This article is the first of a new series on Always a Gringa that features other gringas living as expats throughout Latin America. They will be sharing their experiences, encounters, and thoughts on living in a Latin American country.
I’ll be kicking off this series with Lauren Cocking from Northern Lauren. Lauren is a Mexico City expat and blogs about Mexico travel, culture, food, and feminism. Her blog encompasses dreamy Mexican music playlists, reflections on living abroad, and guides to finding the best burgers, to a name a few.
Tell us about yourself and when and why you decided to start your blog.
I’m Lauren, a.k.a. Northern Lauren and I’m based in Mexico City although I originally come from Yorkshire in the UK.
I actually started my blog while I was in my second year of university and it was kind of a mishmash of my thought and opinions on typically university oriented issues before transforming into the stereotypical year abroad blog in my third year. When I moved back to Mexico after graduation I decided I wanted to revamp it completely, so I’ve been doing this all properly since January 2017!
How long have you been in Mexico? How long do you plan on living there?
I’ve been in Mexico City for just over six months now and before I came the original plan was to stay anywhere up to two years. However…plans change and I’m actually leaving in September to travel around South America!
Read more about Lauren’s experiences in Mexico City and her first thoughts of the city after moving there here.
This isn’t the first time I’ve lived in Mexico though, as I was based in Guadalajara for a year in 2014-15. So, total, I’ve been here a year and a half on and off.
Where did you live at before coming to Mexico City?
Before moving to Mexico City I lived in Cardiff, Wales which was where I studied my undergraduate degree. I also lived temporarily back at home in Yorkshire for a few months too.
What made you decide to move to Mexico City?
I’d already lived in Mexico (Guadalajara) for my year abroad and I loved the people and the country and the food. You know, the typical responses people give when you ask them why they love Mexico! However, for me these reasons were just a part of it – my boyfriend is based in Mexico (although not in Mexico City) and I wanted to be nearer to him. It was the best of both worlds as far as decisions go for me.
CDMX’s historic centre (the tower in the background is the Torre Latinoamericana)
What was the visa process like?
I actually didn’t arrange my visa as I’m here with the British Council and they sorted it all out for me. I just had to send all the relevant documents to them (of which there were many) and then they told me when it was ready to collect. I just went to the Mexican Embassy in London and that was that! Job done.
How do you make a living?
I work as a language assistant with the British Council.
What is the average cost of things in Mexico City?
Well, it’s on the expensive end of living in Mexico because it’s the capital but it’s not the most expensive place I’ve ever been here. For rent and bills I pay around MXN$4000 per month, plus another MXN$2000 for food (roughly) and then on top of that you have travel, public transport and other random expenditures. The bus and metro travel here is actually pretty cheap in comparison to much of Mexico – it ranges from MXN$2-6 per journey, so that’s really helpful as I move around the city a lot!
What have you learned since becoming an expat in Mexico?
I’ve learned that I love Mexico and I like Mexico City to visit…but not to live. I’ve also learned that I don’t want to live in the UK again for a long while!
What is your favorite thing about being an expat in Mexico /Mexico City?
Having my own freedom, living in a place that I love (the country, as opposed to the city) and being closer to my boyfriend. And, of course, having all the street food Mexico is so famous for in close proximity.
Close to Lauren’s work in the north of the city
What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Mexico/ Mexico City?
The pollution, the insecurity, the bureaucracy. If I had to choose one thing though, it’s that I don’t feel safe all of the time and that is something that I just can’t live with long term.
What do you miss most about home?
I sometimes miss the weather. Sometimes. I mainly miss the food though and the ease of life there – the NHS, the fact that I just know how stuff is done and I know where I stand. Living abroad that isn’t always the case.
Do you speak Spanish fluently? What has your language process been like?
Yep, I speak Spanish fluently and did before I arrived so the language process has been fine for me! In fact, a big reason for living abroad in Mexico is that I love speaking Spanish on a daily basis.
What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I joined a language class (Catalan) although that backfired slightly when there was only one other person taking the same level as me! Aside from that, I try to hang out with my students (who are all older than me FYI, so it’s not as weird as it sounds!) and I also recently made some new friends by taking part on an organized tour.
What custom/ habits have you found to be the most different from your own culture or have found to be the most difficult to adjust to?
Paperwork and bureaucracy. We have to pay rent in cash, bills in cash, everything’s in cash and it’s as if direct debits didn’t exist! Very frustrating. And that walk from the cash machine to my flat with a wodge of notes in my pocket is always nerve-wracking.
How do you feel that the people of Mexico see you? Are you treated any differently?
I can be seen as a novelty. People will talk to me about the UK or about if I like Mexico and the same topics of conversation often present themselves, which is fine at first but can get a bit tiresome and feel frustrating after a while.
I do think I get treated differently and I’m not necessarily OK with it. I feel like I get preferential treatment in some situations but on the flip side, I think that being white skinned and red haired (i.e. I stand out!) makes me an easy target in many ways too and that puts me on edge. Take for example, using your phone on a bus – I would rarely do this because I just think it makes me an easy target to be robbed, especially as I travel around the city alone. However, Mexicans see no issue with doing it and they often have nicer phones than I do! So there’s preferential treatment on the one hand, which makes me feel uncomfortable, and then there’s the added element of standing out which makes me nervous at times too.
What is a myth about your adopted country?
That everyone is in some way tied into the drug industry in Mexico. In reality, everyone I’ve spoken to hates that portrayal of their country and has absolutely nothing to do with it. They just know it does more harm than good and they ought to stay away.
What is your favorite dish in Mexico City?
Tamales. And that goes for Mexico in general, not just Mexico City! There’s an amazing stall outside my Catalan class that sells tamales oaxaqueños de salsa verde and they’re so good I literally buy one or two before each class!
What advice would you give someone when traveling to Mexico/Mexico City?
If I could tell travelers (rather than expats) three things, they would be: Stick to the more populated places. By that, I definitely don’t mean just go to the tourist attractions, but don’t go to those areas with a reputation for being dangerous because you’re just asking for trouble. Bring toilet paper everywhere you go because there often is none and if you get caught out with a dodgy stomach it could get…messy. Learn some Spanish! Don’t be ignorant and expect everyone to speak English.
Read More About Northern Lauren
Lauren is a Mexico City based travel blogger at Northern Lauren who writes (mainly) about Mexico, food and feminism. While she loves writing about other people and places, she thinks there’s really nothing more horrifying than putting together a humble yet engaging personal bio. Find her rainbow coloured pictures and pins on Instagram and Pinterest, or follow her irreverent thoughts on Facebook and Twitter.