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Editor’s Note:We originally published this article in 2005… three and a half years after we moved to Merida from Central California. Now, due to a death and a birth in our family, we are spending time on the Central Coast (San Luis Obispo County, to be exact) as well as in Merida. You could say we have one foot in each city, emphasizing even more our bi-cultural experiences, and certainly our divided hearts. We love both places and we have family and friends in both places. When we reread this article recently, we were amazed at how so much of what we wrote originally was still true (we still love California and we still love the colors of Mexico… some things never change!). We also noted that some things have definitely changed (we have lost track of how many Starbucks’ are now in Merida… let alone the rest of the Yucatan). So we updated the article a bit… and we hope you enjoy it! Please feel free to add your comments… what do you like about Gringolandia? And what do you like about the Yucatan?


That’s what they call the United States (and to some extent, Canada… but we’re sticking with the "USA" definition for purposes of this article)… Gringolandia. It is really one of our favorite Spanglish words… it mixes gringo, already a Spanglish word from *way* back and Disneyland, an American concept if there ever was one. And then there’s that little Spanish ending to make it sing… as with many of the best Spanglish words, it has layers of meaning.

Sunset over Morro Bay, CA

We have in the past called Gringolandia the Land of the Fearful. This is a very general observation that sadly has not changed in ten years. From the minute you step foot in an American airport, everything from toilet seat covers to newspaper headlines to airport screenings lets you know that people in the USA are just more afraid. We think it’s been sneaking up on norteamericanos for so long they don’t notice it much. But coming from the *real* Land of the Free, we notice it right away.

Gringolandia also has the connotation of, well… Disneyland. From the Mexican point of view, everything seems so perfect in the United States… maybe too perfect. Maybe life in the United States is a dream come true, and maybe it has a touch of fantasy about it and isn’t exactly real.

Of course, Gringolandia is where the gringos live. And we think it is as much a state of mind as anything, because of course, wherever you go, there you are! You can bring gringolandia with you to Mexico, though we would encourage you not to.

To enjoy and appreciate the differences, we think it helps to acknowledge them. It allows us to appreciate each land for what it has to offer, and enjoy what we love about them both.

Green hills of Central Coast of CaliforniaWhat We Love About California, USA

Here’s what we love about the United States and our original home state of California:

Nature. The rolling green hills, the smell of familiar plants like sage and eucalyptus, the way the sun sets over the ocean, the way the birds sound, the dry grasses blowing in the breeze. Oak trees, eucalyptus trees, jacaranda trees… ceiba trees? (yes, we have seen a lot of ceiba trees planted in California lately), mountains, Big Sur, all those wineries and vineyards and all that great wine, Farmer’s markets, organic everything. Let’s face it… we’re in love with Coastal California… who wouldn’t be?

Family. We have three daughters and a son-in-law, one grandson, multiple parents and siblings and an extended family that seems to go on forever. There’s just no substitute for family… and ironically, this is something we learned on a much deeper level living in Mexico. No question. There’s no amount of money, culture, history or Family in the USAgood times that substitute for family. Mexicans know this… and when living in Merida, it makes missing ours all the more difficult.

Clean streets. Mayans for some reason haven’t quite figured out that plastic bags and coke bottles don’t disintegrate like banana leaves. They need a “Pick up your litter” campaign like we had in the States in the 50′s and 60′s (Remember Woodsie Owl? – Give a hoot, don’t pollute!). We’ve seen intimations of this kind of progress and we are eagerly awaiting it. In the meantime, we love and appreciate the guys with the orange trash cans who periodically clean up the streets in the centro.

Movies. We’ve got great movie theatres in Merida and around the Yucatan Peninsula now. We have VIP lounges where you can lie back and eat and drink in comfort while watching the big screen. We have iTunes and other internet sites, which allow for a lot of downloading of media when in Mexico. Some people get movies and TV through illegal satellite setups. Still, in Merida, we miss things like Netflix and Hulu and other internet-based channels whose lawyers don’t allow them to show their products in Mexico.

Slow mosquitoes. The mosquitoes in California are lazy and completely pathetic. Killing a mosquito in California takes no dexterity at all. The California mosquitoes really ought to take lessons from their Yucatecan cousins. They are no match for our Yucatan-honed mosquito-slapping skills.

Happy, well-cared-for animals. Seeing a scared, starving, sick or thirsty dog wandering the streets ruins our day. Listening to a tied-up, barking, unhappy dog has a similar effect. Over the years, we have gotten so much more used to it, sadly. We used to want to rescue every dog we saw on the street. Now we limit ourselves to ones that are hurt or obviously starving. If we can’t see their ribs, we can now acknowledge that they are probably getting enough food and may even be “owned” by someone who just lets them run the streets. We support additional education for everyone in Mexico about taking care of animals and do what we can. We are happy to see more and more Yucatecans walking their dogs on leashes and treating their pets well. In the United States, we revel in the happy dogs we see playing at the beach, hanging out at the dog parks. It is a relief to be in a culture that even might be said to go overboard in their concern about the health and well-being of animals. We probably won’t be the ones saying it.

What We Love About Merida, Mexico

And here’s what we love about our other home, Merida, and Mexico in general:

Our family in Merida

Mexicans and Yucatecans in particular. Almost everyone says “Buenos dias” when you walk by. People smile back if you smile at them, almost without exception. People in general really do seem happier and more gracious here.

Our adopted Yucatecan family. Over ten years we have gained at least three Yucatecan “children”, numerous friends and their families. They may not be blood relatives, but they have become family.

The mix of indigenous people and us modernos. It seems to help keep the soul of the country intact and makes life so much more interesting. We’re sad to see young Mayans wearing t-shirts instead of huipiles, but happy to see the revival of the Mayan language and the support it is getting from the government and the young people re-learning the language.

Free Entertainment. Noche Mexicana. Tuesdays at Santiago. Juanes. Shakira. We don’t know any city of a million people in the USA where there is so much free quality entertainment, or where international stars like these give concerts for free. It may be a result of political posturing that we are not going to even try to understand or get involved with, but we love the free, world class entertainment available to everyone, despite their wealth or lack of it.

Free Enterprise. Mercados, street vendors and the spirit of entrepreneurship. You don’t need a business license to sell vegetables here. Any enterprising person can sell everything from homemade brooms to bags of dirt to fresh garden vegetables… and they do! The guy in the picture is selling bags of dirt off of his handmade cart, pulled by a horse through the city streets. He, and others like him, ride around yelling Tierra! and sell the bags for a few pesos each. Is it great dirt? Not usually. But we totally support his right to sell it.

History. It’s everywhere here! We know this is also true in the more eastern parts of the United States, though not so much in California. The layers of life that have been lived on each city block, in each little town in the Yucatan… it is fascinating, awe-inspiring and humbling.

COLOR! People paint their houses purple, orange, blue… whatever! Color could be said to be the extravagance of the poor in Mexico. But a love of bright and different colors seems to be embedded in the Mexican psyche… and we love it. Cities, streets and houses in the United States look so drab in comparison to us now.

Color is everywhere in Mexico

Street People. Practically no one lives on the street in Merida. There’s a lot of poverty in Mexico, but everyone here in Merida has some family or seems to have found a home to live in. In our almost ten years in Merida, we’ve seen less than ten people sleeping on the street in this city of over a million people. Back in California, in cities like Santa Barbara or Los Angeles or even our hometown of San Luis Obispo, the number of street people is alarming to us. It does not escape our irony detector that while there are no homeless dogs running the streets, there seem to be plenty of homeless people.

State-owned gas stations. No worries about whether you are getting the right price or not. You never have to pump your own gas. There are clean bathrooms and full service at just about every station. And after driving the length, if not the breadth, of Mexico, we can attest that there is usually a Pemex station everywhere you need one, and sometimes more than you need. Go Pemex!

Less expensive real estate and low property taxes. You can buy a lovely home here for $200K and still pay $100 a Swimming pool in Meridayear in property taxes. Where can you do that in the USA or Canada or Europe? And yes, we still have reasonably-priced water, a-bit-more-expensive electricity and unbelievably-cheap trash service. Maybe the streets are not paved as beautifully… but maybe they are! The infrastructure in California is not what it used to be.

The Heat. You may not believe this, but though living in the heat can be difficult, we miss it when we are away from it. After ten years, we learned to live with the heat (yes, air conditioners and a swimming pool definitely help!). We swear our bodies have adapted, and now we’re like Yucatecans when it comes to cold. When the temperature dips below 65 degrees Fahrenheit, we put on coats and shiver like everyone else in Merida who has lived here for any length of time.

Wherever We Go in Gringolandia, There is Mexico

Now that we are spending more time in Gringolandia, we have noticed something else. We are still using our Spanish because there are a lot of people from Mexico here. Our closest neighbors in California are an entire family originally from Oaxaca. We can practice our Spanish with the guy taking our money at the restaurant or the family having a BBQ next to ours at the lake. Or, what is really even more surprising, sometimes we cannot practice our Spanish with that family at the lake. They look Mexican, have Mexican names but are born and raised here and can’t speak Spanish. Are they Mexican? Are we? The integration of the two cultures has been accelerating more and more quickly it seems.

And we are a part of all that.

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27 Responses to “Gringolandia”

  1. Gringo does not mean way back, it actually should be written : green-go. When the americans were leaving Mexico City after the US-Mexico war, people were shouting at the streets when the american soliders were marching out, green go!. They meant: Vayanse Verdes, “green” was the color of the uniform….

  2. I have to agree, Yucatecans are “happier” than Gringos. Yucatecans are, in general, more laid back or content. Even the ones that live in poverty act like they are “happy to be alive”. Money doesn’t drive them like it does the people from Gringolandia. I think this is the reason Yucatecans have no concept of time. They will show up for an 8:00 dinner date at 9:00 and think nothing of it. For some reason, this laid back nature doesn’t carry over into driving. Most Yucatecans use their horn more than their brakes.

  3. First I appriciate your site, its giving me some hope. This is not on subject, but was closer than most of the forums here. I live in the Washington state in the foothills of the cascades, I own a bussiness as a septic system designer and installer. The unfortunate thing for me is I and people in my class are paying for this country of once free america and my shoulders are getting tired. There are so many questions I have, for the Yucatan area, Taxes, personal, land and sales. Any zoning issues concerning Agraculture, start up bussinesses, restrictions on what type of bussinesses nonmexicans can own or run.
    My wife and myself plan coming down in May to look at some land and try and get a feel of the region. So I expect to stop by the Merida english library to consort with the expatriots on many issues. So I guees I would appriciate some contact info , like best times to stop at the library, possible other contact info other than this forum style ect. ect.
    Thank you and hope to be able to be a transplant before the mexican goverment decides to build a wall to keep us Green goes out.

  4. Hey guys…
    I just fell on your site while looking for land in Jamaica.
    I’m interested to learn more about your area (Yucatan).
    First I need to find it on a map.
    Sounds nice.
    Words from Massachusetts…


  5. Hey, David…bienvenidos! (welcome)

    The Yucatan is the Peninsula that forms the southern land border of the Gulf of Mexico. Find New Orleans on a map of the world, then head south towards the equator. You will cross over the Gulf of Mexico and land on the Yucatan Peninsula.
    The major cities of the peninsula include Cancun in the East, Merida in the center and Campeche on the west coast.

    Happy Discovery!

  6. I have worked around Mexicans over the yrs.(in Calif) and have learned that a gringo is a American that is not respected… a fool to be parted from his mucho money.a tourist .. and a gavacho is a respected American… but this may be a modern day slang… i know when a American calls himself a gringo the Mexicans all smile ..and like it.. thinking that one does not think they are better than them… and yes.. the Illuminati owns the media so we do get mostly propaganda and not the true news.. this i do know.. and they are rolling on us hard nowadays… gas this week on the central coast was down to 3.57.. yahoo….arco..hw41.. hope all is well there… j

  7. My father has retired in Merida, I am looking to relocate with my two children. Your site has been helpful as far as private schools that teach english any other information on making this kind of move would be greatly appreciated, thanks.

  8. Hi everybody,
    the word Gringo actually comes from “Green go !”
    As far as I know, this expression was not invented in Mexico, but in the northeast of Brazil when foreign military powers (dutch, french) occupied part of the country.
    When Brazilians were fed up with the foreign presence they started to say “green go !” “green” because of the green military uniforms. Local accents turned the “green go” into “grin go”. So yes, the origins of the word “gringo” had no positive flavour, however, these days, “gringo” is used all over LatAm as a denomination for any westerners outside of LatAm. That could be Europeans as well as Americans.

  9. In Mexico the word Gringo only refers to US-Americans, not to Canadians or to Europeans or to other foreigners. Most Mexicans avoid saying Gringo when US-Americans can hear them because it is seen as a bad word. In some other latinamerican countries, Gringo may also refer to other foreigners and may not be seen as a bad word.

  10. I almost never get involved in these blogs, but i agreed with your article. I also am from California and have now lived in Chapala, Mexico for the last 9 years and am planning a move to Merida in the near future. What the so called gringos need to learn is that this is not the USA. So we must respect the custom, tradition, and some of the different values in this beautiful country called Mexico.

  11. Your commendation of Pemex comes as a surprise to me, as my experience, primarily with the Pemex station on the road in to Tulum, has been nothing other than negative. The gas attendants there routinely pull a stunt, carefully honed over the years, in which they have you believe you gave them a 20 peso note when in fact you gave them a 200 peso note. This is well chronicled on the web, and not only in regard to that particular gas station. See as an example.

    I should add that this has never happened to me in Merida, and on the whole I find the Mexican people to be honest – making this particular scam all the more disappointing (not like in India, for instance, where scam artists are part and parcel of the travel experience).

  12. Yes, we’ve been victims of that scam a few times in Mexico. Once in Tulum (what a coincidence!) and once in northern Mexico. But if you are careful (and often if you speak Spanish…), they don’t try to run it on you.

  13. You nailed it on so many counts with the Central Coast’s pros ‘n cons. Seriously, what’s with all the homeless folk, including teens? Ah, but who can give up the smell of sage and eucalyptus; and the rolling oak hills against the backdrop of the Pacific? Poppies and lattes and safe biking zones!

    One comparison that I’m still sizing up is health care. It’s in a deplorable state in California and feeling a bit tragic. Would love to hear your thoughts on that.

  14. You forgot to mention the delicious “pea soup” every traveling family must stop to enjoy at Solvang. Still have my California Real Estate License as I sold recreational properties throughout the state for thirty five years and traveled through the San Luis Obispo area many times. I am now retired here in Merida. Visit gringolandia at least twice a year to visit my children and their families who are scattered from Minnesota Wisconsin Illinois Indiana Missouri Oklahoma and California. Do not have a car as I use Merida’s fairly safe public transportation and taxi when in need to doctor dentist etc. Enjoy the Mexican life style celebrate my gringolandia patriotic events as a Korean war veteran who honorably served in the U.S. Air Force. I am proud of my dual U.S. & Mexican Citizenship.

  15. I have just returned after a month in Merida with my daughter Janice. I have had to put on a sweater every day here in Oregon! I check your site frequently here in the states as your wonderful pictures make me feel right “at home” in Merida. Thank you.
    San Fraser

  16. Hola All,

    When I moved to Yucatan 35 years ago I told the folks who asked that I was from Gringolandia. Thought I was being original but perhaps not…. Hmmmm

    Also, no one knows the true origin of the word gringo. As well as green-go it was also said that Taylors troops often marched to a popular song of the era… Green grow the Lilacs !!!!
    And…. people here and south of DF use the word Gringo in a friendly manner. To people north of the capital it is used in an unfriendly matter.

    Cheers, Bry [San Jose Tzal] south of Merida

  17. We spend our time between Mexico (mostly DF), NJ just outside NYC, and San Jose Costa Rica–gotta say Mexico draws us closer and closer, and the only question is where will we be–Merida or DF !!

  18. This article is GREAT!

    Everybody has told me that Gringo is a reference of skin color….a white person is a Gringo, a black or latino even from the US is not a gringo….I feel
    Mexicans call us “el gringuito” o ” la gringuita”. En el mercado a lady called my wife “gringuita chula” ? any idea?

  19. First friends from Yucatan Living, the term Gringolandia is been used just for the mere reason to describe where Gringos are from (USA) not for the wrong reasons you are refering to.
    It does not connate anything about, nice, best, highest quality, nor anything about your country. It is just a mere description of the place where u come from (geographicly) So please don’t use ur
    Other reason why it is used is because many people in Mexico link Disneyland and and LANDIA with the lack of culture in the US. Have u hear tne comment some Mexicans make about the US? ” The US only culture is Mickey Mouse”

  20. Great article and it seems to express my feelings and thoughts. On one of my trips “home” which is Ventura County I was going to a friend’s home in a new gated community and recall thinking how unattractive I found it. Even the brand new shopping center was dull looking. I longed for the turquoise, purple, fuchsia walls in Mexico. Too bad that many of the larger cities are emulating Gringolandia.

  21. “gringuita chula” would be like “pretty lady” or “lovely little gringa” — a compliment!

  22. I could not agree more about the “fear” message you get the moment you enter the U.S., but I even notice the change when you get the Cancun airport!

    The people of the Yucatan are sincerely warm and happy (generally :) When I leave the area and return to the U.S. I too miss the heat, I miss walking, I miss the food, I miss the “buenos dias” in the street, I miss the common decency you encounter on a daily basis!

    While there are positive things to say about the USA, I TRULY hope that Mexico, and the Yucatan in particular, retains it’s own ways and does not become too “American”. The norte part of Merida is starting to remind me of the worst strip-mall type streets in the United States.

    Great article – great website – saludos from Florida – I can’t wait to return!

  23. Thanks for all you do and say about Merida. I am retired now and dream daily of living in Merida. Your web site is illuminating and feeds my dreams!

  24. I just read the article, I do spend winters in the Yucatan, Progreso and can verify that Merida is a great city. I often go on Sunday to the Philharmonic. Symphonica de Yucatan is a great orchestra and for the best seats on Sunday afternoon? $ 150.00 pesos. About $ 12.00 CDN. In Toronto Canada, $ 90.00 – 110.00 Canadian.
    I have traveled through various parts of Mexico for over 40 years and yes, Life for the average Urban Mexican has improved greatly. And also unfortunately there is still great poverty in the countryside. I am looking forward to November 28 when I will be off to Mexico again.

  25. after living here for 2 years now, coming from europe, i love this place a lot, people are very friendly and don’t worry much.

  26. My husband wants to move to Merida, I have a hard time wanting to move since my kids and grand kids live here in the U.S.A.
    After reading all of your comments I am really thinking hard of thinking about moving there.

  27. Thank you so much for your article……as I am freezing….literally…here near San Francisco…….I dream of visiting Merida….Yucatan……I have lived in Europe and Asia…and perhaps it’s time for me to come to Mexico!!! You certainly inspire me!! and it’s true I can always come back to the USA……I love the way you talk about the colors…the food….the friendly and happy peopl. The faces of people riding BART the high speed rail system here don’t really reflect happiness, even though the people have quite a lot of money. Free and good entertainment in the town squares and other places….that sounds wonderful!!! Looking forward to experiencing all of this myself!!! Muchas gracias!!!


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