Dear readers, today some of you will may be surprised by the critical tone of my chronic but I want to keep my blog authentic and therefore I cannot only talk about colorful traditions. I am an expatriate, even more, a migrant. If it’s sometimes a wonderful experience, I also have to face the downside.
This is Christmas time and who says Christmas says gifts. You know, this long journey through the city, through stores, looking for THE gift, the unique piece, the unforgettable memory, the essence of the originality. Well in Mexico, forget the concept. At least in Monterrey where I live, capital of the State of Nuevo Leon in the North East of the country, at only 2 hours from the US border. In this land, you are in the kingdom of the standardization. Zara, Massimo Dutti, Hugo Boss, Express, Levi’s, Kate Spade, Aldo, Nine West, Pull and Bear…and that’s it! You will probably highlight me the fact that in France and in Paris we are also surrounded by the standardization and that this is the normal and sad consequence of the mundialization. Well, my dear friend, this is not so true.
In Paris and in Europe in general we still create. We have designers, we have artists, we have writers, we have disrupters. I walk through the Marais and I am everyday surprised by small independent stores of costume jewelry, stationery shops, gourmet products. I find tea, coffee, chocolate that I will never find in a mall. I have the alternative to buy something else than Ferrero Rocher!
And if I buy standardized at least I have the choice. I am not restricted to Zara and Swarovski. Why? Because we simply have way more chains regarding clothes, home decor, gourmet products (I especially think about tea), jewels and even alcohols. I have options, I have the choice and I particularly have the freedom. Freedom to choose what I want to consume and in a certain way at any price.
In Mexico, no half-measure. Or it’s cheap (but it’s extremely rare) or it’s expensive (and really expensive). Let’s take the example of a jewel. You want to make a nice gift to your sister and you have decided to buy her something in gold. In France, you have the possibility to go to some really posh stores (direction to Place Vendôme because you are definitely really rich), but you also can find something way more accessible in less fancy jewelries such as Cleor. In Mexico, you simply cannot because you will never find anything which targets the middle-class. Affordable? It doesn’t exist. It will be highly expensive. If you have a limited budget you will end in the cliché of the “Made in China” store, the empire of the lowest quality, the “crappy” stuff. Same thing for home and furniture. In France, you can go to some designers’ places but you also can go to Ikea. In Mexico, Ikea simply doesn’t exist and if you need furniture everything is expensive. You will never find a desk under 500€ and a table under 1 500€!
Clothes are all the same and expensive. Furniture are all the same and expensive. Home stuff are all the same and expensive. Be rich and be identical. What if I am not rich? Get nothing. What if I want to be different? Don’t be. What if I want to keep my identity? If I want to choose to be who I want? If I want to create myself instead of being defined by the standardization. Imagine a street with houses all along and the same furniture in each of them. Imagine people inside of those houses dressed as the same. Is it not scary?
In Monterrey, new malls are flourishing all around. New commercial centers to always consume more and more. And in each of them the same stores, to consume identically to your neighbor. Is there even a real competition? I miss the novelty. I miss the “unprecedented”. I miss the creativity. I miss the surprise. I miss art galleries. I miss the freedom. I miss the “no limit”.
In Paris, I was used to evolve in a multicolor environment, with different people and always new things to share. There were the intellectuals talking about Sartre and the fans of burlesque. There were the football games at the Irish Pub and the sex shops of Pigalle. There were the brunches rue des Martyrs, the old book store of rue Saint Maur and the design stores of the Marais on Sunday mornings. We were talking about the last exhibition, art, books, sex, politics, money issues with our beer or our glass of wine. We were free of our words and we had been taught how to hold forth.
In Mexico, we don’t hold forth. Students don’t learn how to do a text commentary, how to draft a synthesis and how to write a dissertation. Many even don’t know how to define a problematic and build a plan. In Monterrey and especially in San Pedro, we follow a linear path. We are rich because our family is rich. We have a Master Degree because we know how to learn by heart and fill a multiple-choice test. Do we know how to develop a reflection process? No matter. The most important is the “having”. Having a house, having big furniture, having kids, having the dog, having the new dishes from Crate and Barrel.
I would say that the concept of culture is only emerging in Monterrey in some really small circles. 25 years ago, there was even not any art museum. I want those circles to turn bigger and to show off! I want to see this difference.
And the poorest? They cannot afford a good level of education and they simply have nothing. They live in an extreme misery and because they didn’t receive a correct education they don’t make noise. They don’t complain. They don’t live but survive. Maybe this is what wants Mexico. People who don’t think too much to not threaten the government established under one of the most important level of corruption in the world. And this is practical for the rich because they don’t want to have anything to do with the poor. In Mexico, we don’t mix. There’s a border between the wealthiest and the neediest, especially in San Pedro which is the most expensive city of Latin America and which is the nearby town of Monterrey. To give a simple idea, some inhabitants from San Pedro have never been in the city center of Monterrey. They don't mix.
Mexico shapes you. Mexico tells you who you are. Mexico tells you what to think. Mexico tells you want to consume. But as far as I am concerned, I won’t give up to the consumption dictatorship. Maybe the key is to buy abroad, or to be even more creative and “do it yourself”.