I’ve spent a decent chunk of the past several months in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The experience of living outside of the U.S. has been pretty surreal. I’ve had multiple people agree with me that living in Playa can at times feel like a dream. The opening line of Bohemian Rhapsody sums it up pretty well – “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?”
The lifestyle of living in Playa is drastically different from what I had grown accustomed to in 27 years in the U.S. No one is really in a hurry here. And there’s a really palpable sense that you’re in a developing economy, not a developed one. There’s a certain eagerness and hunger in the air that is intoxicating. Everyone is down to their last few pesos, but no one is panicked because there’s an understanding that everything is going to work out. It’s raw. It’s revitalizing.
Going back to the U.S. is a bit of a culture shock now. I’ll always be an American to the core, but it definitely takes a few hours to re-calibrate my head after clearing U.S. customs. It’s like entering into a different universe. That’s what’s so awesome about traveling. Why do people fantasize about interstellar travel when we can visit alien civilizations on our own planet?
Here’s five things spending some time living outside of the U.S. has taught me:
1. Americans don’t know how good they have it. I never fully appreciated what it means to be from the U.S. until after I left. The American economy is one of the greatest marvels of human history. It’s easy to take it for granted when you’re born and raised there which is a shame because there are so many people who would (and do!) risk their lives for a chance to get to the U.S. and work. Being here makes me feel way more appreciative at the freedom to work in the U.S. It’s a privilege really. Think about this: there are people all over the world who would kill to be in your shoes working the job that you have, making the money that you make, and having access to the opportunities that you do.
2. Mexican culture is lovely. I feel nothing but sorry for Americans who harbor anti-Mexican sentiments. I have never once experienced anything other than complete courtesy and kindness from them. They are polite, considerate and family-oriented people. Yes, there a drug crime problem in Mexico, but let’s not blame people born into a set of laws that created a market for an underground drug trade. Be mad at the laws, not the people. There are drug crime issues all over the U.S. too. It’s unfortunate that the only thing Americans ever hear about Mexico is the violence reported on the evening news. That’s just 1% of the story. You don’t hear a word about the 99% of great things south of the border.
3. Most people don’t really give a crap if you’re American. It’s a stereotype on the international scene that Americans are pretty egotistical. Sadly, I have to say I’ve found this to be pretty true. When I came here, I was the worst of this stereotype. I thought the fact that I was an American would impress people. The reality is that most people don’t really give a crap if you’re from the U.S. They’ve got their own lives and Americans don’t really factor into them.
4. The world is getting a lot smaller. The Internet is really leveling out the global playing field. The next few years should be a pretty wild time for humanity. Check out this chart of global population and Internet users:
Technology is getting faster and cheaper. Owning a Mac is not as big of a deal as it used to be. Gradually, the whole world is getting online. I exist (these days, barely) in a whole sub-culture of people who make make playing poker online. All over the world people can do just about anything on the Internet ranging from learning about any subject under the sun, playing video poker at an online casino, or diagnosing their own medical problems. Chileans update their Facebook statuses, Aussies play casino games, Indians write crappy articles that pop up in Google search results. The whole world is growing closer together thanks to the power of the Internet. I get asked by Mexicans here if I’m on Facebook. I can remember getting on Facebook in 2004. It makes me feel like an Internet dinosaur.
5. The world is not that scary of a place. Living here has made me a little more relaxed about being in unknown areas. We hear about a lot of the bad things in the world and it creates a false reality in our minds of what the world is like. I think people are a lot more spooked than they need to be with regards to going to certain areas. I met a guy here who rode his bike all the way from Tennessee(!!!). I asked him if he ever felt like he was in danger during the trip. He said the most scared he felt on the whole ride was when he was going through Louisiana.