The holidays are upon us here in Mexico City and like any good diplo-wife I tried my best to keep our family's holiday traditions alive despite our new location. Some things I was successful at. I researched and found a place to cut down our tree near a volcano close to Mexico City, we did our annual mall Santa pic, and our Elf on the Shelf, Garrett, had a whole new house to find places to hid in. I even managed, with the help of my mom, to get Christmas cards out to friends and family in the states.
But there were a couple of things that indeed proved challenging. Maybe I procrastinated too long, but I found Christmas wrapping paper hard to come by. Perhaps everyone uses the in store gift wrapping service when they buy the gift, or maybe bags are just more popular, but I was shocked that my four go to supermarkets and corner stores did not have any?! I even chanced upon a Christmas market with all kinds of awesome Mexican decorations and saw a stack, not a roll, but a folded stack of wrapping paper. I asked how much and was told by the seller, "10 pesos por...(insert word I don't know)." I thought he meant per pack, but I eventually understood it was per sheet. The sheets were not so big and at .50 cents a small sheet it would have cost a fortune to wrap my family's presents. Gringa price? Maybe. But he did not offer a lower price as I walked away aghast and clutching my pearls.
As Christmas Day approached I hit my second challenge...baking in a new country. In order to fully participate in my Mexican In-laws Christmas Eve celebration, I offered to bring dessert. When I attended family occasions in Mexico the last 10 years of our marriage, we were always flying in and were basically treated as out of town guests without the means or time to actually help in the preparation of the event. But now that I live here I need to step up my game. The out-of-towner excuse would not fly anymore.
I have done a decent amount of cooking since our arrival but no baking. And as any kitchen dweller knows cooking can be spontaneous and less accurate, substituting items here or there with decent result. Baking on the other hand has to be precise. Follow the recipe, every ingredient and measurement, or else. The amount of time I spent Googling at the grocery store on my tiny phone screen was almost unbearable. Google, how to you say baking powder? Google, how do you say baking soda? Google, how do you say powdered sugar? I speak Spanish decently well, but when you get into specifics these were not things I knew off the top of my head. Of course the first thing I did was go to the baking isle assuming I would just recognize these basics, but I was sorely mistaken. So after Googling these basic items in Spanish, I was enlisting help from the employees. Found some items but not others. "No, señorita, no hay bicarbonato de sodio." No baking soda?!?! How can this be? "No, no manejamos azucar glas." What no powdered sugar?!?! "Impossible, how to Mexicans bake," I thought to myself. And I swear I just ate a cookie with powdered sugar yesterday, so I know it exists. I figured this store sucked and I would find it at one of my other go to spots.
For my cream cheese, Google, how many grams is 14 oz.? For my butter, Google, how many grams is a 1/2 cup? and so on and so forth. Trying to convert my recipe measurements was another reason to buy stock in Google. What did people do before Google and smartphones? But give or take a few hours, I managed my way through and knew I would be relying on my old friend again soon to convert Ferinheit to Celsius. But two stores later, and still no baking soda or powdered sugar. I was dumbfounded and my first attempt to be helpful during my in-laws holiday dinner was almost ruined. But at my third store, God sent me a little baking angel. As I stood staring blankly in the baking isle wondering why I couldn't find that little orange box with a muscular arm on it or something similar, a little old lady who worked there asked me what I was looking for. Then came the words of the savior..."Si, el bicarbonato esta en la farmacia."
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT
In Mexico, baking soda is not found in the baking isle or the cleaning isle (I checked there too).
The baking soda is in the pharmacy!!!!
O the amount of time I could have saved if someone had told me that. And she had further information for me. I could find powdered sugar in the specialty store across the street which sells candy. Why grocery stores don't sell powdered sugar right there next to the regular sugar and brown sugar, I will never understand, but at least now I know where to find it. Christmas dessert was saved.
This story is such a classic expat experience. And below are my three takeaway lessons for living abroad.
1. Never take it for granted that even the most basic stuff will be like it is at home
2. Allow more time to accomplish even the smallest errands, and
3. You should probably just go ahead and buy stock in Google.
In Love & Tacos
Rants of a Diplomat's Wife
Hola, I am an American married to a Mexican Diplomat. I am on my 3rd post as a trailing spouse. The first two posts I joined were in the US, and in July 2018 we moved to Mexico City. Maybe it was the fact that I was pumping out my diplo-babies, or maybe I didn't think anyone would be interested in diplomatic life at my US posts, but I didn't blog then. Now I am in Mexico, and perhaps you might find it interesting to know what life is like here. This is where I share my adventures and thoughts at my current post.