Welcome to Mexico!

By Victoria Schmidt

mexican manners


Many of our readers are new to Mexico, so I decided to repeat some advice I have peppered through previous columns. I learn everything the hard way, so, hopefully it will help you through your transition.

First of all, we lived in Chapala. Which is seen more “Mexican” than Ajijic. Fewer expats, fewer “Fraccs” (the Mexican term for Housing Associations.) We lived right on the street with only a door between the sidewalk and our living room. The first thing we learned that it is considered rude to walk past strangers without acknowledging them.

It’s even worse if you don’t recognize your neighbor. Courteous greetings are: “Hola, Adios, and Buenos Dias, Tardes, or Noches.” Which leads me to telling time. In this case, “Dias, Tardes and Noches” roughly translate from morning, afternoon, evening/night. Now the tricky part here is the assignment of time. “Dias” is morning. “Tardes” usually starts at noon. But the line between “tardes” and “noche” is up for grabs. For me, if it is dark it’s “noche.”

As I said, it’s rude to walk past a person and not acknowledge them. That is part of the culture. Any business transaction is the same. Walk into the store and say “Buenos Dias” to anyone, everyone. If you don’t purchase anything, exit with a “Gracias.” If you do purchase something, place your payment into their hands. Not on the counter. Mexicans take it as a sign of disrespect, as if you don’t trust them, or do not wish to touch them.

A successful transaction ends with them giving you the Mexican equivalent of “have a good day.” Where you respond with “Igualmente” meaning to you as well. The transaction does not include loud or angry words even when you are frustrated with yourself. Loudness is just plain rude.

Babies. What mother doesn’t love it when you “oooh and ahhh” at their child?In the USA you, as a stranger, are not to touch someone else’s children. Here, it is OK to touch, but do not just stare into their eyes. Give a little touch on their cheek and you have told the mother you are not giving her baby the “evil eye.” I usually ask, and then brush their cheek.

If you have a business relationship with a Mexican, ask first how they are, ask about their health, their family, then get down to business. Unlike NOB, business is not first. Families and people are first.

If you are addressing someone for the first time, and you don’t know their name, use “Señor or Señora”, and stay away from slang. That is considered rude and disrespectful. If you have just met an adult, older, Mexican woman, don’t call her “Chica.” Once you have a relationship, then you can call her “Amiga o Chica.”

OK, next, for those selling their wares on the street. They usually initiate conversation. And if you are not interested, simply say, “No Gracias, y Buenos Suerte.” If they are persistent just walk away saying “Lo Siento, No Gracias.”

My final piece of advice is this. If a Mexican offers to help you, try to allow them the opportunity. They are more than happy to help. It is a gesture of caring. They may be offended by your refusal of help. In the Mexican culture, elderly people are to be respected, people with disabilities are to be aided. This was hard for me to learn, so try to let go and respect. There is one guy at Wal-Mart who looks to be in his 90’s and he always wants to help me. I’m very independent and I’m used to carrying my things, and crossing the street, and I use my cane. I’m younger than him, but he is always there making sure I get into and out of Wal-Mart and all the way to my car. Of course he gets a tip.

Most of the people who work parking lots, valet part parkers and restaurant help all depend on tips. Some of those workers are paid only with tips. If you received bad service, talk to the manager because the waiter’s tip is split between the other staff, the bus boys, and the kitchen staff. Restaurant behavior is a future topic.

And even if your Spanish is not very good, there isn’t a Mexican here who doesn’t appreciate you trying to use the language. If they help or correct you…the right answer is Gracias!

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Column: Editor’s Page




Victoria Schmidt came to Mexico with her husband, in 2007.  She is a graduate of Moorhead State University, Minnesota and graduated Cum Laude  with a BA degree in Radio, Television and Film.  At 23 she was hired at multi-national media corporation, where she worked 10 years as their Director for Operations and Finance. She then ran her own business consulting company.  She has won multiple community service awards. Writing has been a passion of Victoria’s since Junior High.  She has been active in the writing and publishing business for over 40 years and has been a columnist for the Ojo del Lago since 2008.


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