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Move Over New York: Mexico City is the City That Doesn't Sleep

Photo by Jezael Melgoza / Unsplash

I'm returning from eight days in Mexico City.

I saw the future of Mexico, and I have no idea if it works.

Mexico is Ready to Get Rich, if the Cartels Don't Destroy It First

Peter Zeihan recently said Mexico is exploding, economically. The future looks bright and rich. If it can avoid melting down into a culture of warlords (a definite possibility, given the power of the cartels and the corruption of Mexican government), it is poised to become an economic powerhouse.

I believe it. I saw it firsthand. Mexico City pulses with activity, noise, and gigs. Everyone is working to make a buck. It's all hustle, all the time.

I was often bewildered by the mass of humanity . . . all bustling to make a dime. It reminded me of de Tocqueville's wonderment at American busyness: it's all business, all the time.

But It Has Hurdles. The Cartels Most Obviously but There's Also the Language

I understand that the Mexican educational system isn't good. It has a hard time teaching Spanish, much less inculcating the populace with English as a second language. But if Mexico wants to be a global economic power, it needs to do business in English. And for the individual entrepreneur: he needs to download Duolingo and learn some English. It's a remarkable app. If he were to spend just a few hours with it--learning a few phrases, learning as many nouns as possible, learning numbers--he would get a lot of tourist dollars, like that taco vendor who told me in English that he sells potato tacos last Friday and I patronized four times.

Memo to Mexicans

Western civilization has had a lingua franca for over 2,000 years. It's the language you must speak if you want to be considered educated, or cultured . . . or competent at business.

First, it was Greek. Then it was Latin. Then Italian and then French. And now it's English.

If you want to be a world powerhouse, lose the chip on your shoulder and learn English.

You might oppose it based on some narrow rationalized justification ("Why should we learn the gringo language!"), but if you're going to be an entrepreneur, you need to learn to adjust to conditions, even if they don't fit your ideas of how things should be.

You have a rich culture and should boom with tourism, but responding with scorn when I ask "hables Ingles?" doesn't further commerce . . . or your pocketbook.

I'm not saying it's right. I'm not saying English is better. I am saying, "English is the worldwide language of commerce. You need to learn it if you want the world to reward you with money. If you don't care about money, then don't bother. But I know you care about money, big time. Suck it up and learn English."

Mexico City's Streets are Clean. Its Air is Filthy

Mexico City appears to have a lot of air pollution. You could see the smog rise above the city at various times of the day. My weather app consistently reported that air quality was "poor." Many people wore masks, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't because they were worried about COVID.

Our bus tour guide said less pollution is a priority with the Mexican government. I think I believe it. The streets were shockingly clean, with work crews out (seemingly) 24/7, picking up trash.

But in the meantime, it's pretty nasty.

It's Still a Third-World Country

When I go on vacation, I don't want the top discussion topic to be, "Can we flush the toilet paper after we wipe?"

But that was the top discussion topic in my group for the first 24 hours.

As a general rule, you can't flush toilet paper in Mexico, but many parts of Mexico City have sufficiently modernized their plumbing to allow it (fortunately, my place had sufficient plumbing . . . at least, their house rules didn't prohibit flushing TP, the management didn't post a sign, there was no receptacle suitable for used TP, and the building appeared modernized).

But that's just Exhibit A of Mexico's poor infrastructure. Battered streets, toilets without toilet seats, bad water (a huge problem).

The bottom line is, Mexico is a poor country, from its government to its citizens. It has a long way to go, which probably makes it a great investment opportunity (I bought shares in a Mexican ETF last week).

(BTW: Don't freak out. I realize "third-world country" is no longer fashionable and it's debated whether Mexico is one.)

The People of Mexico City are Difficult

I live around a lot of Mexicans. I'm friends with a handful. My daughter-in-law is Mexican. Her husband has been to Mexico four times. We all agree: Mexicans are some of the friendliest people on earth.

But not in Mexico City.

Quite frankly, the people in Mexico City are dicks.

I believe Mexico City is a left hemisphere on steroids: It's all money, grasping, grabbing, all the time. Such a disposition doesn't leave much room for things that don't make monetary sense, like manners and smiling.

The people of Mexico City are, quite simply, mean: loud, pushy, intrusive, scowling, dishonest, and rapacious. No tactic (short of violence; I never felt at risk) is too base if it might result in a dollar.

In CDMX, virtue is profit. Vice is everything else.

I've done extended stays in Rome, London, New York, Boston, and Miami. All of them are far friendlier than their international-city colleague, Mexico City, who ought to be embarrassed at the behavior of its denizens.

At first, I was a little embarrassed to realize the denizens of CDMX are my co-religionists, but it became pretty obvious that they're not: the City has succumbed to paganism. Aztec symbols and celebrations are everywhere; virtually no one attended Palm Sunday Mass where I went (a church that currently is a pilgrimage site for a plenary indulgence issued by the Pope); no one seemed aware that Catholics don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent. Public displays of affection among gay couples far exceed what I saw in San Francisco about 15 years ago.  

Needless to say, we ran into a few very friendly and polite people. It's impossible to paint a city of 21,000,000 people with one brush, but I'm afraid a simplistic portrait that says, "These people are jerks" would be 80% accurate, based on my interaction over the course of a week.

I Neither Encourage nor Discourage a CDMX Vacation

If you wouldn't mind wiping and putting the toilet paper in a trashcan to look at later, Mexico City is for you. But for the less adventurous? Probably not.

So do I recommend Mexico City to American tourists?

It depends. If you're really adventurous--the guy who likes China and India, war zones, and Lori Lightfoot's Chicago--then yes. I recommend it. It's a fascinating city.

Me? I'm only semi-adventurous. Those "all-inclusive" resorts disgust me. I want to move around; I want to see things. I'm very energetic when I travel.

But I'm not very adventurous.

Mexico City was just too much. It's too loud; it's too crowded; it's too uncongenial, especially for those who don't speak Spanish (but even my Mexican daughter-in-law marveled at how poorly she was treated by her people, and she speaks Spanish fluently).

For me, a middle-aged guy who looks 100% northern German and speaks, at best, broken Spanish?

Let's just say: the people of Mexico City were not amused by me.

That being said, if you're feeling adventurous, if you don't mind getting treated like crap, and you like your vacations loud and hectic, Mexico City is the place. The place is a whirlwind of human activity.