Sep 22, 2015

Your answers to the How’s and Where’s of Nomading in the land of Aztecs, Coca-Cola, and Mezcal.

The Digital Nomads Guide to Living and Working in México: Part 1

There are times when the culture shock hits me a bit too hard, and I find myself trying to ground myself in things that are familiar, but being in Mexico there are few things that I can relate to — even though I was born here. After years of living and working here I’ve found that working and traveling here takes a bit to get used to, and so does its culture.

Growing up in the United States afforded me plenty of luxuries and advantages to my Mexican counterparts. The biggest and most beneficial happens to be the fact that I can read and write in English, which, unbeknownst to me was what helped me get through my first months here since my Spanish was so horrendous that it was easier to communicate in my native tongue.

That gesture alone was indicative of Mexico and its people. Hard working individuals who are more than happy to accommodate a ‘pocho’ (someone born here, but grew up in the US) in order to help him get his bearings. Having traveled this beautiful country for the past 5 years has only cemented that characteristic in my mind. Sure, back home you hear of all the violence and corruption, but you never see the thousands of people who pour into their city streets to try and combat these very issues that plague their country.

With this series I hope to not only right some wrongs that have smeared Mexico’s people and its culture throughout the world, but to help any would-be traveler that tries to make it here. From navigating its infernal immigration process to looking for and successfully finding somewhere to live and work.

There are few truths to México (lindo y querido) that will stand throughout its history. Chief among them is their people and their values that make them love and care for the country that has provided them with so much, but at the same time so little.

Breakfast on my Coworkers first day.

The Mexican Way of (office) Life

Imagine my surprise, and horror, when I see 12 o’clock come and go and see no one getting up for lunch. I mistakenly think that all of my coworkers are too busy to go and eat so I ask my cube-mate if he’d like to join me for a bite. The look he gave me can only be described as how you look at a child when he wrongly answers a question that’s obvious to his peers. Apparently the normal lunch hour starts at 2pm, two whole hours after I should have fed the beast that’s growing impatient in my stomach!

Jesus Christ, not only do people start at 9am, but they’re expected to last another 5 hours before they can go get something to eat? After the longest and most grueling 2 hours of my life my new boss comes out of his office and asks if we’re ready to go eat.

I join my coworkers and head to the Holiday Inn next door which houses a taco shop called El Fogonazo. This being a very commercial oriented part of town it’s packed to the gills with office dwellers from Microsoft, Cinepolis, Jose Cuervo, and other multinationals, so we’re asked to wait. While we’re waiting we’re offered small courtesy beers. Coronitas, half the size of what a regular Corona would be and wait patiently until enough group of ‘godines’ (office workers) leaves until we finally get seated.

After perusing the menu, I’m about to order every known taco imaginable, but first I ask for an horchata (rice water). One by one our waitress takes note of our 6 drink orders which range from flavored water to beer and whiskey. Ordering whiskey during lunch? What? I quickly change my order to a Montejo making sure my excitement isn’t too obvious.

What I learned that day about Mexican lunches paints a clearer picture of how a workday is structured in a Mexican advertising agency. Not only are 2 hour lunches where drinking is not only accepted, but sometimes encouraged, the norm, but so are the 10+ hour workdays and 2 hour long commutes. No one really keeps an eye on the clock to make sure they’re under the hour mark, but if you know you have work to do then you leave your portion of the check and tell everyone ‘Provecho’ before heading back to the office.

For about 2 weeks I didn’t know what ‘Provecho’ meant, I (wrongly) assumed it was just something people said when they left, but after using it when leaving an elevator a coworker enlightens me that it’s only used when someone is about to go eat, or if you’re leaving the table. It’s basically the way someone tells another to have a good meal, the equivalent of the French ‘bon appetit’. This will not be the first or last word that I completely misuse in my day to day speech unfortunately.

Having gone back to the office I finish my work for the day, which supposedly ends at 7pm. Again, I look around and very few people are getting ready to leave. I tell myself that they’re messing with me. Not only do they eat their two hour lunches at 2pm, but they’re expected to leave after 7? This is something I couldn’t support since it takes me 2.5 hours to get to work in the first place. During Mexico’s rainy season that can easily go past 4 hours due to the Metro being flooded.

I go ask my boss of there’s anything else he needs, and if not, then I’ll be taking my leave. He’s literally surprised that I’m leaving. I tell him that my commute is long and arduous and he acquiesces telling me it’s fine that I leave ‘early’. I go pack my things and take off on my 2.5 hour journey to Mexico City’s outer limits.

The work culture here can only be described as needlessly long. People take their time with the work that’s handed to them, and clients take their time in responding to emails. Throughout my time in Mexico I learned to work within this structure. I’d come in between 10am-12pm most days since I knew I’d not only have nothing to do in the beginning, but because the way I structured my week was in milestones. I knew that there would always be one client that decides to send revisions at 8pm and would need them done ASAP, so what’s the point in having a schedule?

This chart by Forbes paints a clearer picture as to how many hours Mexican work on average.

What does that mean to a Digital Nomad? Well what that generally means is that you, too, will be held to the same standards that each and every office worker throughout Mexico is held to. You’ll be expected to answer emails throughout your evenings and take client calls and meetings that start at 6pm, unless you’re working with Grupo Modelo which has a habit of scheduling meetings at 8am. Who does that?

Working in Mexico, with Mexican companies will take a toll on your day to day life so it’s better you relegate them to a small percentage of your total client base.

All is not dreary within the Digital Nomad’s landscape in Mexico. One thing I’ve found is that they’re always on time to pay, and generally speaking don’t mind paying my higher than average fees. Once you become an asset to a company here they’ll be happy to let you roam free so long as you’re available to answer any and all calls.

Hopefully this piece paints a picture of how it is working in a Mexican environment, and what it’ll be like having Mexican clients. In the following piece I’ll speak to the misadventures of obtaining a visa, and the cautionary tale that only the Northern border of Mexico can provide.

Currently listening to: Badfish — Sublime

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