As Mexican culture coalesced over the past 500 years, a complex social stratification was formulated which is as distinct as the face of a multilayered sandstone bluff, and historically as strict as the Indian caste system.
Just in the last two centuries, two bloody revolutions were waged against the privileged aristocracy by the downtrodden masses, who sought to level the playing field. Even though the working people of this country mostly triumphed in both struggles, the social divisions within modern Mexican culture are as evident as ever.
Mexican television, with its overacted telenovelas, game shows and newscasts, are filled with güeros (light-skinned people) in numbers completely disproportionate to the general population. Even the print media is filled with advertisements featuring white-faced people with a liberal sprinkling of blond-haired women.
The Superior brewing company has used the slogan of su rubio de la categoría (blond of the category) which in daily use is intended to mean the cream of the crop, for over a century.
This subtle manipulation of the cultural mindset has been exacerbated by the rapid proliferation of both television and its programming throughout this country over the past 30 years. With 94% of Mexican households having a television, along with many restaurants and most bars, the media saturation of this culture is extensive.
With this almost constant media bombardment, a vast cross section of the population is suffering from what I like to call “comparative lifestyle deficiency syndrome.”
From the opulence seen in the telenovelas, to the smiling faces on the magazine covers, many people yearn to scale the vertical strata to gain that feeling of superiority over others, even if just for a moment.
For many Mexicans, that moment comes when they grip a steering wheel for the first time. Or possibly it’s when the thrum of the engine can be so easily commanded with slight movements of the right foot.
Whatever the subtle prompt may be, this behavioral transformation is an immediate and all-consuming trance. The new driver becomes the only person who matters as all else falls away. What a feeling! Their reverie induces an invincibility never before encountered, along with the illusion of absolute control over something for the first time in their life.
As if by universal decree, they are enveloped by a sensation of raw power, as background noise fades and their vision becomes a forward-looking tunnel.
These drivers are inclined to exhibit dangerous behavior whenever the right-of-way may be questionable, or when they encounter traffic control devices. Their inability to utilize their peripheral vision, while negotiating heavy traffic, makes them easy to spot.
These are the drivers who, with their eyes straight ahead, will continuously ignore all other cars as two lanes merge into one. These are the ones who will blow through the first five seconds of a red light without even a glance to the side.
These are the drivers who run stop signs without relinquishing any of their velocity while appearing to be in a hypnotic state, staring down the length of the hood like — dare I write it? — a zombie.
For those accustomed to polite drivers who keep to road rules, this can be a trying road to drive. Indeed, ever since moving to Mexico I have been contemplating the large percentage of bad drivers wherever there are automobiles. Anybody who has been in Mexico longer than 15 minutes will have a Mexican driver story; those who have been here longer will have a veritable plethora of near-death experiences to relate.
When I first came to Mexico, it was difficult to restrain myself from disgorging my complete litany of obscenities at what I came to refer to as the zombie drivers. It quickly became evident that I needed to channel my indignant exasperation into a more positive personality trait. In short, I needed to shed my gringo propensity for hysteria-induced road rage.
Fortunately, after my earlier positive outcomes from the Acme Expat Immersion Therapy and Attitude Modification Program (the adventures of which have been the subject of some earlier writings), I searched further. What luck to discover Acme Company’s Three-Step, Expat Driver Training and Cross-Cultural Indoctrination Program!
I was quite pleased to learn the first step in the program was to focus the driver’s angst into a well-rounded vocabulary of Spanish expletives which would fully express, as well as liberate, suppressed rage.
Within a couple of months, I transitioned my denunciating profanities from English to Spanish. I was beginning to enjoy the feeling of how properly pronounced Spanish lubricities just rolled off my tongue. So engrossed did I become in constructing a multi-word insult for an offending driver, I found that I quickly forgot the incident which triggered the outburst; whether this was the result of Acme’s clever therapy or old age is still not clear, it just worked.
And, having more than adequately fulfilled Acme’s first-step requirement, I plunged into the second step with gusto.
I learned how to anticipate Mexican drivers’ various antics, which commonly bamboozle the average expat. For example, knowing that some drivers will swerve one way then suddenly turn 90 degrees in the opposite direction allows you to react appropriately. You are empowered rather than infuriated.
Recognizing the possibility that a black SUV with heavily-tinted windows and no license plates might be driven by arrogant and ill-tempered narcos helps to empower your keen sense of self-preservation as you take an alternate route.
The second step of the program also includes an invaluable, hands-on tutorial on the proper use of the horn. Here in Mexico, horn honking is a national pastime enjoyed by all drivers, including properly prepared gringos.
Expats, especially Canadians, can be reluctant to even touch the horn, let alone bear down on it while spewing Spanish curses. Acme breaks through that cultural barrier and will have you playing the horn like a finely tuned instrument.
If the horn on your own car fails to sufficiently frighten the drivers in your immediate area, contact Acme On-Line and purchase their easy-to-install, 180-decibel, industrial-strength air horn. This handsome accessory comes with hearing protection and its own high-volume air compressor, guaranteed to crack glass and inflect cochlea damage to any human within a hundred meters.
Acme’s third step is tailored to those stalwart individuals who have quick reflexes and wish to delve into the audacious. Where the second step is dedicated to honing your defensive skills, the axiom of the third step is “The best defense is a calculated offense.”
The third step is custom tailored to specifically address the entranced motorist. What these people need is a good scare, an action so shocking it could loosen their bowels. This graduate-level course teaches you how to spot these zombie drivers just seconds before they commit one of their habitual infractions, and then you will take the situation to the next level.
Acme’s researchers have discovered that the sudden realization of impending trauma will shock most zombie drivers into actually looking at another vehicle. You will acquire the multitasking skill of stopping your vehicle within inches of the offender while leaning on the air horn. Note, however, that since using the air horn is therapeutic, obscenities are optional.
This third-step tactic can only be accomplished after spending a month with Acme’s experts on speed and distance judging. When your prowess is perfected you will be able to stop your vehicle, from any speed, a hair’s breadth from both stationary and moving objects. The deep sense of satisfaction, engendered by the look of terror on the other driver’s face, is worth the many hours of practice.
Having acquired the proper skills, I now look forward to plying the highways and byways of Mexico and so can you — just contact the good folks at Acme today.
The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half wild dog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.