Be Prepared for Emergencies as an Expat with These Two Things
Two thoughts loop through my head as I recover from an appendectomy here in Mexico. The first is that I’m glad I have Mexican friends. The second is that I’m glad I speak Spanish. The latter could also be written as a dependent clause.
I mentioned in my previous post how one of my Mexican girlfriends texted through her social network to find out how much Mexicans pay for the exact surgery I had in the specific hospital where it was performed.
Girded with that information, I was able to negotiate the bill.
I could have pressed for saving even more, as my Mexican friends insisted I should, but I tend not to squeeze the culture for every last dime.
Surgery and hospital costs are just one of probably hundreds of situations where native friends can give you the real, that is Mexican price of things.
Every hour you sit down to study Spanish maybe you should pretend someone is giving you $20.
While I still have a concerns about parts of the process. I relish the fact that I'm perfectly linguistically capable of marching into a hospital and expressing my concerns about a bill without interpreters. For real medical instructions though, you need to receive them in your native tongue. This is also international law.
A good part of my rabble-rousing during my stay was experimental. I want to see what one does should he/she be dissatisfied and some part of the process. I want to experience who steps to take should one ever need to complain in Mexico.
Otherwise, recuperating in Mexico has been far easier than at home. Whereas in the U.S after coming home from surgery my friends undoubtedly would have called and asked, “Do you need anything?” (To which of course we are expected to reply, “No, I’m fine. Thanks for asking.") Most of us in the U.S. aren’t that good at asking people to wait on us, or imposing - part of our culture of independence.
In Mexico, my Mexican friends showed up unannounced and without permission with bags of fruit and vegetables. They stayed and cut the the fruits up to be more ready for cooking. They did this without asking if I wanted them to do it or where the knives and cutting boards were.
They also explained what some of the fruits were. Mexico has a some foods we aren’t used to in the U.S. Some I didn’t even know if I needed to peel. They told me the best way to eat and prepare them, and what their nutritive qualities are far more efficiently than Google ever could (as if I were in the mood for doing Google research)
The more familiar you are with native fruits and vegetables, the better and cheaper your diet will be in Mexico. Likely only Mexicans will be able to show you how to cook cactus. While I never would have bought unfamiliar fruit after an operation myself, when someone buys and delivers it to your kitchen, then shows you what to do with it and why it’s good for you, it takes on a new meaning.
If a healthy food from back home isn’t available here, a nutritive substitute exists, just like natural remedies for insect bites often exist within the same ecosystem. Nature abhors a vacuum. She likes making things work together.
If you lack Spanish, you probably won’t ever be put in a life-threatening situation because of it. Medical professionals speak enough English for their jobs.
However, when I told nurses doing routine things that I did speak Spanish, I could see palpable relief on their faces, a switch from being formal to being able to talk to me normally, although I did have to inject an occasional “mas despacito,” por favor,” (a little more slowly, please) when they really got going. I repeated things back to them when I was unsure, things like when I could actually drink water.
Once home, Spanish enabled me to call a pharmacy and have my medications delivered. Without the Spanish, I would have had to actually put on real clothes and drag myself to the pharmacy. Although one of the drugs was a controlled substance, I was able to talk them into delivering it by explaining that I’d just had surgery, how can they expect me to drive there, etc, etc.
When they said no, I just kept asking in different ways (“Maybe I should explain the details of my operation, why I can’t sleep, describe my scar!”) Eventually I wore them down, just like old boyfriends.
This is one of the things you will love about Mexico. If something makes sense and you look rational, people will generally go for it. You don’t have to deal with the infuriating rules for the sake of rules you as often do in the U.S.
Let me give you an example. While living in Denver, I had a date to a concert. We went to a restaurant before the show. The service was terrible and we had to leave to make the concert. Even though I wasn’t driving, I couldn’t take my untouched, expensive glass of wine with me in a paper cup to a concert six blocks away because ABC laws. I hope the server enjoyed it.
Upon arrival, we had to circle the whole venue to be herded in through a single entry to check backpacks. Later I got shouted at for trying to go to the bathroom without my concert armband (my date of course had it). All in a glorious night.
This is what makes Mexico a freer country than the U.S. Mexico treats you like a grown up and leaves it up to your friends to treat you like a child.
As long as I could give the delivery guy the prescription when he arrived with my order, they would deliver the drugs. What difference did it make if I gave the prescription to them in my apartment doorstep or at the pharmacy? We have lost our common sense at home and are ever the dumber and more inconvenienced for it.
The one thing I will admit is that negotiating for drug delivery over the phone with the pharmacy was hard. On occasion, I have said things to a Mexican face to face and been understood perfectly, only to turn around and repeat it word for word over the phone and be told they can’t understand a word I’m saying. I'm probably excruciating to listen to over the phone.
Pronouncing drugs’ name can be challenging. My piece of advice to you is to learn how to spell things out in Spanish. I still haven’t learned how to sound out letters and pay for that little rebellion constantly.
During all this; the hospital stay, negotiating the cost, calling the pharmacy and understanding the post-op care, lest you think I was communicating from many years of studying Spanish and living in Mexico, you need to know I'm not.
I have less than three years practicing the language and about half of that time living in Mexico. This proves conclusively that anyone, including blond people over 55, can learn a second language reasonably well in a reasonable about of time. It also proves you might need it for more than getting your house cleaned and ordering a second round.
Related links: Have you read how much you can expect to pay for health insurance even on Medicare? Ventanas Mexico
Best practice methods of making friends in Mexico - Ventanas Mexico
Next up: Look for Uber when you are considering cities...it's just as interesting in Mexico as it is at home.
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Hola - I am a partner with Ventanas Mexico and author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online," a smorgasbord of free online tools and lesson plans to make every day learning Spanish unique.
I recently released "If Only I Had a Place," on the unique aspects of renting in Mexico as an aspiring expat.