Mexico for the senses

Mexico is a country that’s famous for it’s lively, colourful way of life. You think of Mexico and bright colours come to mind whether they are imprinted on a traditional dress or give the exotic fruits their appeal. Houses are painted in a lot of different colours and are not just held in tones of brown, white and other discreet colours.

Now imagine a Mexican market – when I go to such a market, I am always fascinated by the rush of the vendors, people walking around buying their things, fresh fruit and vegetables next to clothes, baked goods and electronic devices. All the different things you may purchase and all the smells – spices are being sold loose in big bags, so you can smell their aroma which is still mostly unfamiliar to me, the wonderful intense smell of fruit and vegetable that is so ripe the exotic fruit we buy in European supermarkets will never get. Then the smell of chlorine based chemicals businesses such as the butcher use to clean their premises mixed with the warm air that is always missing ventilation in the market halls. You keep going and smell more and more – the smell of plastic from the cheap electronic devices, the smell of new clothes, of herbs and plants and the smell of sea when you walk by the fish and seafood section.

I love how colourful and intense Mexico is and it is something that fascinated me right from the beginning. But I also have to admit, that sometimes, it’s a challenge to keep up, let me explain:

You may have heard of the term “highly sensitive person”. In modern neuroscience, this is the term to describe someone who receives more stimuli than an average person. The highly sensitive person experiences and processes the stimulus more intensively. This means that the person can have a much more intense experience with their surroundings. But it can also mean that everyday life situations can be challenging for him or her because instead of focusing on the thing they want to do and everything that’s important for that task to be concluded they see, hear, feel a lot more of what’s in their environment. So maybe instead of concentrating on the person who is talking to him or her and what that person is saying, they might only think about how their clothes are itchy, how it’s too hot in the room, how the music is playing too loud or the discussion the people next to them are having.

Now I am not highly sensitive, but every now and then in Mexico, I feel like I am. The perception of temperature, volume, texture and the intensity of smell doesn’t seem to be the same for my Mexican family and for me:

In Mexico, you will always find ‘background sound’ wherever you go – sometimes it’s music but mostly it’s a turned on TV that nobody is watching. There just always needs to be a sound on rather high volume in the background. It’s one of those things I will probably never understand, but you just have to deal. For me, the TV is a killer for any communication because it makes it harder to understand the other person, it creates a distraction and in case that somebody is actually watching you don’t want to disturb that person. In general, volume sometimes is an issue. Music or TV is always on high volume, people are talking loudly or are almost shouting when they stand right next to you, making it impossible for me to have a conversation.

I feel to perceive temperature more intensely in Mexico than in Germany: When it’s hot here in Mexico, it’s really really hot and I can only smile at the thought that in the North of Germany we call 25 degrees Celsius ‘hot’. When it’s cold in Mexico, it feels even colder because no one is prepared for the cold – houses are not constructed against cold but against heat and in winter that same house can feel like the ice palace from the movie ‘Frozen’. There is no heating or adequate clothing, you can just put on a lot of layers and hide underneath a thick blanket. In both cases, I am always the first one to feel hot or cold. I am either the first one of the family to start sweating although I am already wearing light clothes compared to my niece wearing jeans and sweater when it’s 30 C out there or I am the first one to look for a warm jacket and a big blanket when I am already wearing knitted socks and a scarf inside the house.

I have to get back at the smells one more time, because Mexico is so rich in aromas: Sometimes when I am out in the street, the different, intense smells are a challenge. You smell different kinds of delicious food, skunk, emissions, air conditioning, wonderful flowers and trees, delicious baked goods like churros someone is selling on the street and with the rainy season also the smell of sewage water when the drain pipe system of an area gets blocked. Then suddenly, Germany just seems clean and boring, without sensations and emotions, diversity and challenges for the senses.

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