Returning to Mexico City after time apart always requires some re-acclimatization. Most literally, DF is at a high altitude, and when I come from sea level, my body takes some time to adjust (headaches and fatigue are not the best way to start an extended stay in a new place, but I keep reminding myself it’s all worth it and will pass in a few days). While experiencing this physical discomfort, I also have to remind myself how to stay healthy and safe in the DF, forming habits like not drinking water from the faucet, purifying produce, and taking care to find safe taxis when I need rides. It may not seem like a lot, but the little modifications to daily life at first seem overwhelming, and I tend to work myself into a state of hyper vigilance about staying healthy and safe. Each time I arrive to DF I have to slowly transition to feeling more secure. It’s a tough balance to strike between being overly concerned about getting mugged and being overly confident that nothing can happen, a false sense of security that could easily get someone into trouble. I know from experience that the only way to feel more comfortable in this city is with time, but still it bothers me that it doesn’t feel completely like home as soon as I’ve made it onto the familiar streets of Colonia Roma. It would be nice to arrive and feel as comfortable here as I did by the end of my last trip, but alas.
Beyond the mild altitude sickness and the vigilant mind-set, each time I come–but mainly when I haven’t spoken Spanish for a while–I start out timid and overly self-conscious about my Spanish abilities. After some time, I gain confidence and stop worrying about embarrassing myself with non-native pronunciation or asking for clarifications when I don’t understand what someone has said. But as someone who cares how others see me, there is always a little barrier I have to get past before I feel comfortable communicating in Spanish. This frustrates me since I am constantly seeking to improve my speaking skills, but getting past my desire to blend in and behave respectfully and properly often leaves me obsessing about possible connotations of words and phrases and failing attempt communication. This time around, I’m feeling especially rusty after a full year without speaking, hearing, or reading much Spanish, but I keep reminding myself that once I am past this initial awkward stage, my Spanish can only improve.
Culturally, it also takes me some time to get used to the glances (people on the street look at everyone more and make more eye contact than in the U.S.), hugs and kisses in salutations, and so much more. People tend to be more formal and proper here, and I worry about failing to say one of the courteous remarks as I slowly hear and recall the routine phrases (premiso and disculpe to say excuse me, and the requisite “buenos días” and “buenas tardes” exchanged almost everywhere). Or, something that still confuses me sometimes, is when I thank someone, they reply with “de que,” which is different from “you’re welcome” and makes me feel a bit defensive, probably for no reason.