Monday, June 24, 2024

10 things gringos do that upset Mexicans (and how to avoid them)

We’re all annoying in our own way. There is always a quirk or personality trait that irritates the masses. Oftentimes those traits span an entire nationality. 

I should know, I’m American. 

Oh Americans. Known the world over as loud, obnoxious, fashionably-challenged, and completely coddled. According to The Times and a 10-year-old article on Business Insider, citizens of the U.S. travel simply to compare everything to the U.S., speak English loud and proud, and make little attempt to learn the local culture. Who is more intolerable than us? 

An angry looking woman
Avoid getting this look by paying attention to our handy guide. (Alev Takil/Unsplash)

I’m happy to say that since moving to Mexico City I’ve found out that we aren’t the only deplorables. At least here in Mexico. (I’m talking to you Canadians, Brits, and Aussies.)

Not to fluff my own feathers, but I have always made a very concerted effort to meld with the local culture as much as possible. Yet, I’m still classified as annoying. Why? I needed answers. So I set out on a very entertaining quest to uncover the most offensive things I, my fellow gringos and selected other nationalities, do to roll both the proverbial-and-physical eye of our Mexican neighbors. 

Through in-depth interviews of six born-and-raised-in-Mexico friends, I found out more than I needed to know about the actions we (often unknowingly) take to offend them.

Here are the top 10, coupled with my personal interpretation of what we’re doing wrong.

A man rides a Yamaha bike on a crowded beach in Acapulco
Admittedly, you probably weren’t intending to come to Mexico and do this… but don’t ride your motorbike on a crowded tourist beach either. (Carlos Alberto Carbajal/Cuartoscuro)

Expect English everywhere. It’s true that Mexico City restaurants are handing out English menus to Mexican patrons, much to their chagrin. It’s a double-edged sword. It’s a testament to the country’s accommodation of outsiders, but it’s also preventing English-speaking expats from immersing themselves in the language and, therefore, learning it.

Refuse to drink filtered water.
I understand this from both sides. If you’ve fallen victim to Moctezuma’s rite of passage, just looking at an ice cube will make your stomach turn. However, it likely didn’t come from an ice cube. Dining establishments have no intention of poisoning you, or anyone else, with tap water. No one drinks it here anyway. Filtered is fine.

Talk about how cheap everything is.
This has come up before on Mexico News Daily. Even if it is cheap compared to your home country, it’s not cheap compared to Mexico’s average salary. Delight in the money you’re saving, but keep it to yourself.

Guilt payments and over-tipping.
If your housekeeper gives you a rate, that’s the rate you should pay. Don’t double it because you think it’s too low. It throws off the pay scale for Mexicans who might not be making the same salary you’re raking in from a San Fran-based tech giant. This also goes for tipping. The standard is 10-15%, so unless the service is absolutely spectacular beyond belief, stick with the local customs.

Tipping by card
Tipping is expected, but going above 15% can be seen as problematic. (Blake Wisz/Unsplash)

Not eating like a Mexican.
This is one of my favorites. I’m not referring to Mexican dishes and I’m sure you’re noshing heavily on tlayudas and mole. This refers to Mexico’s traditional dining schedule. Think about it – gringos eat lunch around 1:00 P.M. and dinner around 7:00 P.M. Mexicans eat lunch around 2:00 P.M. and dinner around 8:00 P.M. This means that when a Mexican couple shows up for date night at 8:15 P.M., there are no tables available. 

Crossing the street like a gringo.
The rules here are pretty obvious — pedestrians yield to cars. Yes, it’s opposite to most other countries but trying to change this societal rule will end up getting you squashed. It’s confusing to drivers and safer for you to follow the rule so just do it.

Lack of formalities.
It’s common in the U.S. to skip conversation openers in the interest of saving time and getting to the point. In many cases this is a glorious way of doing business, but that’s not how it works here. Especially when interacting with someone for the first time, take 5 minutes to be Mexican and break the ice. A “How was your trip to Acapulco last weekend?” can go a long way.

Asking about your safety everywhere you go.
Parts of Mexico aren’t safe. Parts of Australia aren’t safe. Parts of London aren’t safe. Safety is an issue everywhere. Do your own research and if you’re really unsure, ask a friend “if they’ve ever driven on their own to Veracruz because you’re thinking about doing just that” and you’ll get the answer you’re looking for.

A burrito
Don’t even think about ordering this. Pretend you’ve never heard of it. (Creative Headline/Unsplash)

You don’t look Mexican.
Very delicate territory here. There has been a long held belief that Mexicans look a certain way, work in certain industries and have a certain style. This is particularly rampant in the United States. And for a country that is so sensitive to class, a statement like this can be really offensive (especially when coming from an American).

Mexicans don’t eat burritos.
This isn’t true everywhere, obviously. The seafood joint up the street from my apartment has a pretty rico seafood burrito on the menu. If you’ve flown into Puerto Vallarta, you’ve probably filled up on a famous smoked marlin burrito at Tacón de Marlin. What is meant by burrito in this case is a lack of research or curiosity about true Mexican culture. Mexico is mole, it’s Tenochtitlan, it’s Quetzalcoatl, it’s Catholicism, it’s copal, it’s mariachi, it’s agave. This country is so rich beyond the edges of a jack-cheese and ground beef burrito from Chipotle. Mexico is simply amazing.

Anything self-deprecating behaviors you want to add? Please let us know, politely, in the comments below.

Bethany Platanella is a travel planner and lifestyle writer based in Mexico City. She lives for the dopamine hit that comes directly after booking a plane ticket, exploring local markets, practicing yoga and munching on fresh tortillas. Sign up to receive her Sunday Love Letters to your inbox, peruse her blog, or follow her on Instagram.


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