hopping in México can be very exciting, whether you’re looking for gifts, jewelry, souvenirs, clothing, furniture or food. From the vendors on the beach to t-shirt boutiques to upscale malls, shopping can be half the fun of going there! Here are some hints that might help you out:
Bargaining is a lot of fun for some people, and not so much fun for others. Be aware that in most stores, the price is the price, same as in the USA. Especially, don’t even bother trying to bargain with the salesclerks in an upscale store.
A good rule of thumb: if the shop is air-conditioned they will not bargain. In the open-air markets, the shops a few blocks inland from the tourist areas, on the beaches, etc., bargaining is the rule. As author Carl Franz puts it in his indispensable Mexican travel book, The People’s Guide to Mexico, bargaining is not an argument. Instead it is “a polite discussion of price,” a dialogue that should always be kept “light, friendly and easy-going.” Once you have determined that you want an item, offer half of what they ask and work your way up until you reach a price you’re willing to pay. CAVEAT: Don’t let them see that you really want something; they’ll get firm on the price very quickly and refuse to come down any lower if you’re fondling the item or otherwise displaying your absolute desire for it.
Be careful when buying silver from beach or street vendors; sometimes the silver is of poor quality. Always check to see that it is marked with a .925 (or higher), the word Sterling, or both to be sure that what you are getting is good quality. Sterling silver is an alloy of silver containing 92.5% by mass of silver and 7.5% by mass of other metals, usually copper, which is where the “.925″ comes from. As the purity of the silver decreases, the problem of corrosion or tarnishing increases because other metals in the alloy, usually copper, may react with oxygen in the air.
Jewelry made from .925 silver is usually for everyday wear. For finer jewelry, which you will find mostly in jewelry shops, look for a .950 stamp, which means it is 95% pure. It is still called sterling silver, but because it is more pure than most sterling silver it will be softer than most sterling silver and will tarnish more easily.
The secret to saying “no” that all Méxicans know but you probably don’t: if the vendors are pestering you, or the children won’t take no for an answer about those Chicletas, or the guy insists on giving you a shoeshine whether you want one or not — waggle your index finger from side to side as you are saying “No”. This is the signal that Méxicans understand means “I really mean No”, and it works like a charm. It will often stop people in mid sentence and they’ll turn away to find someone else. Be polite about it, smile, but learn to waggle that finger!
Besides the usual souvenir and jewelry shops, México has its own brands of department stores. Salinas y Rocha, for instance, is an upscale store equivalent to Macy’s or Liberty House (at Méxican prices) selling a better quality of clothing, luggage, furniture, housewares, etc. than many other Méxican stores, and is worth a look. A very popular shop selling gauzy, cool and stylish resort wear (washable, breathable, preshrunk and nearly maintenance free) is Maria de Guadalajara, which is generally located in tourist areas; their clothing is a great buy. For the most part you will not find these stores in the major tourist areas (except for Maria of Guadalajara), because they are aimed at the Méxican population; look for them downtown or in the big Méxican malls
In addition to these, you will find Sam’s Club, Costco, Walmart and other such stores in many Méxican cities, often within easy reach of tourists in resort areas.
Handicrafts: In most regions of México that you visit you will find handicrafts unique to that region. In Puerto Vallarta, for instance, if you go down along the banks of the Cuale river by the little museum there you will find Native American women (and their children) from Jalisco and Nayarít — often dressed in the traditional clothing of their tribes — selling wonderful handmade dolls which are dressed in the same manner as the women themselves. In Los Cabos you will find fabulous handblown glassware, usually blue; in the Yucatán you will find Mayan-based items, from archaeological reproductions to handwoven baskets; in the interior Colonial cities (especially Taxco) you will find lots of silver and unique pottery; and so on. Almost everywhere you will find blankets, rugs, sombreros and other items that people generally think of when they come to México. By all means pick some of these up, but a general rule of thumb to remember here is to get something you like when you first find it because chances are good that unless it’s a very common item it won’t be there tomorrow, and you’ll never find it again!
Buying groceries in a foreign country can be pretty intimidating, especially if you don’t know what half the stuff is. Most grocery stores in tourist areas of México carry American brand-names (at a premium!) but the Méxican versions of the same things are usually just as good, and lots cheaper. The Méxican brands of tuna, for instance, are generally better tasting and half the price of American brands, and tuna packed in water is usually cheaper than that packed in oil.
In major tourist areas like Cancun and Los Cabos, which are heavily “gringoized”, you can find wonderful Sonoran beef in the cuts you are familiar with, at prices you are NOT familiar with, in any of the supermarkets in the tourist areas. Remember that a kilo is 2.2 pounds, and then ask the man behind the meat counter for “un medio kilo de hamburgesa”; what you will get is a pound of extremely lean hamburger without paying extra for the lack of fat.
Popular nationwide supermarkets are Comercial Méxicana, Super Ley, and Soriana (formerly Gigante). Mega Comercial Méxicana in particular is like a Wal-Mart with a big grocery section and is lots of fun to browse around in; it also has an extensive deli section and bakery where you can purchase all kinds of delicious Méxican dishes for you to take home to your timeshare.
NOTE: In many Méxican markets, especially those which cater more to the local population than to tourists, you may find that the chickens have both the head and feet of the chicken packed into the cavity for your cooking pleasure. If this bothers you, pass on any chicken you see with anything that looks like feet protruding from it. Méxican chickens, by the way, will spoil you for the factory farm-raised chickens you are used to in the USA!
By the way, the word for a local butcher shop is “carniceria”. You’ll get the best deals on meat at these neighborhood shops, and they’ll cut it however you want it.
Fruits and Vegetables (frutas y verduras) can easily be purchased in any number of neighborhood shops that specialize in them, and are generally very fresh, attractively presented and cheap. Be aware that DDT is still widely used in México, so always wash your vegetables carefully in purified water before you eat them — especially tomatoes, as these are usually eaten raw. Many vegetables here will likely be strange to you, but don’t be afraid to try something new. Jicama (HEEkahmah) for instance, looks like a big ol’ bulbous root, but when it is peeled it has a very sweet and crisp texture. You can eat it raw in salads (or sprinkled with lime juice and chile powder for a finger food) or substitute it for potatoes in many dishes. Check out your local library or bookstore for cookbooks to get an idea of what to do with many of the veggies you’ll find in México.
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