I’ve been living in Mexico for almost a year now. And, while I don’t claim to be an expert on Mexican culture, norms and mores, I have picked up on a few things that can make adjusting here as a first time visitor here a whole hell of a lot easier.
Basically, these tips are aimed at helping prevent foreigners – particularly young ones – from offending any locals, or becoming a stereotype.
I’d imagine that most of these tips should be common sense, but I’ve seen enough foreigners trip up on them while they’re here, so I figured it was worth composing a cheeky little list.
Here are 5 Simple Rules for the First-Time Visitor to Mexico
Rule 1 – Don’t Talk About Mexico
Just like Fight Club.
As my title suggests, this is the number one rule that could get you in trouble with the locals. Now, when I say don’t talk about Mexico, you shouldn’t take it so literally. Of course, you are more than welcome to talk about all of the things you love about the country.
But don’t even think about pointing out any negatives unless you are with very close friends…and even then it’s a good idea to proceed with caution.
Now, this can be tricky. Chances are that on a semi-regular basis, you’ll find yourself hanging out with Mexicans who are talking about problems in the country, especially if you spend any time with students, as I tend to do. At times like this, you might find it tempting to put all those books you’ve read about the drug war to good use and give your two cents about how to stop the violence.
Don’t do it.
It’s their country. They can talk crap. But you can’t. You’re a guest.
There’s nothing worse than a foreigner rolling in and pretending that they have all the answers. Even if that’s not your intention, it very likely could be interpreted that way and ruffles some feathers and lose you some potential friends and connections. That doesn’t mean that if you are asked for you opinion you can’t give it, just make sure it is the tamest in the room.
Do you have questions? Skip the guesswork…
Rule 2 – Dance. Dance, Dance, Dance The Night Away
If you’re anything like me, you’re going to hate this rule.
I hate this rule.
But it is unequivocally important. Fortunately, it’s not as bad as it seems. You see, the important thing is not that you know how to dance, it’s only that you must dance. And look like you’re having fun in the process. I’m the worst dancer in the world. But I’ll put on my best jackass face and desecrate as many salsa songs as necessary when I’m asked to the floor.
And guess what?
By doing so, I gain acceptance.
You see, the Mexican people know very well that you don’t know how to dance. That’s the point. They want to teach you. They want to share a bit of their culture (and also have a bit of a laugh) so enjoy it and have fun with it. The worse thing you can do it be bashful and refuse a dance, or accept and look painfully uncomfortable while doing it. Salsa dancing isn’t hyper sexual, so you won’t necessarily lose any ground with Mexican girls if you can’t dance. But you make have to make it up in other ways (having good game, being well-dressed etc). Also, don’t get too offended if another dude asks to dance with the girl you’re with. He’s not necessarily trying to hit on her.
Rule 3: Always Be Laughing, Always Be Smiling, But Never Be The Drunkest Person In The Room
It’s really not that hard to avoid gringo stereotypes — only two exist. Either you are drunk, loud, amoral and in Cancun, or you are uptight, nervous, antisocial and in a hurry. The easiest way to combat falling into one of these categories is to always be laughing and having a good time…or at least look like you’re having a good time. Even if you don’t understand what is going on (I often don’t) because the conversation is in Spanish, just laugh and smile and do your best to contribute occasionally.
Mexicans love taking the piss out of one another and laughing and having a good time, so just ride the wave even if it’s not your style. However, if you’re as antisocial as I am and find yourself turning to alcohol to deal with the nerves, exercise moderation.
Never be the drunkest person at a Mexican party.
Gringos have all but solidified their reputation with Mexicans for being fools while drunk, so do your best not to become another soldier in that army.
Rule 4: Don’t Break The Law
I hate that I actually have to include this in my list. But apparently, we need to be told. Are the police in Mexico corrupt? Yes, for the most part. But more than they are corrupt, they are opportunistic. If you aren’t doing anything wrong, they usually will not bother you. However, if you’re caught entering a stewardess on the beach, drinking on the sidewalk, or trying to buy yeyo from a cab driver, they may see it as an opportunity for a payday.
I think the problem is one of perception: tourists know that the police are corrupt, so they’re less cautious about getting into mischief because they know that they can just pay their way out. But, if you’d rather keep that $50-$100 USD, bang that flight attendant within four walls, buy beer at a bar, and/or get your drugs through friends and never be a direct part of the exchange.
Rule 5: Learn Spanish
At least try. For an English speaker, the basics are very easy.
Do I play by these rules?
I tend to break rule one and speak poorly about Mexico from time to time. But I always gauge the situation first. I’ll only take my shots if it’s something I feel passionately about, or if someone is genuinely asking for my opinion.
Other than that, good luck! I hope to see you here soon.
Until next time.
Do you have questions? Skip the guesswork…