141. The Markets of Mexico

The Markets of Mexico and Something About Language and Culture: It’s immediately apparent that so many things about Mexico are just as exotic as those same things in much of Asia. Yet here, it feels somehow more accessible. At first I think it’s our proximity to home, that we’re somehow already well acquainted with Mexican culture. While it’s true that our cultural learning curve here is gentler than Asia, there is still a great deal about ritual and custom here that is new and foreign. I can imagine that many Americans visiting Mexico arrive with the idea that they already understand Mexican culture by simple proximity, and perhaps the presence of an immigrant community in their city. Oh but how many layers there are here. Recent history on top of ancient history, indigenous populations, regional art, folk influence, food that makes you drowsy with pleasure. All of it converges at the local market and all of it happens in a language that you can sort of, almost, understand.

This is probably the second most common assumption of Americans visiting Mexico, that they know some Spanish. Habla Espanol? Un poco. But not really. I feel like if I simply stare attentively into the mouth of the person speaking fluent Spanish to me, I can understand. As if I’m capable of willing myself to comprehend a complex, completely unknown subject. And it works! Un poco. Because if someone is speaking slowly or – even better – if I see written the word “importante,” I can eventually work out that this means something is important. And that is in fact what makes the markets here feel more accessible, because in China, the written word for “important” looks like a toaster balanced on top of a falling cactus.

There are so many new mega bodegas around though, in the style of Super Wal-Marts, and even though their business is still conducted in Spanish, they offer no relationship with the local community. They have no old women knitting textiles for immediate sale, no man grinding fresh local cocoa for mole sauce, no family members working side by side in the manner of their grandparents. There is no life in the mega bodega, only zombies and shopping carts and competitive sweatshop prices. Yet there is only life in the old markets, thousands of lives on display, desperate, content, successful, failing, celebrating, mourning, all at once while crowing the same singsong salesperson’s refrain. These Mexican markets match every drop of color and interest in the markets of SE Asia but with twice the congeniality and even more “chillaxed.” Chillaxed is a crap word that the hippie backpackers in Thailand use to describe life on the beach. They think it’s clever stoner-English-fusion, but I think that using it is just an easy way to annoy Amy. Either way, I’m pretty certain it means mañana.


  1. The Chez says:

    I just found that Mexicans are amazingly patient people when it comes to ignorant travellers. Maybe it’s the money, maybe it’s that they’re sincerely nice.
    But chillaxed? Someone needs to be chislapped for inventing that term. Don’t they cane people over there?
    Chillaxed is not manana. Chillaxed is marijuana.

  2. Sloan says:

    This might just be the first time I have ever absolutely agreed with one hundred percent of everything you just said, The Chez. Although I got pretty close that one time you were ranting about microwave popcorn.

    And I forgot to include here a photo of the most wonderful thing I have ever seen in any market on this trip – bags of puffed cheese snacks that are larger than the biggest bag of dog food you have ever seen. Three kilos! In the background, you can also see Amy fondling some dresses, which I have seen in every market on this trip.