It’s not dangerous. I saw women walking alone at night through dimly lit, low-traffic streets. I and others walked while staring at our insecurely held phones, which I would never do in NYC or Chicago, someone will snatch it and run. Bank doors to ATMs are left propped open, no need to use a card to get in. Didn’t see one car use a steering wheel lock. Street vendors left their wrapped up wares outside overnight. Check this out:
Catcalling has been banned since 2019, I didn’t hear one catcall during the week I was there. No obvious leering either. It’s a family friendly city and many of the tourists are families.
The only situations you have to worry about are getting scammed and, from what I’ve heard and expect, pickpockets in crowded areas. Carry small bills so you pay, say, 100 pesos for your 80 pesos taxi ride and tell the driver to keep the rest because if you give a 500 peso bill, you might not get change back. And call their bluff if they threaten to call the police for not paying more. I took a private taxi to the airport, we agreed to a price of 250 pesos, and the driver wanted more once we arrived. Fuck that, just walk away as he screams “policia, policia!” He’ll shut up once he figures out that you’ve called his bluff.
It’s national policy to get tourists to pay more, even the metro vending machine won’t give you change — it’ll say “thank you for the tip” — if you pick the English language option and feed more money than the cost of your purchase. And that’s fine, the minimum wage there is a bit over $1/hour. Police officers make on average $6/hour, which may be why they frequently ask for bribes. An airline pilot makes $25k a year. Put simply, it’s a tourist tax. Carrying smaller bills will allow you to control how much you tip, so you don’t tip $20 for a $5 ride.
Or take the tourist transportation and guided tours. It’ll cost 4 to 10 times more, but it’ll save you from feeling cheated and getting lost and confused. Since I’m considering moving there, I tried to navigate the city as a local, which means taking public transportation and picking out my own street food and restaurants.
Mexico City > Paris at 1/6th of the price
I make this comparison because it’s commonly made by travel journalists and Mexico City, during the presidency of Porfirio Diaz (1876-1911), used Paris as the model for its development.
Under the rule of Porfirio Díaz, Mexico City experienced a massive transformation. Díaz’s goal was to create a city which could rival the great European cities. He and his government came to the conclusion that they would use Paris as a model, while still containing remnants of Amerindian and Hispanic elements.
Is Mexico City the poor person’s alternative to Paris, or is it better than Paris AND more affordable AND closer to home for those living in the Western half of the US?
Both cities are similarly dirty, Mexico City because it’s hard to find public garbage bins there and Paris because Parisians are careless, lazy, piece of shits. Mexico City is surprisingly clean, actually, for having so few garbage bins. The ubiquitous street vendors make the difference, they do a great job of keeping their areas clean.
Both cities have seemingly comparable number of homeless and beggars. Parisian ones are spread throughout the city, while the ones in Mexico City are concentrated near tourist hotels.
I saw one small homeless camp — two to three families living there? — in a nice neighborhood in Mexico City. There were a couple of businesses running out of it, and everyone living there seems stable, drug-free, and productive. This camp is slated for removal. See below:
Didn’t see drug use or needles on the ground anywhere. Saw few instances of public drunkenness. Paris, I’m told, now has homeless camps for asylum seekers and a growing drug problem. Not as bad as in many major US cities, but it’s not visible.
Didn’t see a street whore in Mexico City. Saw a couple of sex shops on the outskirts of the city (where the poor live). There are street whores in Paris, most of them are in the designated red light district.
Murals and street art are similarly plentiful and intriguing in Mexico City and in Paris. Below are some photos taken of street art in Mexico City:
The one above is the entrance to some Peruvian restaurant I don’t remember the name of.
Paris has the serene Seine River that runs through the heart of the city. Mexico City has the Xochimilco canals, which I didn’t have time to see so I can’t compare. The 37 bridges that connect the left and right banks of the Seine River is partially what makes Paris so picturesque and romantic. The canals are tucked near the southern border of Mexico City, so it doesn’t affect the city’s cityscape as much as the Seine does for Paris.
Both cities have grand boulevards, I remember Parisian ones to be posher — more upscale stores especially — and better kept.
Architecture in Paris is more consistently European. Mexico City’s architecture is more varied, a mix European — from Spanish colonial to Art Nouveau — Mexican Modernist, and rough and humble cement buildings. Below two are from Zocalo Square, the historic city center.
Above is Tepito, which is considered a poor and vibrant neighborhood.
Overall, Mexico City has more iconic buildings and sites than does Paris. Mexico City also has more parks, including the second largest park in all of the Americas. This park houses a below average zoo (but good enough to host pandas), a magnificent castle that doubles as a history museum, and several world class museums, including one dedicated to pre-colonial history. Chapultepec Castle below:
A basic “pastor” street taco — sliced pork, pineapple, onions, your choice of sauce topping — costs 50 cents. My papaya, guava, alfalfa, and walnut street smoothie costs $1.50 versus the $8 Alive Juice Bar charges. And they offer health add-ons like chia seeds and sugar-free granola. Double the price for the same street food in a nice sit down restaurant. Keep in mind that street food in Mexico City isn’t prepared according to US health code standards — there aren’t any hand-wash sinks and no gloves are used. I’m cool with that as long as I’m near my hotel. My stomach may have adapted to it quickly because I grew up on street food in Taipei. I have a feeling that some of the restaurants would also not meet US health code standards, so plan accordingly. Like, don’t eat a restaurant meal and go straight to a museum or a night club. Eat just before you head back to your hotel.
The street food isn’t as varied as what you’d find in Asian cities (you can find escargot, french onion soup, and lasagna on the streets of Tokyo but not on the streets of Mexico City and Paris) but it’s much cheaper and easier to find — they’re on every other block — than in Paris, which I don’t remember having many street food options. In fact, I don’t remember ever having street food in Paris, only in French Guiana, and that was a heart attack type burger out of a truck. In any case, I’ve not been to a city with this much street food. They have tortas, quesadillas, burgers, hotdogs, roasted corn, fresh juice, soft-serve, crickets, chips, nuts, dried fish, most of the popular items you can find at most taquerias. Didn’t see street vendors serve cuts like tripe, beef tongue, and shrimp, and no ceviche. The more expensive cuts are served in sit down restaurants.
Mexico City attracts immigrants from all over the Americas, including, by some estimates, 700,000 Americans. I had Spanish tapas and Peruvian food, both of which I enjoyed. I saw Argentinian restaurants, and many American restaurants. Not just McDonald’s and Starbucks, also PF Chang’s, Haagen Daz, Prime Steak, Hooters, and many more that aren’t chains, serving everything from Texas BBQ to hippie American vegan. Put simply, Mexico City is a great place to sample cuisine from all over the Americas (but not Brazil, didn’t see any?) and Spain. There are some noted French and Russian restaurants I didn’t get to try. There’s Chinese food, not a lot (Chinese were kicked out of Mexico during the 1930s) and I didn’t try. Some nice looking Korean restaurants recently opened up, didn’t try. Ran into a couple of small Asian markets too, I was told that Koreans have been moving to Mexico City to open businesses.
Japanese food is everywhere, especially ramen. One magazine went as far as saying that the best Japanese food outside of Japan is in Mexico City. One ramen shop — Diego Ramen — had a line out the door every time I passed. I tried a Mexican-Japanese ramen bowl at a cheap looking chain and it was sloppy and over the top flavor-wise, too much going on ingredient-wise. (Next time I’ll try ramen at a highly rated restaurant). Also tried an upscale Japanese restaurant and was disappointed. They don’t pay enough attention to the texture and flavor of the rice and what’s the point of combining uni with foie gras other than to say that this shit is expensive even if the combination makes even less sense than putting foie gras on a burger? And too many sushi rolls!
I don’t think there isn’t a large enough Japanese population to help create a fusion Mexican-Japanese cuisine that’s well thought out, that combines Japanese minimalism with Mexican ingredients. Every city outside of Japan that’s produced good localized Japanese food has had enough Japanese customers and chefs to work with. I didn’t see Japanese chefs, cooks, and customers in the two places I went to and the other places I looked at. And the chefs at some of the other upscale Japanese restaurants are American alums of places like Nobu Miami and Morimoto Las Vegas. It’s like you’re getting inchoate Mexican versions of mid and upscale American Japanese food.
I did eat, twice, at what’s now my favorite vegan restaurant in the world, Plantasia.
Based on my limited experience sampling food in Mexico City and Paris, I vote that they’re evenly matched, even though I have a slight preference for French cuisine.
Sites and Sounds
Mexico City has the second most number of museums of any city (London has the most) at 170. Paris has 130. Both have enough to one busy for years. Museums in Mexico City seem to cover a wider range of topics, from archaeology to chocolate. Never had a chance to explore the music scenes in either city.
Above is from Museum of Modern Art
One way subway ride is 25 cents in Mexico City. It’s $2 in Paris. Street taco is 50 cents in Mexico City. A baguette is $1 and a gyro is $8 in Paris. Sofitel Hotel in Mexico City is $250/night. In Paris, it’s $350/night. Dining out for two at a high end restaurant in Mexico City is $100. Paris, it’s $400. Ear buds are $5 in Mexico City. Sunglasses for 50 cents.
Mexico City feels feudal. If you’re Amerindian, you’re going to be poor or lower-middle class at best. If you’re Mestizo, you’re going to be poor to middle-class. White people are middle to upper class. My sense is that people don’t feel like they can rise above a certain level in Mexico, that they’re stuck in the socio-economic world they’re born in.
The people, especially the poor and middle-class, hustle, unlike the chronically poor in the US and France. People are industrious but not entrepreneurial in the same way East Asians are and Protestants once were. Feels like street vendors are there to make enough money to survive, not to grow into something larger. Whereas the Asian street vendors I saw growing up all kept moving up, first into storefronts, then expanding to multiple storefronts. The notorious Tepito neighborhood and infamous marketplace, where anything is available, I’m told, is 75% owned by the Chinese and Koreans. It’s not like Mexicans work less than the Chinese and Koreans, so I suspect the Mexicans lack the entrepreneurial vision of the Chinese and Koreans.
Was told that because of corruption, it’s easier to do business in Mexico than it is in the US. Paying someone off is easier than going through ridiculous bureaucratic hoops. I — and others — like that and this may be why it’s so much easier for the poor in Mexico City to start their own businesses. I remember an article, from the Economist maybe, saying that a certain amount of corruption is good for the economy.
I remember thinking of Parisians as lazy whiners with no entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve been told that they’re even more so like that now. Mexicans don’t whine much, even though they have better reasons to do so than Parisians do. Oh, people of Mexico City are much more accommodating and helpful than the prickly Parisians. And again, the poor in Mexico City work harder than the poor in Paris do, who are simply lazy and entitled, similar to the chronically poor in the US.
I don’t think Mexico City will ever become a world class city. It’s developing at too slow of a pace — only saw one building crane — to soon match cities like Shanghai, Tokyo, and Singapore. And it doesn’t attract enough international talent to become a highly integrated global city like London and New York City. But it offers under the radar gems, like perhaps in fashion design, which I’ll explore the next time I’m there. Paris, meanwhile, has to me lost its world class status and attracts tourism because of its past reputation as one of the capitals of the world.
So much of Mexico City seems a bit below average. The museums are great, the food is good, but the subway system seem to have one major accident per year. Its national airline, AeroMexico, performs (my experience) far worse than its counterpart Air France does, and a bit worse than a shitty American carrier like Delta. Mexico City’s main airport is also below average, they’re unable to simplify a lot of processes and the first security checkpoint wouldn’t recognize accept hotel printed boarding pass, suggesting that there’s poor training and communication between different airport departments. I’ve heard that their bureaucracy is torpid and bumbling. Obsolete phone booths and free internet stations that nobody uses are everywhere.
Still, I’m considering moving to Mexico. Probably not Mexico City, I’ll check out smaller cities like Guanajuato. Would I open a restaurant in Mexico? We’ll see, I’ll probably work full-time as a writer, which is what I did before I got into the restaurant business. I might open one in the US seasonally and move to Mexico for 4 months out of the year. I also plan to check out Yunnan province in China as another part-time destination.
Why am I considering moving? I moved to Everett to get away from Seattle and if Everett turns into another Seattle, I’m out. Fuck Covid, the more serious and contagious problem is of Americans overthinking everything, which results in all sorts of batshit crazy. Fuck Americans and their stupid theories about stupid concepts like self-esteem. I mean, I’ve encountered Americans who are chronically depressed because they had an ideal upbringing and feel guilty about it! No me gusta that shit, I prefer to hang out with Mexicans who stay focused on food, family and fun…and that’s it.