How to Be Polite In Spanish and Win Friends In Mexican Restaurants

Mexicans are polite. Mexicans are polite to the point at which even the gallant Spaniards stare at the florid turns of phrase common in Mexican society

We Anglos, however, are not. We don't observe conversational niceties, we're far too abrupt and--worst of all to the Mexican sensibility--impatient and demanding. Ours is the culture of immediate gratification; theirs is not.

For proof, one has only to look at a group of norteamericanos ordering food in a Mexican restaurant, regardless of which side of the border it's on. Even if our pinkish skin didn't give us away, our mannerisms would. Here are several ways to bridge the gap; most work just as well in English as in Spanish, though it's considered polite to speak Spanish in Mexico, even badly.

1. Greet people when you walk in.
Use buenos días until about 3 p.m., then buenas tardes, and buenas noches after dark. Even if you don't see anyone, call it out anyway--it's a nice polite way of announcing your presence without resorting to pounding on the counter or using one of those awful ring-for-service bells.

2. Excuse yourself when moving past people.
So you need to get to the counter to order your food, but a large party is standing and waiting. Don't just nudge gently; say, "con permiso," then wait for them to move. If they reply, they'll say, "pase" or, "propio." Don't forget to thank them!

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