Five Ways to Be An Ugly American in Mexico
Good news: U.S. tourists are finally starting to return to Baja California. Three friends and I just returned from yet another fantastic weekend doing the "20,000 calories south of the border" tour, and while we adjusted to "Mexican time" and had a grand time lowering our blood pressure, some of our fellow countrymen obviously were having a hard time. Following are three ways to make sure you'll have a terrible time south of the border.
Of course, these behaviors aren't specific to Mexico; you'll find ugly Americans, ugly Brits, and even ugly Canadians all over the world.
5. Insist on New England Protestant-style punctuality.
Fact: life in Mexico is not as tightly regulated as life in the United States. Power outages happen; road closures happen; people will stop and assist at accidents, because another person's well-being is more important than being at the restaurant at 7:00 on the dot. This drives Americans crazy, particularly when the response is an unapologetic shrug. So alien to the culture is the idea of slavish devotion to the clock that when you actually want someone to show up at 7:00 sharp, you have to specify, "a las siete, hora inglesa"--at 7:00, English time. Meanwhile, have another beer.
4. Fail at polite small talk.
The US is a very, very abrupt culture. We have no problem launching straight into a conversation, even if it's someone we don't know very well. No hello, no polite inquiries into the other party's well-being. At home, that's considered efficient and being respectful of the fact that people have other things to deal with; in pretty much every other country in the world, it's considered the height of rudeness. Start every conversation with a greeting and at least a "¿cómo está usted?" before asking questions.
3. Haggle gracelessly over prices.
Yes, haggling is a way of life in the markets of Mexico; the first price is always a bad one, and you should haggle amiably. Unfortunately, the only haggling we ever do in this country is over cars, which everyone hates and which is needlessly antagonistic, and houses, which is done por escrito. As a result, we suck at it, and we end up being rude. Decide what it's worth, be fair to the vendor, and either pay more or say no if they won't meet your price. No need to get your blood pressure up.
2. Refuse to eat the food.
Fact: the vast majority of prepared food purchased in Mexico is made right in front of you, either in fondas in the market, at stalls on the street, or in open-kitchen cenadurias. The American model where the food comes out from some invisible kitchen is not the norm, but for some reason Americans think that's the only safe way to eat. They'll refuse to eat anything on the street, citing some cousin's roommate's former girlfriend who claims to have got dysentery from a taco in 1982. The rule is the same anywhere in the world: eat where there's a line; places don't get popular by poisoning their clientele.
1. Get upset when plans don't work out.
Americans seem to be very comforted by well-planned trips. At 0900 hours we will deploy to breakfast; coffee and pan dulce, then back in the car at 1000 hours to hit the museum when it opens. Of course, this ignores the realities of life; the restaurant is understaffed, the police have set up an inconvenient roadblock to investigate a car accident, or the museum worker stopped off for a bowl of menudo to cure la cruda before coming to work. Live life on Mexican time and stop trying to cram two days' worth of activities into every day, and you'll have a much better time.
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