Culture Shock- Welcome to Belize
Things that make you go hmmm. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Belize is not America or Canada or Europe or Costa Rica or anything other than BELIZE. As it should be! Belize has its own unique history, struggles, triumphs, traditions, laws, folklore, cuisine and customs. It is the compilation of these things that make Belize… well, singularly Belize. But it is also some of these practices that often have foreigners scratching their heads in confusion and maybe asking for clarity on a situation to which there usually isn’t an answer beyond a shrug and the cheeky: “Welcome to Belize!” In this post we’ll look at some of the dramatic differences that life in Belize might throw at you.
Drastically Different Standards of Safety
The US is a buncha bubble-wrapped pansies tbh. In Belize the seatbelt or helmet laws are more of vague suggestions rather than hard-and-fast enforced rules. Infant car seats? Psshhh, what could be better than a mother’s arms? (even if she is sitting on a lawn chair in the back of an open pick-up truck barreling down the highway at 70mph) No padded playground equipment; if you’re lucky enough to have a playground it’s probably twisted steel and scorching metal. The wonderful Belize Zoo simply has a bunch of signs posted on the frighteningly simplistic chain-link fence housing their jaguar that reads: If you value your paws, keep them out of this enclosure. Traditional wooden homes on stilts will often have no railings on the steps or decks and sometimes have a door that opens to nothing but the breeze… how do the toddlers in these households not plummet the 12 feet to the ground on a regular basis?! Things everywhere (shops, offices, homes, restaurants) are jerry-rigged to ‘work’ but with questionable integrity and probably exposed wires. No OSHA regulations here- hard hats, PPEs, harnesses- all loose recommendations rather than requirements. It’s not weird to see a construction worker weaving in a new thatch roof 60 feet in the air with no safety rope, probably wearing flip flops. It’s fine! I could go on and on with examples but I think you get the point!
This was recently spotlighted on Placencia’s Facebook forums (a bunch of b!tching from some and a whole lot of eye-rolling from others and I’m sure at least one “welcome to Belize” comment)- utilities are spotty. Our municipal water service is undergoing upgrades at the moment AND it’s high season so the demand far out paces the supply which became glaringly obvious after days and days of low or no pressure up and down the peninsula. Anyone with any historical knowledge of Placencia’s public utilities performances (or anyone with an honest Real Estate Agent) would know they need to have a back-up water tank and auxiliary pump for times like that. In Belize you have to be proactive and anticipate the deficiencies if you can’t live with them.
Power surges and outages are a frequent and frustrating occurrence. Sometimes they’re scheduled which is nice because you can plan your work around them but sometimes they’re not. Unscheduled outages are often country-wide which always tickled me because where else does that happen?! That there’s a power outage and its the whole dang country?
We don’t flush paper and we certainly don’t have a garbage disposal. The sensitive-septic-life takes some getting used to, I’m not going to lie. In the US I never gave a second thought to what I flushed but in Belize everyone is on personal septic systems of varying age and ability so you need to be hyper vigilant about going easy on them. The showers and sinks should, in theory and practice, drain to a separate gray water system so as not to compromise your septic but you wouldn’t want to over tax this tank either. A garbage disposal is commonplace in the US but a rarity in Belize households.
Maybe this was just my particular upbringing but I was raised with the notion that as a child, school is your job. You have one principal profession as a kid and that’s to attend school, do the coursework, and learn. If you miss school you’d better have a damn good reason and a note from at least a parent if not a doctor. In Belize? Not so much. Education is undervalued here and that became shockingly obvious to me during our Covid shutdowns; the GOB would give weekly press conferences updating the citizens on the country’s regulations and status… they would spend 20 minutes discussing how, when, and where you could buy tacos but not once mention access to education. It wasn’t even on their agenda of topics! Zero talk of our schools or how we could accommodate a modified learning plan for our youth. The vast majority of Belize’s children simply lost 2 full years of school. Now that school is back in session with regularity I’m still appalled to see how many kids do not attend consistently. I understand that in very poor and rural areas a priority must sometimes be placed on field or construction work over attending class but even here in the relatively prosperous Placencia I see kids regularly, repeatedly missing school for the most trivial of reasons (I woke up late, my uniform wasn’t clean, I’m a little bit sick- even though they’re well enough to go to the beach). It is especially upsetting to see kids out of school because they’re ‘helping their parents’ with peddling bracelets on the beach or hawking fudge on the street.
Next Level Cat Calling
I actually love this one, I find it quite funny but I know not everyone feels the same and I’d probably have a different mindset if I had a teenage daughter. But dude! The cat calling is next level in Belize, I’ve never heard anything like it. The frequency with which it occurs, the persistence, and the creativity. 10 out of 10, Belize excels at this. And ladies, you don’t have to be good looking to get cat called. On the contrary! I think if you’re too good looking you get less attention; I get the majority of my hollers when I’m sweaty and dirty and haggard looking. It’s a real confidence boost when you’re stinky, sticky, and fatigued running errands around town and some rando says “pssst, sexy” as you hobble past. The best one I ever got was when Mitch was cutting his 2-year molars and I was attempting to walk him to sleep for an afternoon nap in his stroller under the hot a$$ August sun; we’re both miserable and dripping in sweat and some man that I didn’t know from a bar of soap says, “hey gyal, I wanna put da next baby in you.” Wow! What an incredibly generous offer sir! I wouldn’t say he had great game but you have to admire the confidence and he made an unpleasant but otherwise forgettable day one that I recall and still chuckle about today.
Really Breaking for Lunch
Lunch time is taken seriously. In the US I never took a real “lunch break” and I don’t think most people did but in Belize many shops and offices actually close for the lunch hour. Like they shut and lock their doors and all the employs go to lunch and lounge around for an entire hour, right in the middle of the day!
In the US I was led to believe that there was only two types of people who hitchhiked: serial killers and victims of serial killers. That’s it. Never stop to pick up a hitchhiker because they are surely a murderer- everyone knows that. And never try to hitch a ride because the only person who would pick you up would undoubtedly be a murderer, like, 100% = flagging a ride is an open invitation to be unalived in a brutal fashion and dumped in a wooded area. But in Belize? Everyone hitchhikes! That dude with a machete? Pick him up! He’s not a serial killer he’s just looking for a little lawn work. Even children can do it… it’s a wholesome kind of child trafficking! I refuse to do it but packs of children seem to make their way with regular success from one village to another and then back home at the end of the day using the hitch-a-ride-method, unaccompanied by adults. It’s still weird to me and I can’t shake my serial killer conviction.
Our police don’t always carry a sidearm but when they do… half the time it’s just tucked in to their waistband like they’re common street thugs. When I first noticed this I assumed it was a one-off occurrence but then I noticed another cop and another cop- same thing, no holster just the belt or waistband tuck. Walking around like they’re gangbangers! It isn’t exclusive to Peninsula police either, I saw it in Orange Walk Town too! Now that I’ve mentioned it I’m sure you’ll notice it too.
What are some of the things you find shocking or at least peculiar? Let us know in the comments! I’m sure there will be a lot of other good ones.
4 thoughts on “Culture Shock- Welcome to Belize”
attitudes on distance, rain, and bugs. We are visiting Houston and we drove 15 mins /10 miles from dinner to the desert spot; “it’s so close; let’s go there!” Vs 20 mins in placencia feels like SOOO FAR! The truancy— if it’s raining; can’t go ! Don’t wanna get sick from wet feet! Bugs ; hardly notice and appreciate that could always be worse: dr fly is worse than sandflies/ mozzie, then botlass , then botfly, then scorpion, and anything is better than a snake, so why complaining?? Take a Benadryl, put vinegar/tobacco paste/baking soda/vervain , etc. Oh! Vervain!! Have u done a post on that yet?
hahaha! 20 mins drive from Placencia IS far but barely takes you 10 miles- Caribbean Way might as well be freakin Belmopan in my opinion yet… I could jog there with a bit of determination. Too bizarre! Tobacco paste is a new one to me, you’ll have to explain that one. Vervain could be a great post!
The “Ted Talk” from the GOB on where you could buy tacos during COVID….just about had me literally fall on the floor, as did the cemetery/hospital sign! As a “newbie” here, I am already used to the 10 minute power outages. I usually look at my clock (ok, my phone) to see exactly what time it is and if it’s more than 10 minutes, there must be an actual issue.
And “unalived” by a serial killer…I am dying laughing over here. You can probably hear me all the way down at your place I’m laughing so literally out loud!!
I shared this with a group of my close friends in the states to read. It’s just too good!! Hall of fame good!! But the cat calling, you are right. Top notch. There should be awards. And it certainly is a nice mood elevator cuz on some level you know they actually MEAN what they’ve said, tho in a far more complementary fashion than it verbally came to you.
You hit all the topics, at least that I think about. Well done, Megan!!!
aw thank you thank you hahaha! I’m glad you sorta enjoy the cat calling too- it can be annoying but it can also be really entertaining. I like the prize idea- we should order a bunch of tiny trophies to carry around and hand them out to the most inventive cat callers