People are strange when you're a stranger

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YOU know, most of the more interesting and funny moments of my new life in Mexico have happened around the dinner table.

Telling my girlfriend’s mother that I was feeling ‘horny’ when I meant to say I was feeling ‘hot’ (due to the sun) is a moment which those in attendance will never let me forget.

Another standout moment has got to be when numerous members of Jacky’s family tried to teach me to roll my R’s to get the perfect Spanish accent.

The sound that came out of my mouth was not a rolled ‘R’, it was more like the sound of a bee slowly dying (probably of embarrassment).

Having five or six people rolling R’s at me at the same time in perfect harmony was one of the most surreal moments of my life.

“It’s easy!” Jacky told me.

“Er... it’s really not,” I replied.

It is one of the most difficult things I have ever tried to learn. And now I am so self conscious of doing it wrong and simply making a noise at someone, that I can’t possibly EVER try it again.

I don’t understand how people can wake up one day knowing how to do it.

I’ve even tried googling it to find a video tutorial. To be honest the comments – mainly from half-wit Americans – are more entertaining.

So yes, I’m trying new things. I’m eating different food, I’m exploring new places, and I’m learning a new language (well, new for me).

An Englishman here in Tijuana (known as ‘TJ’) is a rarity.

And to say I stand out like a sore thumb is a massive understatement.

My skin colour is different, my accent is weird, and I’m literally about three feet taller than your average Mexican.

I stand head and shoulders above everyone. When I’m in a supermarket I peer out over the aisles like the Statue of Liberty gazing out over Manhattan’s ant population.

Jacky bought me a pair of boots as a welcoming gift and, while the size and length of the boots are fine, they are so narrow that I’m sure the daintiest British tinkerbell supermodel would have a job squeezing into them.

I now honestly believe that I – like many men who derive from the West Country – have ‘pasty’ feet.

Such has been the intensity of people’s stares here that they’ve nearly walked out into traffic.

I, more often than not, smile politely and say ‘hola’.

I’m not sure exactly what people expect me to say, but they often look bemused and give me a look to suggest ‘wow... it speaks’.

It’s strange being in a foreign land. And my foreign mind works in strange ways.

Wherever I am, somewhere in the chasms of my brain I immediately look for an indication of where the next toilet is. You know, just in case nature calls.

Last week Jacky and a contact of hers took me to a kind of TJ chamber of commerce event.

It was a weekly update for a huge expo style event called ‘Tijuana Innovadora’ going on over here in October.

It will undoubtedly be a big deal as they’ve lined up the co-founder of Apple as well as many other important speakers from the US and Mexico.

The event is all about celebrating TJ and its relations and standing with the world.

So unbeknown to me, my attendance at last week’s event – as an (award-winning... well, I can say that now right?!) English journalist – was seen as a ‘big deal’.

I walked into a room of around 100 people and people stopped talking and stared.

You know like the classic scene in a Western when the stranger character walks into the saloon?

People stopped sipping their coffee, they fixed eyes on me, the guy in the back stopped playing the piano... (okay, there was no piano player but you get the gist).

The next thing I know someone thrust a microphone into my hand and signalled for me to introduce myself.

I spoke some Spanish, I spoke some English, and I spoke something which is a cross between the two incorporating hand movements and weird facial expressions.

And I got a round of applause. Oh, and then everyone started dancing. Honestly.

I must have said something right? Right? People even wanted their pictures taken with me.

In that single moment I felt like I’d announced my arrival to potential future employers.

So watch this space.

At the weekend I also encountered something else which was new and weird in equal measure.

We drove past a hardware store (TJs equivalent to B&Q) and there was a large group of men shouting at the passing vehicles.

It turns out that these men were actually plumbers and electricians who were plying for trade.

Yellow Pages? Facebook group? Who needs em. Just shout loudly at your potential customers!

Personally I wouldn’t want to employ someone who scared the living cr*p out of me but hey, when in Rome... or Mexico.

It got me thinking that maybe I should just massively over pronounce my R’s and growl at people to show that I’m actually trying?

Hmmmm... maybe not.

Tristan Nichols

Tristan is a multi award-winning journalist from England.

In his professional capacity he spent nearly a decade-and-a-half travelling the world covering breaking stories for the UK-based newspaper, 'The Herald'.

During this time he spent approximately four-and-a-half months on Afghanistan's frontline working as a writer/blogger/photographer and broadcaster for The British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).

In his career he has worked in countries including Iraq, Brazil, Sierra Leone, Norway, The Falkland Islands, Bahrain, Brunei, and of course Afghanistan.

In his personal life he's travelled far and wide lapping up the atmosphere of some of the world's most beautiful, and undoutedly most unbeautiful places imaginable.

Having quit and boxed up the life he knew, he's relocated to Tijuana in Mexico to learn Spanish and be a fiance to the beautiful Jacky.

His popular travel blog 'Once Upon A Time In Mexico...' is regularly updated with unusual and humorous observations on his new life across the pond in the land of tacos and banda music.

Oh, and of course he's going to bullsh*t on about writing a book or a solo album for years to come.

For full details and biog, photographs, travel features and stories, and other interesting bits and bobs visit

Alternatively find him on Twitter by searching for: tristan_nichols


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