f you want to have a pleasant experience while visiting Mexico, you will do well to remember one simple rule: Common courtesy goes a loooong way!
When you travel to México from another country you must keep in mind that customs and values in México are not quite the same as they are at your home. It is important to remember that you are in a foreign country which has its own sets of values, customs and laws, and you must not expect them to conform to YOUR values, customs, etc. Things that wouldn’t turn a hair in the USA or Canada or Europe can cause hurt feelings and resentment in México. It’s just a difference in culture, but if you understand some of these differences and treat people with courtesy and respect, you will surely enjoy a pleasant vacation or retirement among some of the kindest and most generous people in the world. Méxicans are fully prepared to like you if you give them the chance, so let’s start out with some basic tips that I hope you will find helpful!
Speaking (or not speaking) the language
Before you go, it would be a good idea to learn a few phrases in Spanish that will allow you to establish that you don’t speak Spanish and that you’ll need someone to help you translate. A simple “Lo siento, no habla Espanol” (“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Spanish”) will usually do the trick. Méxicans appreciate an effort to learn their language, and are much too polite to make fun of you when you make mistakes.
If you don’t speak Spanish and the person you’re dealing with doesn’t speak English, try not to get flustered. Most tourist-oriented businesses in Méxican resort towns have at least one bilingual employee, but don’t go into a store expecting someone to speak your language. Remember that you are in a foreign country and it is not their obligation to speak your language.
If there is nobody there who speaks English, talking louder won’t help. Try hand gestures to get your point across. If you’re going to be taking a taxi, carry a map with you or write the name of the place or street on a piece of paper to point out where you’re going in case the driver doesn’t understand you. Above all, remain calm and polite. Usually you can get your point across despite not speaking the language. In fact, you can actually have fun in the effort, if you just keep your frustration level down and your sense of adventure in the fore.
Greetings are more formal in México than in the United States. If you’re a man, use a handshake when greeting other men, or when greeting a woman for the first time. If the woman is a friend or acquaintance, a kiss on the cheek is customary. If you’re a woman, a handshake will do for first meetings of both men and women, but with friends and acquaintances — both men and women — use both a handshake and a kiss on the cheek. (In actuality it is usually more of a pressing together of cheeks and an “air kiss” than an actual kiss, but either way is acceptable.) It may feel awkward for you at first, but remember that it seems perfectly natural to the Méxican people.
Getting good service
The best way to get excellent service in México, especially in restaurants, is to show respect, courtesy and manners to everyone you deal with. Be nice. You will NOT necessarily get better/faster service by leaving big tips. In fact, throwing money around in México will often make you come across as arrogant, as if you think that you are superior or, even worse, that you pity them. While they will accept the money you throw around, they won’t go out of their way to provide excellent service and will resent the implication — whether you mean it or not. Friendliness and a ready smile (plus a respectable tip) are likely to make you welcome anywhere you go.
Remember that Méxicans are usually conservative in their dress codes. It is not appropriate — even in most beachside resort towns — to wear a swimsuit, or shorts and a bikini top, once you are away from the beach. It’s true that Méxican men find young foreign women who dress in such a manner very attractive — but not just because the men think they’re sexy and beautiful. Rather, it’s often because they think such women are “easy” and that they have no respect for themselves. This is a misunderstanding between cultures that can often get young women into trouble during Spring Break, for instance. Try to avoid it.
That “time” thing
And finally, take your watch off. Though most tourist-oriented businesses operate in a timely fashion, the rest of the country mostly does not. For example: The word “mañana” doesn’t necessarily mean “tomorrow” in México, it just means “not today”. If someone agrees to meet you at a certain hour, don’t get all worked up if they’re a couple hours late (or don’t show up at all).
When you’re waiting for your check at a restaurant and the waiter/waitress gets involved in a long conversation with a friend, have another beer or cup of coffee and chill out until she/he remembers you or sees you gesturing for her/him.
And just because the sign on a business says it will open at such and such a time doesn’t mean it will. Take a deep breath, relax, make friends with the person standing in line behind you at the door while you wait.
Time has a different meaning in México and if you can’t get used to it you won’t be happy there. There’s no use fighting it or scowling and scolding and complaining. Shrug it off, man. Life is too short, so understand —- as Mexicans do — that you never know what tomorrow will bring so you might as well be happy today!
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