A Gringo’s Guide to Being on Time in Mexico

Arriving at social gatherings in Mexico is a true art form. For Mexicans, it comes naturally. They know exactly when to show up for parties, coffee dates, dinners, etc without offending anyone or being offended by others.

For expats, we need a few years of careful cultural study before we finally stop checking our watches in annoyance every time we plan a meetup at Sanborns. When an American says a party starts at 7pm, you can be sure that all guests will be there at 7pm (and leaving at 9pm haha). In Mexico, parties start whenever and end some time before everyone has to go to work the next morning.

Hopefully I can help you jump ahead in your quest to being on time in Mexico by laying out what I’ve learned as an American in Mexico over the past 9 years.

1. One-on-one

So you’re in Mexico, and you’ve agreed to meet someone for coffee, or maybe a late dinner. If you made these plans more than one day in advance, I’m sorry to tell you that your plans do not exist. It’s useful to check ahead to make sure the other person doesn’t already have plans for that time, but your plans aren’t official until you call or text them the day of the meeting to confirm. Here’s how to do it:

Step 1: Tell the person you would like to meet up with them the following day. Mention the general time (morning, lunch, dinner, night, etc), but don’t bother with an actual time just yet.

Step 2: The morning of said meeting, text or call the person with something along the lines of, “Good morning! Can you still meet me today? Does 8pm at Sanborns sound good?”

Step 3: Now we’re getting into expert level. This is my secret to saving yourself a lot of headache… Text the person 30 minutes before the scheduled time with something like, “Getting ready now! See you in half an hour. Can’t wait!” This will help ensure they don’t forget or back out. It also gives them an opening to let you know if they will be late.

Step 4: Arrive 10 minutes later than whatever time they plan to arrive. It’s ok because they will be 15 minutes late.

Step 5: If for some reason you arrive after the other person, even if it’s 30 seconds after, you have to give a lame excuse. You can just quickly say, “Sorry, traffic was bad” or whatever you want, but you have to give some reason. Otherwise it would be awkward. I don’t know why. It’s just what you do.

2. Small groups of friends

The lead-up to plans with groups of 3 – 10 friends is the same as with a one-on-one. (Confirm the day of, etc.) However, things get a little tricky because the time is likely to be pushed back further and further the closer you get. With modern technology, I recommend a text chat group with this group of friends so you can get a play-by-play. Be ready to leave your house at the set time. If you planned to meet somewhere at 8pm, that’s the time you should be putting your shoes on to leave. BUT… don’t actually leave your house until you get a text from someone saying, “Ok I’m here. Where are you guys?” This way, you won’t be the first to arrive, but you won’t be the last, either.

3. House parties

If you show up within 30 minutes of a Mexican party’s scheduled start time, congratulations: you have just earned a spot on the planning committee. If you’re a family member of the host, you’ll be asked to run to Walmart to pick up soda, paper plates and tortilla chips. If you’re not a family member, you will have to help set up chairs and tables, then sit around in awkward silence waiting for everyone else to arrive. I try to arrive 1 hour after the scheduled time. That way you’re not the first person to arrive, but you’ve still made it in time to score the best taco ingredients and see the piñata. If you have close friends or family attending the same party, you can always call or text them to see when they plan on being there.

Bonus tips!!

  • While Mexicans are rarely on time for social events, they always try to be on time for business meetings, interviews, class, doctor’s appointments, exams and movies.
  • Never, ever make plans with a Mexican on a Sunday. Sunday in Mexico is strictly family day, and unless they’re inviting you to their cousin’s birthday party or their nephew’s baptism party, there’s no way they’re going to make time for you.
  • The Mamá Factor: Even if you follow all the proper steps, keep in mind that a Mexican may still cancel on you at any time if their mom calls and asks them for something. (I’ve had friends cancel on me at the last minute to go to the grocery store with their mom… more than once.)

 

 

Cancun Art Right Under My Nose

Anyone who lives in Cancun knows that locals love nothing better than to complain about how little culture the city has to offer. We’re only 40 years old, and the entire state of Quintana Roo used to only be populated by a few scattered Mayan villages. Over 90% of Cancun residents are originally from other parts of Mexico (and the world), so we’re still trying to figure out who we are. Personally, I kind of love being part of something new and exciting where I can be an important element in forming the city’s culture and legacy. (I flatter myself by considering this little blog to be part of the Cancun cultural evolution process.)

At any rate, this past Sunday after church I talked Jorge into going on a field trip. We walked over to the intersection of Calle Labna and Avenida Tulum in downtown Cancun because I had seen from a distance some cool murals and graffiti on the walls surrounding a water tower. Jorge, my camera and I found a whole lot more than we expected!

First were the painted trees. I have no idea who painted them, or when, or why, but they’re pretty cool. Here are just a few…

 

Two of the walls surrounding the water tower were covered in graffiti. Have blank canvas, will tag.

Normally I’m not a fan of vandalism, but I have to admit I kinda love all the color.

 

But the other 2 walls have the best part of all: the Mayan murals. It was pretty spectacular. Dare I say the best day of my camera’s short life thus far.

 

And the most awesome element: the skull helmets. We need to make this the latest fashion trend. Who’s with me?

For more of my pics of the Mayan mural and to find out where it came from, click through to my latest blog post on Cancun360.mx.

Should Immigrants Learn the Language?

**Note: When writing this post, I struggled with accuracy between terms like immigrant, expat, American, English-speaking, native English-speaking, Mexican, hispanic, etc etc etc. I did my best with the terminology considering that different definitions exist for many of these, so please bear with me.**

You know how in the USA, many Americans complain when hispanic immigrants don’t bother to learn English?

Turns out… Americans aren’t much better!

Over the past few years in Cancun, I’ve spent more time with local English-speaking (American/Canadian/British/Australian/etc) expats, and the fact that many of them do not bother to learn Spanish is a popular topic in the expat community. In my time in Cancun, I’ve known 5 English-speaking expats who learned fluent Spanish, myself included. A select few speak somewhat advanced Spanish, while most speak light conversational Spanish or just a few key words.

"Hola Jorge. Mucho gusto."

Personally, this isn’t something that bothers me. I feel like many immigrants tend to gravitate toward their own culture when they move to a new country, so whether it’s Mexicans in the US or Americans in Mexico, there’s often no need to learn the host language. In Cancun, almost all of the locals speak excellent English anyway.

It’s also interesting to me that while many Americans are angered by immigrants not learning English, Mexicans (at least the Cancun locals) really don’t seem to care whether immigrants to their country learn Spanish or not. On the contrary, most of my Mexican friends are more than happy to practice their English!

I’m not really trying to make any points here, to be honest. I just find it interesting that the whole “not learning the host language” is not exclusive to one culture.

Culture Shock and Bedsheets

I’ve written about Culture Shock before, and how I’m currently in Phase 3, where I have a more realistic view on living in Mexico: sometimes good, sometimes bad.

As you can probably tell from my blog, I am usually ecstatic to be living in Cancun. It’s such a beautiful place with great people.

The life.

However, there are still rare occasions when I think, “What the heck am I doing here?” This weekend was one of those moments.

From out of the blue, I’d spent the past few days thinking how nice it might be to live in the States again. I had fantasies of sprawling Target stores, malls filled with cute clothes, driving my SUV around town, filling up on Tex-Mex, central air conditioning, watching movies without mentally criticizing the Spanish subtitles, not living in fear of flying cockroaches … glorious. I wasn’t upset about Mexico, just thinking how moving back to the US might be an option someday.

Then on Sunday, things took an ugly turn. After a nice movie date, Jorge and I went to several department stores around Plaza Las Americas in search of new bedsheets. Much to my dismay, there wasn’t a single set of bedsheets for under $750 pesos. Most were around $1000 pesos (about $80 US). For that price, those sheets better give me a friggin foot massage. And none of them were even attractive. Jorge suggested getting sheets from the grocery store. Grocery store sheets in Mexico are undeniably cheap, but they also feel like sandpaper. (Trust me, I bought many grocery store bedsheets during my university years in Cancun. Never. Again.)

Wanting to get a comfortable night’s sleep without having to sell our firstborn child, Jorge said we could look online to order some from the US, then I could pick them up with I go to the US for Christmas. Well… I don’t want to wait until December. But that’s probably what we’ll end up doing.

I was in a bad mood the rest of the afternoon. When we got home, I started telling Jorge I was going through culture shock this weekend. Then I rambled on and on about giant pretzels, reasonably priced sheets, and Arby’s roast beef sandwiches with root beer.

And that’s when I started to cry.

Which Jorge thought was hilarious.

Until I Googled a picture of an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, and he suddenly became more understanding.

Update: OH MY GOSH Thanks so much to all my friends and readers who have offered to get me sheets! So, so sweet. I love the internet.

Family Dinner at Yaxche Mayan Restaurant

Even though my family and my in-laws speak different languages, they still have a fun time when they get together!

Tuesday night we all met up in Playa del Carmen for dinner. We decided on a restaurant serving Mayan/Yucatan cuisine. It had always attracted my attention, plus I thought it would be cool for my in-laws to be able to explain a little about the dishes to us.

Yaxche looks beautiful from the outside, with eye-catching modern style with a Mayan twist. Stepping inside was no different, with Mayan artwork all over the walls contrasting with contemporary light fixtures.

I was so excited looking through the menu, seeing all my local favorites. I had such a hard time deciding that I ordered two dishes!

Euxiquia (Xcatic chile and potato soup)... spicy and amazing!

If you've never heard of panuchos, you've never lived in the Yucatan.

Several people in our group got the Queso Relleno (stuffed cheese), with Edam cheese, ground pork, olives, capers and raisins, with a side of “Mayan rice”. Sorry for the bad picture:

My suegra said that the restaurant’s recipes had the same ingredients as the more traditional, homemade versions, but the presentation was quite different. Despite the unique twist on her old favorites, she still liked the food very much.

Jorge and I would like to come back to this restaurant on our own sometime. It would make a great date night, and there were so many dishes I didn’t get to try. The service was very friendly and helpful, and the price was about $350 pesos per person, including food, drinks and a 20% tip.

It was great for both families to spend some time together. My suegra is already planning a traditional Mexican dinner for my parents next time they’re in the area… complete with mariachis!

Have you ever had Mayan cuisine?

How to Speak Like a Mexican: Desvelado

The Spanish language has many words that don’t exist in English (and vice versa), and one of my favorites is desvelado.

The word desvelado comes from the verb desvelarse, meaning “to stay up late”. So desvelado (or desvelada, if you’re a lady), the adjective form, means something along the lines of “tired from staying up late”. Something we’ve all experienced, but there’s no exact word for it in English.

Here’s a version of one of my favorite songs, Desvelado, sung by Victor Garcia. The song is about a guy who is desvelado because he spends his nights wandering the streets, looking for a woman whose voice he heard on the radio.

Victor Garcia won second place several years ago on the show La Academia… kind of like the Mexican version of American Idol. He also looks a lot like my husband, Jorge. So that’s a plus. I chose this particular video because it has a lot of “Mexican” stuff in it like a cheesy set and cowboy gear, plus what Mexican song is complete without some whistles and yells? Love it!

 

How to Speak Like a Mexican: Blah, blah, blah

In English, when we fast forward part of a story, we use “Blah blah blah” (and a few other fun phrases).

However, I kinda like the Mexican version: Sha la la, Sha la la

Example:

  • English: I went to the store to buy eggs, then blah blah blah I ended up buying an entire cart of food!
  • Mexican: Fui a la tienda para comprar huevos, sha la la, sha la la Terminé comprando un carrito lleno de comida!

Much more sing-songy, doncha think?

Vazquez Sounds

I dunno if these kids have become at all popular in the US yet, but for the last few months the Vazquez Sounds have been taking Mexico by storm. This family of 3 kids became famous with their cover songs on YouTube, and they are really good! (and adorable)

The one thing that bothers me, as my hermosa amiga Jessica from Mexican At Heart pointed out, is that all their cover songs thus far have been English songs… and the lead girl seriously needs to improve her accent. I’m not saying all Mexicans should speak English, but if you want to make a living off of doing cover songs in English… learn English! You can tell she just memorizes the sounds and doesn’t really know what she’s singing.

Accent pickiness aside, they’re really good, especially because they sing a lot of my favorite songs. Check out the Vazquez Sounds:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=xbHI6nMsVHE

What do you think? Amazing? Sickeningly cute? Annoying accent? Charming accent?

The Geography Lesson that Brought Me to Shame

Did I ever tell you how I broke my culture shock? The defining moment when I went from “I hate it here, why don’t they do things my way?” to “Well, this might be ok after all!”

I was in my second year of university here in Cancun. I had a world geography class that totally blew my mind. As I looked up at the world map for several weeks, I thought to myself, “This is wrong. Why is the professor teaching wrongness? Why are my classmates not correcting him? Does nobody care or even notice that the map is wrong?” (Gosh, I’m such a typical American.)

In the US, we’re taught early on that the world has 7 continents: North America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia and Antarctica.

In Mexico, they’re taught that the world has 5 continents: America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania. Under this model, what we Americans consider to be North and South America is actually one large continent of America, and Antarctica doesn’t factor in at all!

MIND. BLOWN.

But wait! It doesn’t stop there! North America is everything north of the Panama Canal, right? Well, that depends on who you ask.

Get this: Mexicans don’t consider Central America to be part of North America.  Here, the large continent of America is sub-divided into 3 regions: North America (Canada, the US and Mexico), Central America and South America. In this model, Central America is no longer part of North America, it just borders North America.

North America in blue, Central America in yellow, South America in green... 3 regions making up the continent of America

After a few months of fuming to myself, I decided to look it up on Wikipedia to prove that I was right. Instead, what I got was this:

Number of Continents

And that’s when it hit me. My way isn’t the only way.

Even though I was taught something as fact, there still might be millions of other kids in other parts of the world learning it differently.

It was a huge step for me as an expat to realize that I can believe there are 7 continents, and my friends can believe there are 5 continents, and people on the other side of the world can believe there are 6 continents, and we are all correct.

This led me to realize that just because Mexicans don’t do things the way I might want them to, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Sometimes their way is even better than my way! (Except when they put ketchup on their pizza. After 7 years, I still find that unacceptable.)

I spent my first year in Mexico trying to make everyone more like… me. Then I spent the following 6 years trying to become more like them. All thanks to one geography course.