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SG Syndrome ... You May Have it and Not Even Know It!

December 21, 2017

Living with the gente pobre, the poor people here, has been a priceless experience. It reinforces my belief that happiness has very little to do with what we have, but is a choice that we make.

San Blas, Nayarit, Mexico - There are a lot of wonderful things about Mexico and living in Mexico... the food, the climate, being able to live comfortably on a small income ... the list goes on and on. But without a doubt, the main reason Glenda and I decided to live here was the people.

Unpretentious, eager to help out and share even when they have very little, proud but not arrogant and incredibly friendly when given a chance to be. It has been life-changing and humbling for us.

Every day we see and associate with people who, materially, have very little, yet live happy, fulfilled lives. The Mexican people seem to be more focused on being grateful for what they do have rather than complaining about what they do not have.

We have lived in some of the poorer areas of San Blas... partially for economics and partially by choice for the experience. One of our neighbors a couple of years ago was a family that lived in a house made of sticks and tarpaper wired together, topped with a palm frond roof. I never heard one of them ever complain about their situation, not even the children, and they always greeted me with a big smile and a "Buenos Dias, Pelon!" ("Pelon," or 'without hair,' being my nickname here.)

Before that we lived for three years in the "Playita" neighborhood, an area that even many of my Mexican friends will not go into at night. Once people there saw that we were humble and friendly, we were embraced by the neighborhood. They looked out for us. We were as broke as they were, so it wasn't because they thought we had money that could benefit them.

Most of our neighbors were fishermen and were almost always struggling to get by, yet there was an air of happiness and an almost unreasonable optimism that was a constant there. I remember a friend of mine, a 45 year old tough-as-nails fisherman, who broke down and cried when I gave him a banana and peanut butter sandwich. It was the summer of 2012 and fishing was at a standstill. He hadn't eaten for a day and a half. Yet, other than that episode, he always had a smile on his face.

It seems to me that the Mexican people have something that the "Americans" have for the most part lost... a solid determination to be happy, to look for the good in even the most dire situations and appreciation of the most basic of blessings... family, food and community. We are taught to be suspicious, untrusting, judgmental, fearful... especially of those who are different from us, and with our "exceptionalism" drilled into our heads from school day one, a bit arrogant. I am not excluding myself from this list... I am guilty of all charges.

The idea for this article came to me a month ago when I was in Puerto Vallarta. I was struck by how many of the "Gringos" I saw were scowling, frowning and in general looking like they were unhappy to be there. I walked to OXXO from the motel to get beer and passed several on the way. As I do with Mexicans, I smiled and said "Hello" ... three of the five said nothing, but scowled at me suspiciously as if I were a panhandler or in some way wanted something from them.

How strange, I thought, that these people who are on vacation or retired, presumably materially comfortable way beyond the average Mexican, look to be so unhappy. I avoid the Gringo bars here because all the complaining gets me down. I have asked a couple of my perpetually unhappy Gringo friends here "Why are you here? You are so damned unhappy... why don't you go back to the US!" When we first came here in 2008, a Mexican friend of mine asked me, "Why do the Gringos always look angry?" I call it the SG Syndrome, the Scowling Gringo Syndrome.

I understand that scowling does not always equate anger or even unhappiness. There are a lot of reasons to scowl - back pain, worry, the humidity... even having the sun in your eyes. I have some family issues that are really upsetting to me and if on my mind, certainly do not put a smile on my face. But here, as a guest in someone else's country, I feel a responsibility to appear happy. I make it a point to smile, be friendly to whomever I pass on the street and by my actions, show appreciation for their country and their culture.

Just having a smile on my face has opened so many doors, allowed me to meet people who have become some of my greatest friends. I have found that Mexicans really want to be friendly with us, but sometimes we look unapproachable and angry.

Like I said earlier, I blame our culture. We are raised by our media and Madison Avenue to be discontent, to always want more, to never be satisfied with what we have. It keeps the economy rolling along as we strive for that one thing - newer car, bigger house, new electronic device that will make us complete. And then when we get it, it doesn't give us the fulfillment we expected, but wait! There's a newer one available that's even better!

The military-industrial-financial-mass media complex keeps us scared and suspicious so that we will continue to remain silent as trillions of dollars are pocketed by the "defense" industries and their politician enablers. We are permanently at war now. Most of us do not even realize how many countries we are currently waging war in (9). Many of us don't like what's going on, but feel helpless to do anything about it. Another reason to scowl.

Living with the "gente pobre," the poor people here, has been a priceless experience. It reinforces my belief that happiness has very little to do with what we have, but is a choice that we make. I see people every day here that, by "American" standards, should not be happy but are.

I have friends who work hard in the sun all day for less than one hour of minimum wage in Oregon, yet they are just happy and thankful to have a job. They are all quick to smile and virtually never complain. I am learning so much from these people but have a long ways to go. I have to remind myself to smile every day when I am out in public. It is slowly becoming habit with me. It is very rewarding and my smiles are answered with smiles and great interactions that would not have taken place if I were scowling.

Like it or not, we are all ambassadors and representatives of our respective home countries. I want people here to see that despite the news, most of us "Gringos" are nice, caring, empathetic people. I think this is more important than ever these days with the political and racial strife taking place in the United States.

SG Syndrome... we have all had it at one time or another. I catch myself at it regularly. But awareness of the problem is the key to the cure. We can beat it!

Vic Pittman is a freelance writer from Scotts Mills, Oregon who resides alternately, in Oregon and Mexico. He is the holder of no literary awards, journalistic awards or college degrees. He has at one time or another been an honor student, inmate, biker, Christian, pothead, father, radical, pacifist, anarchist, artist, heavy metal guitarist, model citizen, lawbreaker, business owner, illegal marijuana grower, and volunteer for various causes. He is proud to be a "common man," and be among those striving to make this world a better place if at all possible. He was fortunate enough to have been raised by awesome parents who instilled what he feels to be essential values and encouraged him to feel a kinship with not just family or Oregonians or Americans or whites, but every person on Earth, and to act accordingly. He and his wife Glenda currently live in Nayarit, Mexico. You can write to Vic at tropicats08(at)