Malcolm and Jillian – Fresh Off The Boat
YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and where did you move from and why did you move?
Answer: We arrived on August 17, just over two months ago! We spent the last year in New Haven, CT, where we went to school, after five fun, fast post-college years in New York. We moved because 1) the Internet, our dark master, said we could; 2) Malcolm grew up traveling the world with his parents and wanted a return to that lifestyle; 3) we were over New York…where do you go from there?; 4) we wanted to own a house on the beach before we were thirty; 5) we want intrigue! culture! and natural beauty! (while still a quick plane ride to the States).
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Answer: Balance and the beach. We were watching the real estate market for about a year and we just had to jump. A cloudless sky seen through the arches by the pool, in pictures. We liked that Merida was arty and international, but small. It seemed like we could have more money, time and sanity. It was hypnotic, “The Yucatan Peninsula”, as a goal and a meditation. We had never been here before, so it was a total leap of faith.
YL: What did/do you plan to do after you move(d) here?
Answer: Reading, writing, getting married, owning our first home, learning Spanish, further travel. We want it all, and we want it all right now. Malcolm will keep on doing things the way he has for the last several years, namely sitting for long hours in front of a computer, throwing ideas out there, and seeing which ones stick. “Turning a dollar on the Internet,” as his father puts it. Jillian would like to be published.
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here?
Answer: Yes and no. . For example, Malcolm does not yet speak fluent Spanish, Jillian doesn’t have a book deal, we don’t have a car, and we’re not breaking ground on our new swimming pool at our new house. We’ve noticed that things grow faster but time moves more slowly here. We are learning to adapt. We intended to have an adventure, to figure it out organically, to be elated and sometimes terrified by our decision. The house is taking a little longer than we expected, but…well, you know.
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?
Answer: After two nights in a hotel getting out bearings and smacking our foreheads, we moved down the street to a furnished apartment. The next weekend we were shown three houses. Wednesday our offer on the third was accepted. Now we wait and wonder.
YL: Now that you live here, how do you like it?
Answer: Like crazy. We like it like crazy. We are amazed every day that we wake up and it’s Mexico. We did not take a reconnaissance trip. We did not renew the lease on our apartment, we sold the majority of our possessions and put the rest in storage, we bought plane tickets, landed and took a look around. Even though it was entirely new and strange, and we look sweaty and dazed and marvel at everything all the time, we live here. We’re still adapting to being nomadic. We are so new and the challenges are, so far, a pleasurable workout for our brains.
YL: Would you ever return to your former location?
Answer: Jillian would like to live in New York again and not be an assistant or a waitress. A little house on the water in Connecticut seems like a cozy way to spend the summers of our old age. Sort of the reverse, huh?
YL: What are the most striking differences between living here vs. living where you lived before?
Answer: We realize how much of Mexico has been transplanted; a walk up 4 th Avenue in Brooklyn was like one into another country, we now know which.
Maybe we’re naïve, but there is a coexistence here that strikes us as harmonious.
Right now, the absence of seasons is strange. When do you buy new shoes?
Life is conducted much more in public spaces.
And in New Haven, we never once saw two guys driving horse carts full of goods past the Wal-Mart shopping plaza.
YL: What do you love about living here?
Answer: One of the first things we noticed that we have really been enjoying is how much the volume of life is turned down here. For example, in the states, you feel constantly bombarded by signs on massive office supply stores selling you, “PAPER! BY THE REAM! ALL COLORS ALL STYLES LOWPRICESALLTHETIME!” in huge three foot tall bright orange letters, complete with a little cartoon piece of paper that presumably is there not just to remind you what paper is, but also to dazzle you with its irreverent attitude about being paper. Here, if a store sells paper, it sells paper. Everyone knows it, and the store may even have a small handwritten sign to tell you.
We also noticed one day that we had gone a long, long time without seeing anyone raise their voices to each other in public, jerk a child around by the arm, or otherwise act in the somewhat crass manner we have become accustomed to in the US.
Other than that, it’s the little things: being thirty minutes away from a tropical vacation in all directions. Bolitos de queso. Juices. Quiet, solitary walks up narrow streets at dusk. Music outside every night.. It is a country for old men! It’s a total delight, and with every day comes a new discovery of new joy.
YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?
Answer: Oh, there is definitely a list, but it fluctuates. Steamed pork dumplings from Me and My Eggroll. Wooster Street pizza. Living around the corner from our college friends who are like family. My grandmother’s house and the Long Island Sound. And Fall. The cool, crisp autumn days, when you start to need a jacket and everything feels electric. The apple picking, pumpkin carving, wood burning stoves and orange leaves of New England. Dance class ( Jillian only). When we have more of our own things and are settled in our house, a lot of longing will abate.
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here?
Answer: It’s tricky. Malcolm is not running a business locally, but is instead continuing along with the clients he had in the States. The change has been pretty invisible to them; he is still just as much behind a curtain of instant messaging and email as he ever was. From Malcolm’s perspective, though, everything is topsy-turvy. He finds old contacts in the industry slipping away…and the longer he is here, the less that seems to really matter. Not to mention, it is hard to stay motivated and behind a keyboard when there is so much new and happening just outside the door of the apartment.
YL: Do you have to do more than one thing to make a living?
Answer: The nature of our business means that we always have several balls in the air. We like the idea of doing more work offline, maybe even outside, using arms and legs now and again. So far, we’ve been lucky.
YL: Do you work as much as you used to "back home" or are your work habits different here?
Answer: Yes and no. Malcolm was pretty good about putting in 13 or 14 hours of mildly productive screen time every day in the States, and didn’t seem to mind not leaving the house or interacting with another living soul. Now, he enjoys a Club drinkable yogurt at around 10:00, checks email, starts work at around 11:00, maybe heads to the Internet café for a cheap cappuccino around 2:00 (In public!), and kicks off for the night at 6:00 or 7:00. For some reason though, his focus seems greater. It’s easier to always find another client when you are surrounded by them in America…here, Malcolm seems much more committed to getting his own projects going, reducing even further his dependency on people in the US. Once you have tasted life here, the fear of failing becomes a great motivator. So even though the hours are shorter, the focus is more intense.
YL: How is the city where you live different for residents than it is for tourists?
Answer: Difficult to say at this point. We are still often treated like tourists but each day feel more at ease to say, “I live here, so thanks, but I’ll get a hammock and a carriage ride another day”. We are delighted to discover how one unpacks a city in the early stages of a long stay. By living in a place, making your home there, paying bills there, buying food there, you get a million little social microtransactions with a million locals, which, when pieced together, provide a much better profile of a place. One day at Chichen Itza and a night at Pancho’s would have delivered great pictures but nothing deeper.
YL: How is your Spanish?
Answer: Malcolm’s is absolutely ridiculously abysmal. He must have had some idea that just by virtue of being here, he would pick it up, osmosis or something. Which works in a way. His friends at the OXXO are coaching him and his vocabulary is larger than he thinks. Jillian had no Spanish upon arriving, but is in class and making progress like a good student. She was very proud of her conversational skills at the farmacia until she realized that she had told the clerk that the saline solution they sold was “better pretty” than at Mega.
YL: Is the language barrier a problem for you in your day to day life?
Answer: Absolutely 100%. For Malcolm, it is really his only real frustration about living here. We used to wield language like a weapon. Now we speak like slow children. But peoples’ patience is so encouraging.
For example, Malcolm tried to buy a Coca-Cola in a heavy glass bottle the other day, before the clerks at the store explained, in Spanish, that he could BUY the soda, he just couldn’t take the bottle out of the store. Now, for a total non-Spanish speaker, this is a difficult problem to figure out, especially since there is no corollary for such a rule in the United States. You can try and Spanglish your way through it, but inevitably, the person behind the counter is going to get frustrated and look at you like you are the biggest moron on the face of the planet. This can be a difficult feeling to get used to.
Native Spanish speakers also can’t seem to really believe that you don’t speak Spanish. Even after several interactions with the same person, where it is clear you are a bumbling American, where both parties have been very considerate of the other, doing their best to find some kind of common broken language that both can speak, the Spanish speaker forgets, or still can’t quite believe it. Looking dead into your eyes, they will hit you with a 100 megaton bomb of Spanish, lasting nine or ten sentences, that actually makes you physically stumble backwards with its might.
For the most part, though, we have found the people here to be very, very patient, understanding, and forgiving. When confronted with a situation we don’t understand, locals seem to make every effort to speak any English they have, and we make every effort to reply in Spanish. The combination seems to please both parties; Malcolm’s friends at the convenience store and he are always teaching each other new words, and rarely is there a misunderstanding that can’t be resolved. Eventually. For now, we consider the language barrier and the associated frustrations to be our problem, and one we will work hard to fix.
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone planning a move to the Yucatan?
Answer: Just do it already. Look, if you have spent a year researching the real estate market, trying to figure out where to buy, learning Spanish, knowing which areas along the coast are on the rise, and where to buy milk once you get here, the decision has already been made in your mind. You are coming to Mexico. We see a lot of less-than-supportive talk for prospective immigrants from the US on some websites, and that is unsettling. Basic, innocent questions that get asked, along the lines of, “Hey, is there a decent place to get a hot dog in Merida?” are often met with shrieking replies of, “NO! THERE ARE NO HOT DOGS HERE and hot dogs are disgusting and I think you had better DO SOME RESEARCH and think about your MOTIVATIONS for why you want to come here and whether you HAVE ANY BUSINESS BEING HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE!” It all seems wildly counterproductive, weirdly hostile, and not conducive to our common goals as Americans living here. Our advice is simple. If you think you might like it, come on down. Particularly if you are on the young side, wield sarcasm and pop culture references like a weapon, enjoy beer, don’t take yourself at all seriously, and want to hang out with us. Try it out, dive in, see if you can make it work. We bet you can, and if not, home is just a plane ticket away.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen?
Answer: No. We don’t even have our FM3s.
YL: If you aren’t, do you think you will become one?
Answer: We’ve only just arrived. We don’t know how long we’ll stay. We’re interested to learn what difference it (citizenship) makes on your impact on and assimilation in a place.
YL: Why would or wouldn’t you?
Answer: It’s way too soon to know.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Answer: We feel welcomed and only mildly assaulted (having lived in New York) by the friendly zealousness of everyone. We are trying to tread lightly and ingratiate ourselves. People’s curiosity seems genuine and without agenda. Yesterday a parking attendant stopped traffic so Jillian could cross the street. It was a sweet, earnestly human gesture and everyone watching smiled as she blushed and sheepishly mouthed “gracias”.
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico?
Answer: We are witness to a truly developing nation. There is no stopping the influx of American corporations, who have set their sights on Mexico. However, this same influx makes us unbelievably nervous. We have seen what has happened as a result of the total strip-malling of America. Every town looks the same, and small businesses are nonexistent. There may be even greater potential for that in Mexico.
Mexico wants to be a player in the global economy. How fast, on what path, and for how long are going to be huge questions that we wouldn’t presume to know the answers to after just two months.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Answer: Move to San Crisanto, have a wedding, decorate our home with local art, swim more, get browner, leaner and less specialized. Write, be read, make wise investments, take a street dog home, explore the ruins. Fly down the family cat, extend the front deck, replace the bidet. Eat more pork, buy a boat, get salt water up our noses. Get driving! Get diving! Get moving!
YL: Do you see your business growing?
Answer: For sure. We seem to use our time better, or, perhaps it is that there are fewer stupid distractions. We’re focused and rededicated, totally inspired by our new surroundings.
YL: Do you see yourself staying?
Answer: Yes, for a while. We are looking forward to living in a house that we own, to staying in it for more than a year, which we haven’t done since college. The trouble is, the world has been cracked wide open. I hope there’s time to see and do it all.
YL: Any last words?
If there is anything *else* you would like to add for our readers (people interested in or considering moving to the Yucatan), please add them here:
It’s not too late to seek a newer world. Bring mayonnaise.
Malcolm and Jillian are staying in Merida til their house in San Crisanto is available. We’ll go show them where to buy the mayonnaise, but do go read their blog: www.droppedin.com