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Dispatches From Mexico City: The Four H’s Of Culture Shock

Author: Channel E2E blogger and resident musician Ty Trumbull

My friend is visiting us here in Mexico City for the third time. The occasion has been a good opportunity for me to take stock of the city for all its greatness and flaws.

When I ask her why she keeps coming back she answers quickly: “the food.”

Indeed, while Mexico City is probably best known for its street tacos, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Yesterday, my friend went to the world famous Pujol where she shelled out a pretty penny for a six-course meal. But, of the 50 best restaurants in the world, Pujol is rated number 20 so she says the visit was well worth the price. (Mexico City’s Quintonil is number 22, and the owner of Pujol also owns Cosme in New York City, number 40 on the list.)

In many ways, these restaurants are representative of the city’s coming of age. More frequently, the world seems to be paying attention to Mexico City — and not only because of calls to build a wall north of here.

One of the great things about when friends come to visit though is that you get to see the city through different eyes. My work can have me stuck inside for days, rarely venturing out of my neighborhood. But when someone comes to visit I get to step out of my routine a bit. My friend talks about the energy this city has. How it’s just different from Toronto. Different from most places in the world, really.

The Four H’s

While it’s easy to become stuck in a routine, I’m beginning to think that might be a sign of something more positive. On the weekend I was at a housewarming party for a friend and a group of us began discussing what we love about the city.

Now, that’s not a topic that should be unfamiliar to anyone who reads these blog posts regularly. I love this city. But just like anywhere, there are things I hate about it too and our conversation eventually led down that road. The pollution is bad. The corruption is worse. Coming from Canada or the United States, it’s hard to get used to the time it takes to do simple things. Paying for medical treatment is a particularly new concept to me. But dragging around the dregs of our experiences was a, overall, good exercise.

During the conversation, my friend explained to me that there are four stages of culture shock. She called them the four H’s: honeymoon, hostility, humor, and home.

You begin your experience in a new culture being completely enamored of the place. Everything is beautiful, new, refreshing. This is the honeymoon phase. And really, I was in love with this place after the initial stress of moving wore off. You couldn’t say a bad word about it to me. It was safe, shiny, and beautiful. Dripping with history and culture. Interesting and exciting things down every unsystematically laid-out street.

That shine quickly fades, leading to the second stage: hostility. “Why do I have to wait for a guy to come yell outside my house just to buy gas?” I lamented about a year ago. “It’s too damn hot in this country!” I exclaimed to my cat last June before running out to buy a fan. “I thought this was supposed to be a warm city!” I cried last December. “Everyone walks so damn slow!” I would complain to my friends.

But the hostility subsides eventually. The small frustrations become amusing. Things to joke about with your friends or anecdotes to share with folks back home. This is the humor stage. Where I was once grossed out by the man napping in the back of the garbage truck, now it’s pretty funny. The news of bureaucratic ineptitude is just something to shake my head at and say “that’s so Mexico.” The fact that no restaurant I’ve been to seems to be able to send all the meals to a table at the same time is just a funny part of the adventure now (though, I’m sure restaurants like Pujol are different).

It’s a matter of getting used to the strange things around you. Nowadays, the rumbling trucks and screaming gasmen are just background noise to me. Carlos, the fellow who delivers our water twice a month, has some pretty good jokes. And the man who sells tortas outside our apartment smiles and waves hello to me every morning as I walk my dog past his restaurant.

So, it’s also been nice to have someone come along and remind me of the amazing things this city has to offer. I can still see its wrinkles and flaws, but those just endear it to me more. Real life exists somewhere in between extremes. At one end are some of the best restaurants in the world, at the other corruption and annoying bureaucracy. In the middle is good friends having a drink at a bar or enjoying a coffee on a nice afternoon.

Falling into a routine may seem like a bad thing sometimes, but to me, it’s just evidence that this city has become more than just the place I pay rent. It’s home.


Ty Trumbull, from his base in Mexico City, covers the entrepreneur’s journey and business continuity for ChannelE2E. Each Tuesday or so, he offers views about his adopted hometown — his personal Dispatches from Mexico City. Oh, but sometimes he pops up in his home nation of Canada.

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