My wife and I were making our way to the metro after a late lunch on the patio of a wine shop in Polanco. The fancy home to many of the wealthy expats in Mexico City, Polanco has a number of ongoing improvement projects—whatever two steps past gentrification is. We were approaching such a construction site, which looked like it might be making a glorieta (roundabout) more pedestrian-friendly. Lots of tall orange markers, planks bridging gaps in the pavement and those sort of orange plastic sheets with circles cut out of them intended to operate as fencing. Construction dust everywhere.
Negotiating the path toward the 10 o’clock stretch of road leaving the glorieta, I stuck to the right edge of the pedestrian walkway. There were people coming out of the construction area in our direction. A moment later, I realized the angle a scraggly man was taking was going to leave me precious room to maneuver. And then he put his shoulder into mine.
I reflexively turned but put my hands up in a “take it easy, everyting’s fine” gesture. The man had also turned and was glaring back at me.
Alright, he’s tired of foreigners and feels like taking it out on one. I kept my palms facing him, said, “Perdón,” and turned back to continue walking. There’s no need to defend myself—in truth I’m sympathetic.
In four years of traveling the world as digital nomads, living for several months at a time in a city, it’s the first hostility I’ve experienced, unless you count the withering contempt of French waiters when I butchered their language. Even the vendors who fleece us with “tourist tax” prices in the markets are happy we’re there.
At the start of our adventures, I’d rationalized that we were helping the places we went to live. Bringing money into a country with rent, food and entertainment expenditures but not taking any jobs from locals. It sounds good, but we’d have to consult an economist as to whether it’s actually doing any good.
One area I’m sure it’s not helping is in the affordability of housing. Sharing economy services like AirBnB, HomeAway, VRBO and Roomorama remove the friction and risk from renting apartments abroad. (And when we started out in 2010, we would go to the city and look at a dozen places in a mad rush to rent a flat before our hotel stay ran out). But these services also subject neighborhoods to free market pricing, and you’re much more likely to find comparatively well-to-do foreigners who can pay $1500/month to live in an “authentic” flat that should cost a local ⅓ of that.
So I can understand that in the country that I still think is the friendliest we’ve lived in, there will be those less than thrilled to see us. The best I can endeavor to do is leave a decent impression on the people I meet. This guy was never going to be one whom I could sway.