Local Customs in Mexico

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Customs in Mexico

Mexicans have a somewhat relaxed sense of time so be patient. Arriving 15 minutes late is common.

When anyone, even a total stranger, sneezes, you always say "¡salud!" ("bless you!" or more literally, "your health!"): otherwise, it is considered rude. In rural areas, particularly in the Mexican heartland (Jalisco, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, etc.), the even more pious "Jesús te bendiga" (May Jesus bless you) will follow a sneeze.

The great majority of the population is and traditionally has been Roman Catholic, and there is still a strong following of this faith among Mexicans from all socioeconomic backgrounds. However, missionary activity from the US made a sizable Protestant community, and even the smallest towns seem to have an Evangelical or Pentecostal church. One of the world's largest communities of Jehovah's Witnesses also resides in Mexico. Smaller communities, like Mormons and Jews also live in small concentrated areas throughout the Republic.

In many respects, Mexico is still a developing country, and attitudes towards LGBT travelers can at times be hostile. However, Mexico City legalized same-sex marriage and the supreme court ruled that these marriages must be recognized by all states in the rest of the republic, thus tacitly making same-sex marriage legal in the whole country (provided the wedding takes place in Mexico City). Just as it is not wholly accepted in the rural United States or rural Canada, it is not accepted in rural Mexico. But within cities, there is a much more relaxed atmosphere.

When entering churches, always take off any sunglasses, caps or hats. Wearing shorts is rarely a problem, but still wear a sweatshirt or sweater to your waist to avoid showing too much skin, which could be disrespectful in such places. However, away from the beaches, or northern areas, shorts are very rarely worn by Mexicans on the street and thus will attract more attention to you and make you stand out as a foreigner.

Respect Mexico's laws. Some foreigners feel that Mexico is a place where laws can be broken and the police bribed at all times. Corruption may be common among Mexican police and public figures, but since it is a problem that Mexican society has recently recognized and has been trying hard to fix, when foreign nationals behave in a manner which shows expectancy of this easy bribery, it is considered extremely disrespectful, and so it could be used as excuse for the police to give you "a respect lesson." Remember, offering a bribe to an official could get you into trouble.

Like in other countries; politics, economics and history are very delicate issues, yet in México they are also considered good conversation pieces when conversing with foreigners. Just like in Europe, Canada and the US, Mexico's democracy is vibrant and diverse, and people have a variety of opinions. As Mexico only recently became a true viable democracy, however, there is an eagerness on behalf of Mexicans to share their opinions and political ideas with you. Common sense applies like it does in your country: If you don't know enough about Mexico's political landscape, ask as many questions as you like but avoid making any strong statements.

Many US citizens (and to a lesser extent other foreigners) make careless mistakes in conversations with Mexicans. Mexicans, while strong and hardy people can be very sensitive people when it comes to their country. Avoid saying anything that will make it seem as if you think Mexico is inferior to your home country. Do not assume that because you are a US citizen, you are an immediate target for kidnapping, since the vast majority of victims are Mexicans. Do not be overly cautious, especially if you have hosts that are taking care of you and know where to go and not to go. It will just insult your host and they will assume you do not respect Mexico or that you do not trust them.

Avoid talking about Mexico's flaws. Avoid talking about illegal immigration to the US, the drug trade, or any other contentious issue; Mexicans are well aware of their country's problems and want to forget about them once a while. Instead, talk about the good things of Mexico: the food, the friendly people, the scenery. This will make you a very good friend in a country that can seem menacing to take on by yourself.

While overt racism may not be apparent, as a general rule, wealth and social status are historically tied to European ancestry and skin color. Mexican society is sharply divided by social class, with the rich, middle class, and poor often living very separate lives, and can have very distinct cultures. Social practices or tastes of one social group may not be shared by all classes. Clubs, bars, and restaurants may cater largely to one crowd or another, and a wealthier person or tourist may feel out of place or received unwanted attention in a working class cantina; a poor looking person may be blatantly refused service or get unfriendly stares at an exclusive establishment.

There are many words in the country according for ethnic background:

Do not be offended to be called a "güero(a)" (blonde) and its diminutive form "güerito(a)" (blondie), as its a common way for the average Mexican citizens to refer mostly to Caucasian people, including white Mexicans. The words "gringo" and its synonym "gabacho" are used regardless of the actual nationality of the tourists and should not they be taken as offensive nouns. Actually, they are often used as terms of affection.

If you are East Asian, you will be referred to as "Chino(a)" (Chinese) and its diminuitive form "chinito(a)" regardless of whether you are Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, etc. Exceptions are in the capital, Mexicali, and in Monterrey, where a decent-sized Korean community does exist.

If you are black, "negro(a)" or "negrito(a)" may seem harsh, especially if you are from the US, but it is not a swear word. Although there are few black people in Mexico in many regions of the country (except in on the east and west coasts in the south), Mexicans, especially the younger generations, are not hateful. In fact, a revolutionary who later became the second president was a mulatto (a man of mixed European and African descent), Vicente Guerrero.

Historically, all Middle Easterners were refered to as "turcos" (even if they were from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, etc).

If you try to use your Spanish to address people be careful about the use of "tu" (informal, friendly, and called tutear; which is a verb, to call someone "tu") and "usted" (formal, respectful) forms. Using "tu" can be demeaning to people, since this is the form normally used for addressing children or close friends. For foreigners, the best way to deal with the "tu" and "usted" problem is to address people using "usted" until invited to say "tu", or until addressed by the first name. Doing so will look perhaps a shade old-fashioned but always respectful, while doing otherwise can be pretty rude and embarrassing in some situations. Always use the "usted" form to a law enforcement officer (or other person of authority), even if he may use the "tu" form to talk to you.

Use "usted" unless the person is genuinely your friend, the person is under 16, or the person tells you explicitly to use "tu".

People address each other depending on their social status, age and frienship. To refer to a woman always call her "señorita" (Miss) unless you are sure that she is married, then you call her "señora" (Mrs). When talking to an older man use "señor" irrespective of his marital status. If you want to call a waiter address him as "joven" which means "young man". You may call someone by his professional tittle ("ingeniero", "arquitecto" "doctor" "oficial", etc). Actually Mexican people will use the "tu" and the "usted", "first name" or "surname" depending on their relationship, and the code is not easy to learn.

While the word "güey" is equivalent to "dude" or "mate" among young people, it is still considered extremely vulgar among people older than you. This abrasive term of endearment is used only between people who have achieved a certain level of trust so avoid using it.

In Mexico "estúpido" means far, far worse than "stupid" in English.

Due to the highly matriarchal nature of Mexican culture, the combination of words "tu madre" (your mother) is cacophonous and taken offensively by residents, regardless of age or gender. If you must use it, remember to replace it with "su señora madre" at formal situations or the sweeter "tu mamá" at informal ones. Never ever use strong language when talking to a female.

There is a strong degree of male courteousness towards women. This is manifested in standing up when a lady enters a room, opening or holding a door, conceding preference or rights of way, giving up a seat, offering a hand when stepping down from a steep step, etc. It is generally reserved for older women, or females of great power, merit and social stature. Rejecting these types of friendly gestures is considered arrogant or rude.

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