In anticipation of summer bidding and transfer season, here’s our contribution to the latest ‘five good, five bad” series by Foreign Service bloggers posted around the globe. You may remember our prior post about Cotonou. Now, here’s our take on Guadalajara.
1. Living is easy: The weather is pleasant year-round. Housing is good. Commute times are reasonable (20-30 minutes). Mexicans are pleasant and generally like Americans. There are Wal-Marts, Costcos, malls, etc., making it fairly simple to find just about anything you would need. Internet is fast. There are movie theaters, museums, a zoo and things to do galore. This isn’t America, but it’s in no way a hardship post. It’s got much of the culture you’d find in Mexico City, but the city is a more manageable size.
2. Good food is plentiful: Mexican food is of course delicious. I’m partial to fish tacos and street churros. But, there are also plenty of American chains and lots of international options. And there’s a pretty well developed foodie culture, meaning you can have a fancy meal for far less than you would in a major American city. Your palate won’t suffer here.
3. Household help is affordable: Despite having most of the comforts of America, household help is also very reasonable. You can employ a full-time nanny for $600-$800/month, for instance.
4. Travel is easy and cheap: There are direct flights to a number of major American cities (Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and Portland, to name just a few) and other international vacation spots at well (think Cabo, Cancun, Panama). If you’re willing to transfer once, you can fly just about anywhere. It’s also safe to drive to a number of weekend and day trip spots: Lake Chapala, the mountain town of Tapalpa, the lovely European-like city of Guanajuato and more.
5. Kids are king: This is seriously the most kid-friendly place I think I’ve ever been. Even teenage boys and grandfatherly men coo at babies on the street. Most restaurants have play areas for kids and some even have on-site nannies. Kids aren’t seen as a nuisance when you’re out and about as they sometimes are in the U.S.
The Not Quite as Good
1. Outdoor playground options aren’t quite up to snuff: Let me preface this by saying that in Benin, we would have been thrilled to have any one of the dozens and dozens of play options available to us here in Guadalajara. There are mall playgrounds. There are parks with bouncy castles and trampolines. There are amusement parks. There are Chuck E. Cheese like establishments. And there ARE outdoor playgrounds, it’s just that most seem leftover from the 1970s when metal structures with cement bases were for some reason the norm. I miss padded American playgrounds where my clumsy toddlers can run and fall without scraping themselves up too badly.
2. The beach is a little too far: When we bid on Guadalajara, I had visions of spending every weekend in Puerto Vallarta. Turns out it’s a good six-hour drive away. It’s really too far for a weekend trip; we haven’t yet been there. There are some other beach options a bit closer (Chacala, Manzanillo, Sayulita, etc.), but nothing closer than four hours away which is hard to do on a regular weekend with little kids. Not a real hardship, I know, but still a small gripe.
3. It’s hard to escape Americana: It’s a little too easy to live in an American bubble here, hanging out at the pool in your neighborhood, shopping at Wal-Mart, going out to dinner at Outback. Mexican culture is out there, and it’s completely our own fault when we don’t take advantage of it, but sometimes I wish so many temptations didn’t exist.
4. It’s hard to break into Mexican social circles: Our experience, and that of pretty much everyone else we know, has been that while our Mexican neighbors are friendly and will say hello as we pass them on the street, and sometimes stop to chat for a bit, they won’t invite us over for dinner; they have no interest in a closer friendship. Mexicans, at least in Guadalajara, spend weekends with extended family and friends they’ve had since childhood. Seeing as how our two countries are already so close, we’re not novelties as Americans; they’re not really that interested in investing time in people who will be leaving after two or three years. That leaves us to socialize pretty much exclusively with other expats. That’s not entirely bad either. It’s pretty cool that Flynn’s BFF is from Japan. But still, we wish we had more Mexican friends.
5. The lack of seasons: Of course, we knew this going in. I’m really stretching to come up with cons here — can you tell? Guadalajara is seriously a great post! But, we do really miss fall and winter. Guadalajara cools down enough that you’ll wear long sleeves and jeans for a bit, but you’ll never break out a winter coat. You’ll never see snow.
Of course, this is just one family’s take after our first nine months. Take it for what it’s worth.
Let the bidding begin!