestack filled with what you so kindly refer to as “inspirations.” Who knows what we’ll create together, a comic strip may be only the beginning…

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