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An Excerpt from my, “A Gringo Guide to Living in San Miguel: Its Culture and Customs”.
© Copyright William J. Conaway, 2008
© Derechos Reservados
In this guide I will try to give you a feel for the modern San Miguel de Allende. (For the History pick up a copy of ”San Miguel’s History”.) Perhaps in this way I can help you to avoid some of the trials and tribulations of living here, and to reveal some of the secrets to getting along and enjoying life in our beloved San Miguel. My knowledge, accumulated through more than 50 years of San Miguel de Allende experience will help you enjoy your stay in our community, however brief or long it may be.
The reasons foreign residents have chosen to live here vary from person to person. The most important reason is the arts. San Miguel’s traditional support for the arts may be traced back to 1781, when, as a small town, it contributed to the upkeep of an official academy of art in the capital. It became an art colony, for foreign residents, beginning around 1951. With the help of Nell Fernandez, wife of a one-time Governor of Guanajuato; Stirling Dickinson, philanthropist and naturalist; and the G.I. Bill, the Instituto Allende opened its doors welcoming the veterans, disabled or retired, who poured into San Miguel to study art and/or merely live in inexpensive post-war México . Today there are more cultural activities here than in most large cities in the States.
Some like living here because of the climate. It never seems to get too hot or cold, too wet or dry. The average temperature is 64° (F), and the average rainfall per year is 27 inches. The nights are cool enough to use a blanket, and the days warm up as the sun climbs. Eternal Spring!
Also, San Miguel has a unique charm of its own. The native born residents don’t understand it any more than we do, but it’s here. One of the things you can see and feel about this town is that it doesn’t change. You can leave it for as long as you wish, but when you return it’s almost as if you never left. Many of the same people can be seen, sitting in the Jardín, right where you left them. Sure, there’s more traffic, new restaurants, and different shops. The outlying colonias are much bigger, but the feel of it’s still here, just as you remember it.
The Jardín, as everyone calls the main square, is a place to meet friends, have your shoes shined, wait for the English language newspapers to arrive: ”El Independiente”, ”The News”, and the ”Atención”; or to converse with the people who are there for the same reasons. You can catch up on the latest gossip too. But it can be the worst place for reliable information. As you will come to realize, everyone in San Miguel, even the new arrivals, are experts on practically everything. Our advice in this book, however, is tested and true.
Remember, you’re a long way from home. Everything is different here. Be receptive to new ways of doing things. You can’t change the Mexicans, so don’t even try. With time you will become accustomed to this new way of life; it just takes a little patience, more for some than others.
San Miguel, in the last few years, has lept forward into modernity. On the outskirts we now have huge stores (compared to what we had) with lots of never before available items at good prices. A huge improvement for the people of San Miguel.
People often remark to me, “Boy, you’ve really seen some changes over the years.” I have. And all of them have improved San Miguel. Increased the ambiance. Made it a better place to live.
San Miguel had its charm back in 1961, when I first came here, but it was poor, rundown, and ugly too. Don’t forget that. The Sanmiguelenses deserve better, and are finally getting it.
Table of Contents
The Early Years – My First Visit….1
Introduction to the Guide….9
Chapter One – San Miguel’s Early History….13
The Early Years – A Country Wedding….15
Chapter Two – Mexico’s Social Customs….19
Chapter Three – Some of the Largest Celebrations..23
Chapter Four – Superstition….31
Chapter Five – Relax, Make Yourself At Home….33
Chapter Six – Tipping….35
Chapter Seven – Dining Out in San Miguel….37
Chapter Eight – Shopping….39
Chapter Nine – Services….47
U.S. Consular Services….53
The Early Years – Early Rising….59
Chapter Ten – Real Estate….67
The Early Years – A Ride in the Country….71
Chapter Eleven – Studying Spanish….79
Chapter Twelve – Mexican Law in Brief….83
The Early Years – The Only Convertible….85
Chapter Thirteen – San Miguel Fiestas….89
The Early Years – Changing Minds….105
The Early Years – A Swimming Hole….107
The Early Years – Wolfman Jack and Partying….109
Book Two – Living On the Cheap
Chapter One – San Miguel on Fewer Pesos
Chapter Two – Feeding Your Face….117
Chapter Three – Boozing….125
Chapter Four – Transportation….129
Chapter Five – Things to Do….131
Chapter Six – Working in Mexico….133
The Early Years – The Black Cat….137
The Early Years – Los Locos….141
The Early Years – El Catrín….142
The Early Years – Alexi Lalas….144
Papelandia Publishing Catalog….147