In the blogging world, it’s all about lists these days – and I guess, when they have a bit of substance, there is nothing wrong with that. They are orderly, informational and easy to read.
So, here’s my list – of things that I learned in my last 9 years living in Belize. Many…like the signs planted all over Caye Caulker, Belize, I may not have learned without moving here. It’s a pretty simple but solid piece of wisdom.
Especially when expanded upon.
Some on my list are not so deep.
Here are the 15 Things that I learned living in Belize.
1. Though English is the national language, most people don’t speak it at home or with friends – Belize is a small country – and the only one in Central America that is an ex-British colony. We are bordered by Spanish-speaking Guatemala to the west and south and Mexico to the north. While English is the official language and is the predominant language in all schools, at home, almost all Belizeans speak Kriol or Spanish. Some speak Garifuna or one of the Mayan languages.
Kriol is a language unto itself – and while it’s often described as a heavily accented, slang English, it has so many different words and phrases, it can take years for an outsider to pick up on all of its nuances.
2. Time has a different meaning – “Island time” is real. And it’s not carelessness or lack of respect, it’s both a “go slow” mentality and an actual system that sometimes everyone seems to know but me. Get to the bank and there is one teller (for some reason the other 8 desks are closed) and 25 people in front of you? Get in line…often you’ll get chatting with the other people in it. Invited to a birthday party that starts at 4pm? Ask a Belizean for the real time people are going to show up. I’ve been the one arriving as the balloons are being delivered more than once.
3. Groceries are expensive – If you want to eat any imported items, it’s going to cost you. I think all of us do it when we first arrive. You try to shop and eat like you did back home…$15bzd boxes of cereal, $3bzd apples, $18bzd Doritos. All those things are delicious. But, man, there goes your budget. Learn to eat like a Belizean. Rice, beans, chicken, flour, sugar, IN SEASON vegetables and fruit, are very reasonably priced. Or there is some DELICIOUS low priced food out there. Your pocketbook will thank you.
Plus, the food is DELICIOUS.
4. No one will look at you askance if you are drinking a beer with breakfast – This “rule” is great for some and horrible for others. If you are the type that just likes a beer with his fry jacks, once a week, great! Everyone minds their business and that’s a nice thing. BUT if you are the type who came down here because you were drinking too much or sliding down a slippery slope of addiction, the permissive attitude of Belize, especially the more touristy areas, can be dangerous. Are you moving to Belize because you love it? Or are you moving to Belize to escape yourself? Choice 2 never seems to work out that well.
5. You Can’t Always Get What you Want aka Control Freaks Beware! Belize is a different country, a very different culture. If you want things to operate like they do in the States or if you often find yourself starting a sentence with “Well, in Canada, the city council does this or that…” You are going to find yourself in a downward spiral of disappointment and frustration.
6. The check isn’t going to be delivered to your table as soon as you finished eating – In the US, we usually “dine and dash”. If your plate isn’t cleared as you finish your last mouthful, you may get antsy. In Belize, there is a much more laid back mentality (catching a theme here?). Sure sometimes it may be slow service, but often, wait staff feels rude giving you the check – as if to say GET OUT. Most of the time, you are going to have to ask for it.
7. The Internet is getting better…slowly Belize has long been known for having some of the slowest & most expensive Internet in the Western Hemisphere. (They don’t mention that in the tourist brochures…now do they?) But it is getting better. SO much better. My 4G Mi-Fi is a little gift. When you move down here, make sure to check out ALL of your options.
8. It Can Be Really Tough to Make Friends – There are lots of different factors at work here (a list within a list!) a. It’s harder to make friends as you get older b. Many of us live in tourist towns that are quite transient c. Living in Belize isn’t for everyone – many people try it for a year or two and it’s not the right fit. Volunteering, activities like SUP or Crossfit…all good places to meet people.
9. If you are “city folk”, you learn that cats and dogs have balls! Well the male ones do I’d honestly never seen them. Enough said.
10. The leading question when you meet someone is not “What do you do?” When I lived in New York, what you did was who you are. If that’s the first thing I ask someone here, I almost feel like I’m attacking them…it seems like a very judgemental question. And one for much later in the conversation.
11. Buying an existing business does not mean that you are going to make money (no matter what the ad says.) – Turn Key! Positive cash flow! touts BusinessforSale.com. Where you live, would you just take that at face value? Would you buy anything (for more than about 50 bucks) sight unseen? Would you consult no one but the seller? Would you not stake yourself out at the business for a week or two and undercover check it out? The same rules exist here! Small business is small business. YOU are not going to revolutionize the bar scene in San Pedro. Trust me on this one.
And you are going to lose money if you think you are going to just unlock the door and then go lay on the beach. Small business means hard work anywhere.
12. Electricity and water are not guarantees – Though what might be guaranteed is that power is going to blow on Christmas Eve, for at least a few hours. Sometimes we overload the system, sometimes, the Mexicans turn off our power supply on Ambergris Caye, sometimes, the water company is waiting for a part. It just happens.
13. Belize has seasons – Belize…ahhhh Belize. You are picturing temperate days and sunny skies. And yes, that is true most of the time. But we do have seasons. We get some cold spells in the winter with night time temperatures dipping into the high 60s. Windy springs and HOT summers with rainy nights.
14. You are probably going to be awed by the view out your window or down your street every single day – and something unspeakable beautiful will hit you about once a week…if not more This little country is packed with the most amazing beauty – from a drive thru the misty Maya Mountains to dolphins swimming by the reef to just the view in Central Park, I’m still shocked every day.
15. It’s pretty critical to be somewhat laid back and have a sense of humor – if you are an immigrant to this country, you have…well…a bit less pull. Sure, like everywhere, money talks but you are a visitor here – in a different country, a different culture. You need to go with the flow. If just that statement “go with the flow” makes you cringe? Belize may not be your perfect fit.
I could go on. And I bet those who live here could too! Please feel free to comment below and add to the list…or let me know what you think of mine.
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