If you have never visited Mexico City (or Distrito Federal as we call it here), what are your ideas about the Mexican capital? I’m sure that you are thinking that it is bursting with people, that it is difficult to walk on the street, that it’s impossible to get anywhere because of the traffic, that the city people are unfriendly, that it is riddled with street crime, and that it is a generally intimidating place. And honestly, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. When you consider that Mexico City is home to a population of 25 million people and when you are constantly reading about Mexican drug cartels in the media, what else are you expected to think?
In fact, the real lived experience of Mexico City is something very different. And not different in a ‘it took me time to adjust but now I feel comfortable here’ kind of way, but in a way that made me feel right at home from the very first moment my feet touched the ground of this city. Yes, 25 million people live here. But this city is also huge and we don’t all live on top of each other. Mexico City is a city with multiple neighbourhoods that all have distinct cultures and different people living in them. More than a mass of people all living on top of each other, Mexico City feels like a series of villages that exist side by side. If you live in Coyoacan, you will consider yourself a Coyoacan resident as much as a Mexico City resident, and the same if you live in Polanco, Condesa, or San Rafael.
But what about the crime? Isn’t it dangerous? I don’t know the official crime statistics, and in honesty, I am not very interested in knowing them. But I do know how I feel when I walk the streets here, and I feel safe. I don’t flash around expensive things, but I never do that – you are just inviting trouble that way. As long as you are sensible and vigilant, I don’t think you will land yourself in trouble here in Mexico City.
And as for the people, they are simply some of the friendliest I have ever met. Considering that this is an urban centre and people have busy lives here, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness that complete strangers have shown me, especially when I speak so little Spanish. In my home city of London, there is very little tolerance for people who can’t speak English even though we have waves of immigrants to struggle to understand the language. In Mexico City, the people don’t laugh at my truly terrible pronunciation and they try to speak English with me when they can.
Of course, if you choose to move to Mexico City you might get caught in a traffic jam now and again, you might get lost on the endless streets, and you might feel frustrated at the honking of horns and road works. But you will also experience kindness, extremely friendly people, a city that accommodates many different groups of people, and ultimately, a city that would accommodate you too.