Welcome to Mexico!
By Victoria Schmidt
Manners for Mexico
It’s early morning. I watch people moving about starting their day. I see a young woman make the Sign of the Cross and place something in her purse. I smile. This isn’t the first time I have seen this. At breakfast a while ago, I saw our waiter make the Sign of the Cross after he made his first sale. I asked him, “Why do you do that?” He explains that here, in Mexico; it is tradition to show thanks for the first money made each day. I think back to the many times in the USA when I paid my bill. Usually a gum-cracking waitress would snap a practiced line: “Come again.”
Mexican culture is one of proprieties and courtesies. When selling an ad one day, the gentleman came in to pay for it, I said “Hello” and proceeded to write out a receipt. And I saw two men exchange a look and a smile at this brash newcomer. Later I asked, “Did I do something wrong?” Finally I discovered that my straightforward manner was viewed as rude. I was horrified. So I sought out a bi-lingual friend who explained to me a little bit about the every day habits and customs of the Mexican people.
First, there is the greeting. It is custom in Mexico to greet someone as you pass by even if you don’t know who they are. “Buenos dias.” Good day. One beautiful Mexican woman who has traveled in the United States compared us to Zombies. We walk by people, rarely acknowledging them; and don’t even make an apology when we might accidently bump into someone. Here in Mexico, it is considered rude not to acknowledge someone. And the proper way to walk by someone on a crowded village sidewalk is to say “Con permiso.” Which means “with permission.” And their response would be “propio” which means, please pass.
When walking into a small store or place of business, it is customary to greet the staff, even if you may not see them right away. And it is common courtesy to leave by saying “Buen Dia.” Often as you receive your purchase, you will hear them say something in Mexican, something along the lines of “have a nice day.” Your response should be “Igualmente.” Which loosely translates as “and to you.”
Manners in the USA seem to have fallen by the wayside. The every day niceties have seemed to vanish. Even smiling at strangers seems to be difficult, as people seem to be wary of everyone—especially in large cities.
As I have continued to live here in Mexico, I have learned that the people who clean our houses, tend our gardens, serve our meals, attend to our needs live under conditions we would not tolerate. Their homes are mainly in poor barrios. Often they do not have water for most of the day. Their electric service is even more precarious than other areas. Many of their homes have no windows, as that seems to be a unaffordable luxury. Yet if you stop and listen as they go about their day, their work, they are happy. Singing or whistling, and they share jokes and laugh freely.
In the USA we take one day a year to reflect and be thankful for our bounty. It seems that most Mexicans are thankful every day for the very little that they do have in comparison to us. I never felt “rich” until I assimilated to life in Mexico. Here, I enjoy a wealth of friends and have learned to be grateful for each day.