How to Meet People Abroad: Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

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albuquerque1In today’s “How to Meet People Abroad” series, we are tackling our first city in the United States.  After all, Melibee Global is not only meant for people departing from the US, right?!  I’m grateful that our first US post comes from Carrie Niesen, who gives us “the 411″ on the city that hosted her graduate school program.

Ah, New Mexico.  The state I like to call the ‘forgotten state’ and one that I firmly advocate that more people visit and understand to this day.  I moved there in 2008 as I entered graduate school at the University of New Mexico and barely had it on my radar until a dear professor mentor of mine recommended I apply.  Even as I was arranging all those finite details involved with moving, a credit card company said they could no longer service me outside of the country.  Umm, what!?  New Mexico, as in south of Colorado and between Arizona and Texas!?  I couldn’t believe it.  Granted, as a native Wisconsinite, I didn’t know much about the Southwest, but I certainly knew it was a star on our flag.  Despite a surprising start before stepping foot into the Land of Enchantment, (and much to my more than pleasant surprise), I adored New Mexico for the two years I called it home and will always think of it fondly.

However, it wasn’t easy getting acclimated to a new city that I would call a perfect example of America’s notion of melting pot.  I was lucky enough to have local knowledge at my fingertips with graduate school classmates, but not all of us have great fortune.  In this round of How to Meet People Abroad here with Melibee Global, please take advantage of these six areas on befriending locals in Albuquerque!

**Author’s note:  While these are great learning tools for new visitors or residents of Albuquerque, these are also fabulous conversation starters!  Albuquerque citizens have a definitive opinion on each of these categories, and simply asking them at a bus stop, at a local cafe, or on the Roadrunner will surely spark conversation.

1. Learn the local lingo.  There’s a steep learning curve when starting out in the largest city in New Mexico, and many aren’t very obvious as to what they mean.  All are used interchangeably amongst social circles, ads, on the radio…the list goes on.  Burque is a good place to start since it’s a shortened version of the city’s name.  (Side note: Have you tried spelling out Albuquerque multiple times?  It took me years of practice to get it down!  However, you may have seen it for the first time in this Looney Tunes cartoon montage.  Many should have turned left at Albuquerque! 🙂 ).  Another common one you’ll hear is the 505, referring to its main area code.  “I’m back in the 505!”  “What’s going on tonight in the 505?”  or “Lots happening tonight in the 505!”  all refer to Albuquerque and the surrounding area.  Duke City is another common one, as Albuquerque was named after a Spanish Duke (and he still resides in Spain–he sometimes visits his namesake city).  Many businesses, neighborhood sports teams, and events include this nickname.  Last but not least, folks hailing from the 505 (see what I did there?  You’re learning already!) consider themselves Burqueños or Burqueñas (or [email protected] if you’re referring to both).

2. Know the Zia.  New Mexicans are proud to be New Mexicans without fault.  A sign and symbol that you’ll see everywhere (in businesses, restaurants, tattooed on folks–you name it!) is the zia sun symbol and it’s universally known as New Mexican (see photo).  Originating from the theziaZia Pueblo, it’s a symbol with four corners, lines, and a circle in the middle.  In lesser words, the four corners promote harmony in all things in the universe, uniting the four seasons, the four points of the day with sunrise, noon, evening, and night; childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age as the four points in life, and all of these areas are united with a circle, signifying the endless circle of life and love.

redorgreen3. Red or green?  With any amount of time you spend in Albuquerque, you’ll learn quickly how common this question is in restaurants (and not just New Mexican fare!).  My first encounter with this one left me thinking…huh?  Are you asking me which is my favorite color?  After many laughs, I finally caught on and am proud to say I’m a green girl all the way.  I hear as you age that the red chile becomes more appetizing, but that’s yet to be determined.  New Mexicans are very proud of their green chile as it’s grown in-state without GMOs, and you know you’ve got a quality chile when it’s got the Hatch stamp of approval.  My absolute favorite season in Albuquerque is the fall for green chile roasting season!  Once the chiles have been harvested, they’re bought by local roasters to create that lovely wafting scent of amazing green chiles in the city, most commonly through the black turnstile grills you see on the left in the photo collage.  Otherwise, another way to grill them (albeit time consuming) is to buy a large bag of chiles, share them amongst friends, and devote a day to grilling the chile together outdoors.  Then, you can freeze them in individual baggies and enjoy green chile goodness all year long on your cheeseburgers and even weaved into your traditional Thanksgiving fare.

4. Participate in charity tournaments.  New Mexicans have hearts of gold, and can always be found giving back to the local community.  Charity tournaments are an excellent way to get involved, learn more about the community, and meet others with similar interests.  Since Halloween is quickly approaching, start with Day of the Tread where an exercise or non exercise enthusiast can get involved!  They have anything from crazy long bike rides, to marathons, to walk-a-thons, and even tips on training for the events’ happenings to suit your lifestyle.  The point isn’t to show off your athletic side, but to rather rally with your community members, raise money for a good cause, and have fun around a common theme.  If you can’t make it during the ghoulish season, try a Mudd Volleyball tournament where you can join or start a team to help raise money for the Carrie Tingley Hospital to help offset non-insurance costs for patients nearly 20 years running.

5. Basque in the national spotlight.  If you’re thinking…did I read that right!?  Why yes, Albuquerque is a hot spot for films and TV shows!  A quick perusal of rental properties on Craigslist will show just how big the filmmaking scene is in Albuquerque as many are set up to attend to film crews’ needs.  A number of celebrities even live in New Mexico (ahem, Julia Roberts being one!).  The most common show recently filmed in town is Breaking Bad, and this screen shot from the Inhabitants of Burque Facebook page shows how connected [email protected] are to their city.  Breaking Bad has excellent shots of the city, and the witness protection TV show, In Plain Sight, is certainly no different.

6. Don’t be afraid to explore the underground scene.  Hip hop, poetry slams, street art, and bicycle poker are all fantastic areas to explore and get a true feel for the culture, history, and flavor of ABQ.  Perusing the Inhabitants of Burque Facebook page will help you with a head start, but places like Winnings Coffee Co. and Blackbird Buvette are notoriously known for hosting phenomenal poetry slam events on both big and small scales.  A quick jaunt of downtown and you’ll see mural upon mural, each with more than just vibrant colors and well-done artistry, but you’ll view a window into the local politics. When you’re at Marble Brewery, ask one of the bartenders about the underground bicycle scene.  There are some hardcore bicyclists that like to bike from bar to bar, and at each one, they’ll collect a card.  By the end of the night, the goal is to have a full hand of poker and the bartender at the last stop determines who has the best hand.  What’s the prize?  That’s something you’ll have to try on for size…

Even listing these six areas about a place that I will always hold dear to my heart does not do it justice. There’s so much more to Albuquerque (like the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the most attended TEDx event in the U.S., the wineries, the restaurants, the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, the official state cookie…) and in each of these areas, locals are more than happy and willing to tell you about them, welcome you with open arms, and share part of the Land of Enchantment with you.

Carrie NiesenAbout the Author:  Carrie Niesen is the lead Innovation Associate with Melibee Global for Better Abroad.  Armed with a master’s degree in intercultural communication, Carrie is an adamant international education advocate and is insatiably curious about the world. She is a Spanish speaker, passionate foodie, location independence seeker, and unabashedly adores alliteration.