When in México, Do as the Mexicans Do
By now, we have lived in México long enough that we have learned some important lessons from the locals about how to live here in harmony with their way of life. We don’t always get it right, but with a little more practice, we hope our behavior will help us blend in with the Mexican culture. The primary thing we try to keep in mind at all times is to remain calm, unhurried, tranquilo, as the Mexicans say. We have learned so much from the Mexicans about living a simpler, more peaceful life. Some things we have learned do not translate to the way things are done in the United States and seemed humorous or silly to us at first, until we slowly began to understand the Mexican way of thinking. Some foreigners say you will never truly understand the Mexican way of thinking. It’s best to simply accept the way things are in México, not to try to understand the reason. Trying to figure it out would only frustrate a person raised north of the border.
1. How to cross a busy street like a local, and never quicken your steps: This takes a lot of practice and a lot of guts. Do this at your own risk!
- First of all, many Mexicans cross in the middle of the block, not at the corner. Sounds crazy, but think about how much more traffic is coming at you from every direction when you cross at the corner, especially on Hwy 200 in Bucerías or Puerto Vallarta where the far right-hand lane makes a long left-hand turn, or U-turn, across up to seven lanes of traffic! So, crossing eight lanes of Hwy 200 in the middle of the block where you can find safety on an island every two lanes is the preferred method.
- Secondly, to cross like a Mexican, as you step into the street, keep your head faced forward, using your peripheral vision to note any vehicles barreling down on you and use your brain to calculate whether they will miss you if you continue walking at the same steady pace. Mexicans do not normally quicken their steps, even if a vehicle gets very close. Timing is everything; and always remain calm! A well-practiced crossing will have the pedestrian lifting his second foot onto the curb just as the car or truck rushes past behind him.
- Mexicans never show worry or fear that the car, bus, or truck may hit them. If a Mexican must increase the rate of crossing, they subtly quicken their steps so that it does not appear they are rushing, and they never run. This is a skill to be learned by first trying it on a two lane road in a quiet village. But even there, beware of bicyclists and motorcyclists darting out of nowhere! Listening to the sounds approaching must be as important as watching for movement.
2. How to drive on a two lane highway like a local, where the road may be marked as having two lanes but the drivers use it as three lanes, with or without oncoming traffic: As mellow as the Mexican people are, their personalities often become aggressive when they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. Be prepared to understand and blend with the proper ebb and flow of fast-moving traffic on a two-lane road.
- When driving on a busy two-lane road, you may suddenly see a vehicle coming fast and straight toward you, in your lane. Remain calm! It’s most likely a Mexican driver, and he’s determined to pass a vehicle in his lane. Don’t make the mistake of thinking he will hit his brakes and return to his spot behind the vehicle he is passing—he most likely will not.
- Don’t make the other mistake of assuming the driver being passed will slow down to give the passing vehicle extra room and time to slip in ahead. This may or may not happen, but probably won’t if the driver being passed is also Mexican.
- The proper ebb and flow in this alarming situation is to firmly grasp your steering wheel and calmly and steadily move your car to the right (hopefully there is a small strip of road shoulder), leaving one-half of a car-width plus a few inches to your left, in the center of the road. The driver being passed will do the same. The car that is passing will whiz by, straight down the center of the two-lane highway, with an inch or two to spare on each side of his car and calmly slide in front of the car he passed, never changing his speed. No problema! The two other cars calmly move back into their lanes as though nothing unusual has happened. And no one honks. The road may be marked as having two lanes, but always be prepared to use it as three. It is especially important to practice this maneuver ahead of time if driving a motorhome. Also, be prepared to replace your side view mirror in case of a miscalculation when a truck is passing.
3. How to ask for the check, or the bill, after a meal in a restaurant like a local, and then wait patiently until it is brought by the waiter: Waiters in Mexico will never bring your bill (la cuenta) until you ask for it. It would be considered rude for the waiter to lay the bill on the table, as they do in the U.S., while you are still finishing your meal or sipping the last of your drink. The waiter in a Mexican restaurant will return to your table repeatedly to ask if you want to order anything else, but he will not offer to bring the bill, as this would be considered rushing the customer. You may be simply sitting for a bit while you chat with your dinner guest—you can sit for hours after finishing your meal and the bill will still not arrive. The proper time to ask for the bill in México is only when you have finished eating and drinking everything and are ready to leave. Then it may take a few minutes for the bill to be delivered to the table, but do not become impatient and go looking for your waiter, thinking he has forgotten about you. This will earn you the label of “a typical gringo”, always in a hurry. Wait calmly, knowing that the Mexican way of thinking is that you may sit and relax at your table as long as you like after your meal. Or, who knows, you may decide to order dessert and another drink by the time the waiter returns. There is no rushing in México; learn the enjoyment of sitting and doing nothing but relaxing.
4. How to wait in line at the grocery store or WaKiKa ice cream stand in Sayulita like a local, patiently, without showing any annoyance about the long wait. Even better, wait calmly without feeling annoyance. The line may not even resemble a line, but rather a gathering of people around the cashier’s counter, but your turn will come eventually, when someone motions you forward. Delays may include a story that the cashier is telling a customer, a customer who leaves the line to go pick up another item or two in the store while the cashier is halfway finished ringing his order, a vendor who is delivering a tote of tortillas to the store and gives it to the busy cashier, or a bunch of kids who just popped in to buy their bags of chips and drinks after school and pushed to the front of the “line” to pay. No one says a word, sighs in exasperation, grumbles under their breath, or shows a sign of irritation on their face. Everyone is calm and patient, silently waiting their turn to pay for their groceries or ice cream order. What a peaceful way to go through the day.
5. How to mind your own business like a local, even while watching a gringo make a scene: This was a challenge for Jon and me to learn. We are often embarrassed by the rude and demanding way we sometimes see Americans, Canadians, or other foreigners treat Mexican people, especially waiters and other service people. During one of our early visits to México, we saw an American return his margarita to the bartender and demand a new drink, free of charge, because a fly had flown into it when he was half-way finished drinking it. Of course, in America, the customer is always right and he would expect to get a new, fresh drink, compliments of the bar. So he expected the same thing here in México and he was politely given one. But, the Mexican people make so little money to begin with, how can they afford to give anything away for free? And it isn’t the bar’s responsibility to keep flies out of the customers’ drinks. We were so outraged that this arrogant American would expect that he was due a free drink in this outdoor restaurant/bar where flies are part of the scene—this is one of the attitudes we detest in the United States. In México, you are responsible for yourself, which includes placing a napkin over your glass or bottle if you don’t want flies in your drink. I reacted to my anger, marched up to that American and told him he should be ashamed of himself, that he was the kind of person who made me embarrassed to be from the United States! I have since realized that I made more of a scene than he did. The proper Mexican way to react to another person making a scene is to look away or walk away, stay calm, and avoid conflict. When everyone minds their own business, as Mexicans tend to do, the result is a peaceful society.
I hope you have enjoyed this excerpt from my eBook "Retirement Before the Age of 59: Healthy Living in Mexico #2". To continue reading the "12 Lessons We are Learning from the Locals While Living in Mexico", please purchase or borrow my book, available from Amazon worldwide. Here is the link on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Retirement-Before-Age-59-Healthy-ebook/dp/B01NCMWMJL.