As you all probably realise by now, I love Mexico. So this blog may come as a surprise to some because I have a pet hate (pet peeve for my US readers) that drives me mad about this wonderful country and it is probably not what you think. My pet hate is walking behind behind slow meandering people on narrow Mexican sidewalks. There, it is out, I have said it! I have been wanting to write this blog for a while but I never knew how to frame it, but suddenly “me cayo el veinte” (the penny dropped); it is about unwritten rules. You see I grew up in a country where unwritten rules abound. We drive on the left, so we walk on the left, yet everyone knows that going down an escalator you stand on the right, right? We would never walk in “threes” along a narrow street. God forbid someone in more of a hurry should want to get past and we should stop them! Growing up in London, I was always in a hurry, even when I wasn’t in a hurry. I would tut at tourists who meandered along, enjoying the sights as I zigzagged around them to get to wherever I was going early, to show the person I was meeting how important they were to me (another unwritten rule) and in the meantime, I would not stop for even a moment to enjoy my city; after all, I lived there and I knew what it looked like, didn’t I?
In Mexico there are no such sidewalk rules that I can see and certainly in Oaxaca the idea of rushing to get somewhere is a rare one. Families will wander along in lines of 5 making it impossible for anyone to get past. The same families will stop suddenly to chat and discuss where they are headed next, to review a menu, to greet someone they know who is walking down the street. When walking towards people, I find that a group won’t go into single file to let someone pass, like they would in London, but will carry on straight towards them, still chatting to each other, almost unaware of anyone else. And I have to admit it makes me mad. I huff and I puff and I walk on the road to get past people and when I am with friends I can’t concentrate on conversations because all I can hear is my internal monologue of annoyance at how people “just don’t know how to walk down the street” or “have no concern for anyone else” or simply “how in the world am I going to overtake”.
Then there is the concept of just walking for the sake of it, “dar una vuelta” Mexican’s call it, essentially meaning, just going for a wander. I still don’t quite get it. Something in me wants to walk fast to make the most of the exercise or to put a reward at the end like coffee or ice cream or beer, as if just walking and enjoying that is not reward enough in itself. My boyfriend is forever saying “Do you mind if we slow down” and I try, I really do!
Well now, they say that writing is therapeutic because in just writing this down I have realised the issue, I am far too focused on the arrival and not enjoying the journey. Maybe the meandering Mexicans who I have cursed so often have something on me, the ability to enjoy the moment, the ability to concentrate on their loved ones rather than concerning themselves in the possibility that some crazy Londoner might be getting all worked up because she just needs to get to her destination two minutes quicker? Perhaps I am being too romantic but I have a feeling that if I concerned myself in enjoying the view or the conversation, rather than in reaching my destination, I might just not notice my little pet hate anymore.
Right, I do hope you’ll excuse me, I’m just headed out for a wander…
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in Condé Nast Traveler, CNN Travel, BBC Travel, The Independent UK, Afar and The New Worlder among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.