I have some pretty big and likely shocking news for readers who have never travelled outside of the US and/or Canada in the sort of way that you actually had to live at your destination: the US and Canada are oddballs in the world in the way we live and shop.
Frequently when I find myself unable to sleep, I’ll go down the YouTube rabbit hole and start watching videos by expats in other countries to see how they live. Without fail, they will post a five (or even ten) most shockingly different things about that country’s customs that are not the norm in the US or Canada, but which are absolutely the norm in most of the other countries I’ve lived and, apparently, most of the other countries I haven’t lived.
I’m talking things like not having dryers in the home, having small fridges, poor access to mega stores of the Walmart ilk, locals walking everywhere, no hot running water in the kitchen, and people live in small homes and/or with multiple generations.
What I find gratifying about having had a chance to travel a bit before settling in Mexico is that I’ve seen that so many aspects of life here are also how things are done in the rest of the world. Specifically related to this post, one of those things is…
Shopping at specialised stores.
That’s my Mexico shopping tip for you. I’m as guilty as the next expat of dreaming of going to a store like Walmart and doing all my shopping there, but that’s not how to get the best deals, selections, or prices here, never mind how to find speciality items.
This post stems from the questions I see asked on the various Mérida “hunt” forums. I don’t know how many people I’ve met in Mexico, even really long-timers, who firmly believe something doesn’t exist here because their favourite big box retailer doesn’t carry it.
Here are just some of the things that I or others have tried to find in Mérida where a big box store wasn’t the answer:
-Looking for the freshest and least expensive cashews (nueces de la India)? Go to a store called Nueces de la India (really — it’s up the street from me).
-Looking for vegetarian products like soy mock meats or vegan egg replacer? Go to a health food store.
-Looking for special shoes for walking on the beach? Go to a beachwear or divewear store.
-Looking for meds for your pet that you can trust aren’t expired? Go to a vet or a pet store (depending on the product).
-Looking for a turkey? Go to a market and buy one from the lady whose family raises them.
-The pita at your supermarket is dry and barely edible? Why not buy fresh pita early in the day from the bakery that makes it? And while you’re there, grab some tahini made right there by Lebanese people who know what it’s supposed to taste like instead of taking a chance on an imported brand that’s twice the cost and has been sitting so long on the supermarket shelf it has had time to go rancid.
-Need a special baking pan? You’re going to strike out at places like Walmart, but a store that only sells bakery supplies will likely have what you want.
-How about some soft lead pencils for artwork? How many big box and office supply stores are you going to visit before going to a dedicated art supply store that has more choice than you could dream of?
-Tired of the usual mass produced beers? How about paying a visit to a little shop that carries craft beers?
-Having a craving for breakfast sausage? Try the Sausage Lady at the Saturday market near your house (been meaning to hit her stall since I found out about her in July — this coming weekend is IT!).
I’m as guilty as the next expat of believing that prices in these speciality shops will be higher than they would be at a big box store (if you can even find the item there), but that’s actually rarely the case. In the case of the cashews above, the lady I did the recon work for said that they were about half the cost and twice the quality of the best she could buy in her large city in the US!
What about online shopping? Online shopping is slowly taking off in Mexico, but it’s not yet a “thing” here the way we’re used to in Canada and the US. Delivery can be pretty slow (but is generally reliable, at least where I live in Mérida). With the new really good shipping rates on some products from Amazon, it is really hard for me to not make that my first stop. But then, I realise that I might have to wait up to a month for my item and that really motivates me to get off my butt and find a local source for it.
I know, I know, the language barrier can get some people. But surely you can find a picture of what you want and learn how to ask a neighbour and/or shopkeeper, “Do you know where I might be able to find this?”
And, yes, I know, I know, not everyone wants to have to make multiple stops or turn shopping into a treasure hunt. But the thing is that once you find your source for a product, you have it and you can then work a visit to the store into your routine. If you’re not willing to put in the work, then please don’t whine about not being able to find things here and please do not tell people something isn’t available here because you are definitely not qualified to be the judge of that!
And if you are in the throes of culture shock and/or completely jimmied by the language barrier, find yourself a Spanish-speaking expat who will be glad to take an hour out of their week to help you buy a turkey or cashews or find out where to get those meds for your dog. As long as you don’t come with a chip on your shoulder about having to stray from your safe zone of Sam’s Club/Costco, Chedraui, and Walmart, I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding such a person. 🙂
I’m off to start making a list of all the supplies I need to start oil painting again now that I found a store in centro that looks like a painter’s idea of heaven. The easel selection alone, from a few hundred to a few thousand, pesos made me swoon!