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“Am I going to be a victim of violence in México?” Take this simple quiz to find out!

As most of my fellow Mexico blogs have addressed recently, the news coverage around security in Mexico has reached fever pitch in the last few months. A flurry of articles in the US press is sending everyone into a panic, which is only amplified by so-called experts busily spreading fear regardless of facts. Some people are convinced that tourists are being gunned down in Cancun on a daily basis (NOT TRUE!! Reality: drug cartels killed the man who was the area’s “anti-drug chief’), and that rebel armies are seconds away from taking over Mexico City (NOT TRUE!! Reality: I am not aware of any nearby rebel armies, and I reckon that even if they did exist– if they tried to storm the city, they would end up stuck in traffic & probably lose motivation by the time they arrived at any important government buildings).

My recent favorite is an e-newsletter my friend Todd forwarded me from a travel agency in Omaha, NE who specializes in trips to Mexican beaches. The email alert starts off with:

“So, is Mexico Dangerous?? Should I Go there?
If you have plans to visit Tijuana, on the California boarder,
Juarez, Mexico on the Texas boarder, Nogales on the Arizona
boarder, Mexico City or similar cities – don’t go! As the news is
correctly reporting, there are some major drug “wars” between
rival gangs, and who’s going to run the drugs across the US boarder.
There is a travel advisory on traveling to the U.S./Mexico BOARDER
TOWNS, that have the drug traffic problems. On the other hand,
if you’re going to beach locations like the Riviera Maya /Playa del
Carmen area, Cancun, Cabo San Lucas etc., you’re over 1,000
miles from where they are having the major problems. “

Now to be clear, I do not dispute the risks of being a tourist in the towns along the border. (Although I have no idea where the Texas “boarder” is…)  But I love how they throw in “Mexico City or similar cities” just for good measure.  First, given that Mexico City is one of the top 5 largest cities in the world with 20+ million people, what are the “similar cities” in Mexico that you should avoid??? Helpful. Also, what is the basis for listing Mexico City in the first place? Even the State Department Travel Alert for Mexico does not highlight Mexico City as a place to avoid because of violence.

Anyway, what I consider important to remember here is: any city can be dangerous if you’re an idiot. By no means am I trying to make light of the situation on the border, which I fully agree has become disturbingly violent and is wise to avoid as a tourist. But Mexico is a huge country (761,000 square miles, 3x the size of Texas). The drug-related drama on the border is NOT indicative of what you will experience in the remaining 90% of Mexico.

To make it even easier for potential visitors, I have written up a quick quiz to help you determine your risk level for traveling in Mexico. As I said, obviously bad things can happen anywhere, but there are some fairly clear issues that you should consider first.

The Official MidwesternerInMexico.com Quiz for Determining your Risk of Violence in Mexico

(please answer yes or no to the following questions)

  1. I am the head of a powerful drug cartel.
  2. I am employed by a recent drug cartel start-up, and my title is “Business Development Manager, Mexico”.
  3. I cannot leave the house without my 3 diamond rings, diamond stud earrnings, and emerald necklace.
  4. I only travel by limo.
  5. I insist on wearing shorts, sandals with socks pulled up to mid-calf, a Hawaiian shirt, and a floppy hat at all times, while using my obnoxious American “outside voice”.
  6. I have a tendency to flash wads of cash while trying to pay for a $10 peso bottle of water with a $1000 peso bill.
  7. I travel strictly using libre taxis hailed off the street in Mexico City, like the green VW bugs, because I don’t want to pay the extra $30 (+/-) pesos for a safer sitio taxi.
  8. I am a high-level Mexican law enforcement official actively engaged in the fight against drugs and am not on the narco payroll.
  9. I prefer to drive long trips between cities in Mexico only at night, and I am too cheap to pay the tolls to drive on the safe, well-maintained cuota highways.
  10. I insist on going out drinking by myself, getting loaded, then stumbling around the back alleys of Mexico City singing “You are my sunshine” at the top of my lungs.
  11. I sell drugs to a circle of depressed, soccer-moms in a US suburb, and I am traveling to Mexico to take advantage of the crazy dollar/peso exchange rate to find a new dealer for my drug supply.
  12. I am visiting Mexico to conduct a major business transaction for which I intend to convert $20,000 USD into $306,000 pesos in public at the airport currency exchange desk.
  13. I ask taxi drivers to take me on tours past the homes of local drug lords, where I get out of the taxi and take photos from the middle of the street during broad daylight.
  14. I insist on traveling to parts of Mexico City not mentioned in guide books or specifically mentioned as areas full of criminals, like Tepito, a.k.a. the “Thieves’ Market”.

OK, end of quiz! Time to review your score. 

If you answered yes to #1, #2, or #8: I strongly recommend you avoid travel into Mexico, leave Mexico if you are already here, or seriously consider a new line of work.

If you answered yes to #3, #4, or #6: perhaps you have forgotten that you are visiting a country where the daily minimum wage for 2009 is $54.80 pesos. That is $3.58 USD PER DAY at the current exchange rate. Please bear this in mind and stop flaunting your money like a fool.

If you answered yes to #7 or #9: have you checked the exchange rate lately?? During the 8 months we have been here, it has gone from 10 pesos / 1 dollar to 15.3 pesos / 1 dollar. Stop being a cheap ass and spend the extra pesos to pick the safe option.

And finally, if you answered yes to #5, #10, #11, #12, #13 or #14: you are simply not very smart and probably shouldn’t be allowed to travel, period.

I hope this insightful quiz has eased your fears about travel to Mexico, as long as you are not an idiot or a criminal.

In our eight months here, we have been amazed by all that Mexico has to offer and truly hope we have the chance to show more of our friends & family around Mexico City and beyond. I do not feel scared or nervous on a daily basis. I take normal minor precautions and have thus far (knock on wood) been completely fine here in the heart of the action, D.F.  Hopefully our stories will inspire others to travel to Mexico’s amazing cities, towns, beaches, and jungles as well. It is totally fair to be a little worried and take the appropriate extra precautions for travel in an unfamiliar land, but don’t let the craziness of the border drug wars prevent you from experiencing the rest of a beautiful country.

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55 Comments on ““Am I going to be a victim of violence in México?” Take this simple quiz to find out!”

  1. #1 Katie
    on Mar 7th, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Love it! I don’t live in Mexico, but I try to visit the town I studied abroad in once or twice a year. I had an aunt call me the other day because she was worried about me going to Mexico (and sadly I don’t have any travel plans). Ah! (just in case you were wondering – I can answer NO to all of the questions on your quiz :-) )

  2. #2 RiverGirl
    on Mar 7th, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Brilliant post (& thanks for the link).

  3. #3 Lesley
    on Mar 7th, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Amen!

    Also, I promise to stop being a cheap ass and hailing cabs off the street from now on.

  4. #4 Nancy
    on Mar 7th, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    You are so right on! I love #2 the best!

    I might also add:

    15. When you rent a car do you specify a black hummer or suburban with blacked out windows and expensive wheels?

    Thanks for the link, love the humor.

    Nancy

  5. #5 CancunCanuck
    on Mar 7th, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Great post, you’ve said it all and made me laugh. Thanks for the link!

  6. #6 Kim
    on Mar 7th, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Love it! Am forwarding to parents immediately (will ask my father to print it out for grandad so as to ease his fears as well)!

  7. #7 Steven Roll
    on Mar 7th, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    One of the things that’s so awesome about blogs is that people don’t have to rely entirely on inaccurate media reports anymore. Last weekend I booked a trip to Guadalajara with my wife and kids. If I had no other sources of info, I doubt I would have done it.

    Plus, blogs like yours are reassuring when it comes to visiting Mexico City.

    Thanks for the link.

  8. #8 jim johnston
    on Mar 7th, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    This is great–can I publish your quiz on my blog?

    Saludos, Jim Johnston, Mexico City

  9. #9 Julie
    on Mar 8th, 2009 at 3:16 am

    Thanks to all for the affirmations on the quiz!!
    Lesley– I think everyone who lives here creates their own rules of “I won’t be a victim if I do xxxxx”. For us with libre cabs, the rule is, “I won’t be a victim if I hail a libre cab but I fill it full with 4 passengers so there is no room for bad guys to jump in and we well-outnumber the driver.” A valid thought process?? Only time will tell…
    Nancy– absolutely valid point; I forgot to mention the prevalence of hummers/H3s/etc.– the bigger the car, the more money you have to spare!!
    Steven– hope you guys have a fantastic time in Guadalajara. Be sure to hit Karne Garibaldi for a cheap & tasty dinner…
    Jim– Absolutely, I would be flattered to be re-published!! Blog away!!

  10. #10 CancunCanuck
    on Mar 8th, 2009 at 9:13 am

    I’d love to “re-blog” this as well, may I have your permission? The more I read it, the more I like it. :)

  11. #11 Julie
    on Mar 8th, 2009 at 11:53 am

    CancunCanuck– by all means! Thanks for asking, please be my guest!! :)

  12. #12 kyra
    on Mar 9th, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    can i have permission to repost this

  13. #13 Jose
    on Mar 9th, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Very good post it will make history ¡
    Thanks for the humor and the blog

  14. #14 Liz
    on Mar 10th, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    clap clap clap… thats a great post!!!!
    it made me laugh a lot, I think it’s great that you explain that so easy, funy and it´s so usefull for everyone.

    Saludos!!

  15. #15 Joy
    on Mar 11th, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I needed a good laugh, so I just re-read this.

    Also, have you heard: Alabama is no longer safe to travel, too, either!!!

    http://edition.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/03/11/alabama.shooting.spree/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

    Hope to see you in Malinalco this fin de semana?

  16. #16 Paul Roberts
    on Mar 11th, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    I really like the quiz too.

    Another question could be

    16. I am interested in buying and exporting from the USA and selling in Mexico one hundred “cuernos de chivo” (AK-47’s).

    I have also written about the security issues of living in Mexico in response to an English friend asking me:

    “I read an article in The Independent about the fact that Mexico was a failing state because all the drugs cartels have taken over the country. Is it that bad? Are you safe? Should we legalise drugs?”

    I said in reply that “The short answer to these three questions is
    1) no 2) yes and 3) yes. The long answer now follows.”

    If your blog will allow me to publish my url the long answer is on

    http://livingandworkinginmexico.wordpress.com/2009/02/18/mexico-a-failed-state/

  17. #17 Gary Denness
    on Mar 12th, 2009 at 12:18 am

    Love the quiz and humour! Although I would say I answered yes to three questions – 7, 9 and 14! The dangers are overrated providing you’re a little savvy. The Beetle Taxis are far more likely to be victims of robbery than culprits. Most of the free highways I’ve driven on, day or night, are fine – although there are a few states where you really should avoid that.

    And La Lagunilla Market is fabulous! It’s called the Thieves Market not so much because there are thieves there waiting to rob you, but because the stuff you had stolen last week will be on sale there. You shouldn’t turn up to the place dressed in full tourist regalia perhaps, but it’s not so bad on a weekend, and there are some great antiques stalls.

  18. #18 jim
    on Mar 12th, 2009 at 10:39 am

    i’m pretty much with gary on 7,9 and 14. it’s true, you can minimize risk by avoiding vochos, back roads and infamous markets. yet what draws me to mexico draws me to all those less-safe things and more. with that said, great quiz. i’ll be passing it on to the next inquiring friend. thanks

  19. #19 Refried Dreamer
    on Mar 12th, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    i loved this!!! although i have to agree…. i would love to visit Tepito….but hubby won{t let me.

  20. #20 Julie
    on Mar 13th, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Jose/Liz– thanks much, glad you were entertained!

    Joy– agreed; at this rate, we will be trapped in our homes with most of North America off limits… This can only bode well for Nebraska tourism?? ;)

    Paul– excellent addition on the guns!! enjoyed your blog post; the drug war certainly raises a number of complex questions…I hope the US continues to move in the direction of admitting that it’s not all “Mexico’s fault” & addressing the demand side of the equation…

    Gary/Jim- definitely concur that my quiz errs on the ‘conservative’ side, as after living for 8 months in DF, my husband and I have indeed taken libre taxis, driven on free highways, and visited Lagunilla…(though not Tepito!) But for your average first-time gringo visitor, I would still keep 7-9-14 on the ‘best to avoid for now’ list, particularly if you lack Spanish fluency. :)

    Refried– yeah, we made it as far as La Lagunilla (v. close to Tepito) with about 100 pesos in our pockets & although I didn’t feel “unsafe” per se, there was a definite up-tick in brash commentary from vendors/passersby… When I later recounted our mercado outing to my boss (who’s from DF), he strongly suggested I avoid Tepito & commented “When tourists go to places like Tepito, that is why they come back with stories about how unsafe MX City is!!” :)

  21. #21 ALMA
    on Mar 13th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    I DO LIVE IN MEXICO CITY, AND AS YOU POINTED OUT, AS IN EVERY COSMOPOLITAN BIG CITY AROUND THE WORLD, I AM CAREFUL. I HAVE TO PONT OUT HOWEVER, THAT SEVERAL TIMES IN NEW YOR, FIFITH AVENUE, AND MIAMI AIRPORT AREA AND MALLS, ETC.
    FRIENDS OF MINE ARRIVING AT THE HOTEL AND WALKING AROUND IN “SAVE AREAS” HAVE BEEN ROBED AND ATACKED. SO, I WONDER, IS IT DANGEROUS TO GO TO THE USA?
    THANK YOU AND DO NOT MISS THIS BEAUTYFUL,WANDERFUL , COLOURFUL AND WARM COUNTRY, MEXICO.
    ALMA

  22. #22 Julie
    on Mar 13th, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Hola Alma!
    Estoy totalmente de acuerdo contigo. La prensa en los Estados Unidos *nunca* dice que personas no deben viajar aca, aun cuando hay peligrosos obvios en ciertos lugares! Espero que personas entiendan que no hay ningun razon para evitar todo del México porque de las problemas en una parte. Gracias por tus buenos deseos!!

  23. #23 Pauline
    on Mar 13th, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Loved the quiz. Puts things in perspective. I was getting all paranoid reading the papers.

  24. #24 American Mommy in Mexico
    on Mar 13th, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    This is the best thing I have seen written on this topic – kudos! You are talented and clever!

  25. #25 corporate car
    on Mar 15th, 2009 at 2:35 pm

    Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed

  26. #26 Mindy rosas-standring
    on Mar 15th, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    This is so funny. I would love to post it on my blog. I get so many hits from searches about Rivera Maya safety. And the emails never end. Do you mind if I link to this?

  27. #27 Dayna
    on Mar 15th, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    I just wanted to tell you that I spent most of today reading your whole block. Stalker-ish much? Maybe. But I’ve been in bed rest for the past 3 weeks (I was hit by a bus on Feb 23rd) and there really isn’t a whole lot I can do!
    I find your blog to be absolutely brilliant! I love your style and your sense of humor and I can safely say that I’m a fan and look forward to new posts :)
    Also, I live in Guadalajara and I’m majoring in modern languages to be a translator/interpreter (french/spanish/english) so, if you ever need someone to practice your spanish with, feel free to contact me :)

    Dayna

    P.S. Do you mind if I re-post this? I love it and I keep having friends ask me if it’s safe to come down here/should they cancel their trip to Cancun/will they get robbed or kidnapped while they’re here. This was very eloquent, funny and extremely accurate!

  28. #28 Dayna
    on Mar 15th, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    BloG. BLOG. Not block. These things happen when a bus hits you right on the head and then your head bounces on the very hard concrete.
    I should always re-read what I type. Oh well.

  29. #29 deeblog
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 3:25 am

    My suegra read your quiz and felt greatly relieved. G-d knows how many cuernos de chivo she thought we had stashed in the basement.

  30. #30 vania
    on Mar 16th, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Me gustaria comportir mi blog con ustedes, tenemos el mismo tema en comun,
    http://www.imeccuernavaca.com.mx/blog

  31. #31 Harriet
    on Mar 17th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Thanks so much for this great quiz! My husband and I have lived in Baja California Sur for 9 years and love it. We, too, see crazy tourists and some dangerous looking Mexicanos, but for the most part, this part of Mexico is very safe (except on Saturdays and Sundays when every beer drinking person is on the road, as well as the cows and burros and goats and horses!!!….we a bit rural here.)

  32. #32 Ruth Alegria
    on Mar 18th, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    What a humorous way to address this issue. I loved it, especially no. 3,5 and 6. I give tours to mercados and always have to give a “tips” ( common sense) guide for these reasons!

    I also did a look at the “Security” alert report on my blog.
    What can you say, as people (especially north americans) travel more they need more advice.

    Thank you for offering it with a chuckle.

  33. #33 Kat
    on Mar 19th, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I love your blog, I’ll have to suscribe to your feed or something. I live in DF too and well, it’s hard to ignore violence sometimes, but I don’t really worry about it. I mean, I have the typical df paranoia everyone has (meaning, I’m just careful with certain things, the usual), but I live my life normally and nothing has ever happened.

  34. #34 Rafael
    on Mar 19th, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    Great article!! I’m glad to see you’re enjoying my hometown =).

    Until 4 years ago, I lived in Mexico City from the day I was born. To this day I have never been a direct victim of violence in Mexico City. My family has been several times, but every person living in a big city knows it’s a matter of luck.

    Oh, and the first time I feared for my life (and had a gun pointed at me) was because of a drug-related fight, and happened in Belltown, a fancy neighborhood in Seattle, WA.

  35. #35 Larry Lambert, Mazatlan
    on Mar 19th, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    A comment regarding Number 13. It turns out the writer for the NYT was hoodwinked into paying an enormous amount of money to a pulmonia driver for nothing. The house was actually one built by the boxer Hugo Cesar Chavez. The government took it away because he never paid any income tax. Of course, there was no retraction in the NYT. It seems the media is going to do pretty much as it pleases, the truth be damned.

    Larry

  36. #36 Hugh
    on Mar 25th, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    Just as all the other posters stated, a very fun and sensible quiz. Living in Mexico is not for everyone, even it’s own, however, if one avoids the commotion that can be found anywhere it can be a most enjoyable experience. I don’t think I’ll be headed NoB any time soon. I love it here!

  37. #37 Julie
    on Mar 27th, 2009 at 12:33 am

    Larry– thanks for the update regarding the narcotours; that’s classic. Boxers, drug lords…minor details, really! :) Totally agree– athlete home tours are not nearly as glamorous to the press!

    Rafael– my thoughts exactly; you can get into trouble in a number of seemingly ’safe’ US cities… We are certainly enjoying the experience here in DF!!

  38. #38 irlandes
    on Apr 3rd, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Good blog.

    I have been going to Mexico City since 1983. Five times in Mexico crooks “set me up” to rob me, and for totally unknown reasons, I can see them coming, though it is hard to explain how I do it. They failed 5 for 5. Once, the gun was visible. As I state below, those in Mexico City were all in late 90’s. I find the streets very calm now.

    We almost always use street taxis. The only time we had a problem was with a sitio taxi. Smart aleck said he didn’t have to use the meter, and claimed charges double the normal. When we dropped us off, I got out, and stood there methodically writing down his numbers, and he finally knocked off most of the excess.

    Once, we went to the street to get a taxi to TAPO to go to our home in rural Puebla. I had several thousand dollars of pesos in my Bean Bag for house construction. Part way to TAPO, the taxi had a flat tire, and we had to hit the street again for another taxi.

    Worries about the street taxis hang on from the late 90’s when it was a problem. In fact, four of the attempts to rob me were in the late 90’s, although none involved a taxi. The fifth was in Tepeaca, Pue two or three years ago.

    In February, my wife and I took the bus into our home near San Cosme, and on the metro from TAPO to Buenavista, it became apparent a man planned to strong arm her for her purse, which she for reasons known only to herself had on her arm. I set up right behind him in fighting mode, and he decided to let her keep her purse. Heh, heh. Smart man.

    I do agree that for first timers or newbies, their conduct should be ultra-conservative. Newbies cannot see things about to happen.

  39. #39 Recession-proof Mexico « CulturVista
    on Apr 8th, 2009 at 12:05 am

    [...] travel, life on the ground in Mexico City is fabulous. (Expats agree … frustrating at times, but certainly safe.) I can honestly say, I have noticed no changes in everyday life in Mexico City due to the [...]

  40. #40 zapf
    on Apr 9th, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Finally somebody who tells the truth!! I am so tired of people thinking it is dangerous here in my adopted country where I come home alone regularly at 2 am, have never been ripped off… Unlike Philadelphia or Portland Maine USA where my car got busted into, house got robbed… Mexico is unicultural safe overall. Thank you.

  41. #41 Shirley Spencer
    on Apr 17th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Julie,

    Your blog is sooooo interesting. I did not see anything about adjusting to the altitude — any comments on that?

    Do you mind if I print off some of your writing and pictures for your Aunt Dorene to read?

    I docent at the Huntington Library and Gardens in the Reading Plants program and am curious if anyone will know the name of the fantastic Malinalco flower. In the Desert Garden we have many unusual plants.

    Thanks again for such a great website.

    Shirley Juhl Spencer
    Pasadena, CA

  42. #42 Lori from Nebraska USA
    on Jun 26th, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Crack me up! I need to send to my parents. They get so paranoid about me traveling to Mexico. Nice blog!

  43. #43 Jaime
    on Jul 10th, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Very good post …..

  44. #44 home queretaro mexico
    on Aug 7th, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Hmmmm that’s cool.

  45. #45 Queretaro Language School
    on Aug 31st, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Great blog. Can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

  46. #46 spanish school patzcuaro
    on Sep 2nd, 2009 at 4:38 am

    I admire the time and effort you put into your blog. I wish I had the same drive :)

  47. #47 Spanish
    on Sep 17th, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Enjoying reading your blog. Hard work always pays off.

  48. #48 San Cristobal
    on Sep 18th, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Great work! I also have my own blog I just find it hard to write quality content like this.
    I guess I really don’t have the time.

  49. #49 Vista Homes
    on Oct 14th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Just to let you know your site looks really weird in Mozilla on a linux.

  50. #50 » Mexico Travel Quiz
    on Oct 31st, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    [...] Official MidwesternerInMexico.com Quiz for Determining your Risk of Violence in [...]

  51. #51 queretaro
    on Nov 19th, 2009 at 4:35 am

    What template are you running on this site ? I really like it. Could you post where you got it from ?

  52. #52 Impunity | Un Chingo de Gringo Lingo from Mexico
    on Jan 9th, 2010 at 2:01 am

    [...] it’s far less dangerous on the inside than it looks from the outside (there’s a delightful post regarding this at midwesternerinmexico.com).  That doesn’t mean, however, that law [...]

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