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Welcome to Mexico!
By Victoria Schmidt
So many things are different in Mexico. The transition from moving from one country to another is never easy. The language, money, food, laws, and culture are all different. Most of us come here during our retirement age, and must learn many new things at a time when we’d rather things remain the same.
As expats gather together, we seem to share stories of our trials and tribulations and we offer suggestions to one another, and we understand each other because our experiences are similar. They are so much the same because as expats, we have a shared background, a shared culture. We find many things the Mexicans do confusing, different, and quite simply, we don’t “get it.”
We have a big cultural difference on the subject of time. We often joke about “Mexican time.” In our culture, we are trained to live our lives at the command of a clock. From the moment we started our day until we set our alarms to wake us the next morning we were slaves to the clock. Everything was rush, rush, rush. Hurry up and wait. Rush to get to work on time and wait in the traffic. Rush to the doctor to be on time, and wait for an hour. We scheduled ourselves to a ridiculous extent. I once had a day timer and scheduled myself in 15-minute increments throughout the day. We spent oodles of cash on timesaving devices that allowed us to do what--work more? “Multi-task?”
We could not wait to retire. We moved to Mexico to slow down our lives…and then complain because the Mexicans have a different concept of time. Perhaps we should not impose our crazy dependence on the clock on them. Perhaps we should adapt to their way of thinking. And when we move into another country, with its own culture, shouldn’t we adapt to their customs? There are many people in the USA who want the immigrants to adapt to the ways of the people in the United States. As the old saying goes… “When in Rome…”
Speaking of customs, watch the way Mexicans interact with each other. They take time to greet people, even strangers on the street. As they pass one another they often just exchange an “Adios.” Which I’ve come to learn means “hello, and goodbye” as well as “Go with God.” They take a few minutes for their friends when they run into them. They take the time to enjoy each other. When entering a tienda, they say “Buenos Días” to announce their arrival. You see Mexicans embracing one another and exchanging kisses on the cheek. (In Minnesota we had a three-foot personal space buffer that was breeched only for the obligatory handshake!)
This is another cultural difference: Mexican regard for others. They do not wish to disappoint each other, or let anyone down. So when we as expats ask them for something specific, like directions, and they don’t know the answer, instead of disappointing us by saying they don’t know, they will provide you with directions. Never mind that you won’t get where you’re going. Or a service provider will tell you it will be done tomorrow, rather than the truth--it won’t be ready for days. They do not wish to disappoint. In their culture, it is impolite to disappoint, and their culture does not encourage conflict in business dealings.
It has taken me a while to recognize these things, and to adapt to them. While I try to honor the Mexican customs…I still manage to arrive on time to fiestas and events only to find that I’m one of the first to arrive…along with a few other gringos!