Mexico Etiquette: Cultural Tips and Advice

by Jules on August 23, 2010


Mexico is a hot place, with a lot of chill residents who live life to a different beat. Here, afternoons are off-the-clock, discussions are held up close and personal, niceties are appreciated and greetings follow an established order. If you get it wrong, however, you won’t be shot like in the Hollywood flicks. Most likely, you’ll have to laugh it off and order another round. Following these next habits of etiquette when traveling in Mexico will have you fitting in like a hot tamale in a hard shell taco.

7. Mexico: Take Siesta All The Time – Mexico has a different time zone entirely. Though over-worked and over-paced in business life back home, Mexican business practices do not follow the same policies. When here, be sure to give yourself extra days, not hours, to get your affairs in order. One of the biggest faux pas: running around during Siesta time (2-ish – 5-ish), demanding that this or that be taken care of immediately. Pop a bottle of chill-pills and ease your way into scheduled events. If coming to Mexico on holiday, then pretend that every hour of every day is siesta, mixed with a little machismo and Corona, and you’ll fit right in.

6. Mexico: Breathe the Second Hand Breath – Let’s set the scene: It’s been a crazy night of Tequila, worm-gulping shots mixed with burritos, fajitas and chips. Your pores are sweating grease and hooch. Your newly formed Mexican friends are tipsier than you. They lean up and talk to you about 10 cm (5 inches) from your face. You can only guess how their breath got that night-soil smell. Well, guess what: It’s hugely impolite in Mexico to step away when someone is talking to you. Personal space in Mexico is closer than the leeway you give or get back home. If you must gasp for fresh air, look away as you (fake) cough or when you (fake) laugh. Otherwise, you’ll be taken for rude and may turn immediate friends into instant foes.

5. Mexico: OK & Thank You – If you’ve traveled much at all, you’ll know how important it is to learn something of the local culture and language—just a few words can get you a long way. The more you try to speak Spanish, the further it will get you with the locals. Walking into a shop and blaring, “Hey, where is the cheese and milk?” won’t win you friends. Don’t be surprised if the store clerk disappears for five minutes before ringing you up. A simple “Buenas Dias” and “Gracias” will invite help and courtesy from others. Also, don’t do the American OK sign (thumb and forefinger forming a circle with the other three fingers in the air). This, my friend, is not only rude but also vulgar. Saying “OK” will do the trick.

4. Mexico: Kiss & Shake It – You must learn how to kiss and shake it in Mexico. Here’s how it works: Women must kiss the air on both sides of each other’s cheek. When a man and women greet, they do the same. If you are a man, attempting this with another man in Mexico may get you hurled into a back alley. Men shake hands unless they are very close, where a hug might do too. Kissing everyone you meet, too, is a no-no. Stand close, kiss air and shake hands. You’ll feel more in place when you do.

3. Mexico: Compare The Two – Unless you do want to end up like a Hollywood movie—either stranded, held hostage or worse—then you won’t want to make fun of the locals’ accents. In Spain you may have noticed how Rs are rolled and everyone lisps. They don’t do the same here. If you start to speak with the same lisp, the Mexicans may ask where you picked up the funny accent. Don’t compare Spain to Mexico either: “Oh, Spain is so lovely and the cities are so clean…blah blah blah.” They don’t want to hear you tell them that their cities are dirty. Ignorance is bliss when it comes to trash in the roads in Mexico.

2. Mexico: Don’t Diss The Miss (or the Moose) – The idea of beauty from your home country and Mexico are likely very different and distinct. For one, what is considered overweight in your country may very well be a sizzling look here. Walking down the street with your Mexican macho buddies and pointing to this that girl with the big behind could get you into deep trouble if you diss her. Or, if you ladies are with your gal-pals, then don’t make fun of random guys’ greasy hair. Styling gel, moose and spray are used in vast quantities to achieve a look of chiseled perfection. If you’re a foreigner with a rump or a guy who secretly enjoys a buttery hair-do, then you’ll have no problem really fitting-in in Mexico.

1. Mexico: Poking Fun – Unless you’re really familiar and have been friends with a Mexican for years on end, it is not acceptable to poke fun at each other. If you’re out bar hopping around Mexico City, for example, you should never cut down another man’s masculinity in front of others. Doing so could prove to take several years off your life. Machismo, or masculinity, is a big deal in Mexico, a very hierarchical structure. Ladies, it’s also not kosher to make fun of some other girl’s weight or outfit. Public embarrassment is considered rude and not amusing. Jokes about race, ethnicity and religion may very well be OK. Witticisms poking fun at others generally are not.

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