Mexico vs USA: When to Move Out?

Last night, Jorge and I were talking about a friend of ours who recently moved out of his parents’ house at the age of 25.

  • My thoughts: Ok.
  • Jorge’s thoughts: Well that’s controversial!

In the USA, most people move out of their parents’ house when they get a steady job after high school. Others go off to college, live there for 4 years, then move their leftover stuff out of their parents’ house when they get a job after graduating. If anyone is still living with their parents after age 23 or 24, it’s most likely because for whatever reason, they can’t afford to live on their own (not uncommon in today’s economy).

In Mexico, things are quite different. People are much more dependent on their families. Mexicans typically don’t move out of their parents’ home until one of three things happens:

  • They decide to study in another part of the country (somewhat rare)
  • They get a job in another part of the country
  • They get married

Universities in Mexico don’t typically have dorms or any kind of on-site living facilities, so most Mexicans choose to go to school somewhere close to the house they grew up in. I had a few friends in college here in Cancun who were living with roommates since they came from another state, but most of my university classmates were still at their parents’ house. I also know several Mexicans who have gotten 2 or 3 college degrees, all while living at home. Once, a 25-year-old friend even told me, “I’m thinking about moving into my own place, but my mother would be heartbroken. She’d wonder where she went wrong!”

Even now at age 26, the vast majority of my Mexican friends still live with their parents. I do know a few newlywed couples who live in their own home, and Jorge of course moved out of his parents’ house when we got married (although we almost moved into my in-laws’ upstairs apartment to save money).

Jorge with his family ­čÖé

Personally this is a cultural aspect that still boggles my mind. As someone who grew up in a culture where you finish school then get the heck out, it’s hard to comprehend why someone would want to put their independence on hold until they get married. Obviously the Mexican system works quite well, so I can’t criticize it, and I can’t say there’s anything wrong about it (sometimes I even wish I could live rent-free) … I just don’t understand it on a personal level because I was surrounded by something completely different growing up.

It’s common for me to have strong personality clashes with my Mexican friends, and lately I’ve formed stronger friendships with other expats (Canadians, Brazilians, Americans, Brits, Australians, etc). I sometimes wonder if it’s because my expat friends and I been living independently for so many years (7 years for me), while most of my Mexican friends still live at home and have a different, more family-oriented mindset. Or maybe it’s some other cultural difference.

Since the day I moved here and to this very day 7 years later, the most common question I get asked by Mexicans I meet is, “And your parents were ok with you moving away? What did they say?”

How to Speak Like a Mexicano: Ahorita

When I moved to Mexico 6 years ago, I had a pretty good grasp on the language after 7 years of Spanish classes. I would soon find out that in Mexico, there were thousands of local words and phrases that I had yet to learn.

One word that perplexes me to this day is ahorita. Most of you have probably heard the Spanish word ahora, meaning “now”. In Spanish, there are also diminutive words ending in -ito, -ita, -itos and -itas (depending on plurality and word gender). When adding these endings onto a word, it implies that something is small. So the word “ahorita” would directly translate to something along the lines of┬á “little now”.

I first learned that ahorita means “right now”. Ahorita lo hago would translate to “I’ll do it right now.” Easy, right? It’s just a matter of quick memorization of one commonly-used phrase!

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

For months, a Mexican might tell me “ahorita lo hago” and I would be confident it was being done right away. Sometimes, however, nothing happened for hours or even days, causing this gringa to get pretty encabronada. Eventually I was told that ahorita actually has two meanings… it can mean “right now”, but it can also mean “in a little while”. WHAT?

Six years later, I’m still bothering Jorge every time he says “ahorita lo hago“. My response is always, “ahorita, ahorita? O ahorita al rato?” (Ahorita right now? Or ahorita later?) Luckily Jorge’s ahorita usually means “within the next half hour”. I guess I still haven’t figured out the subtle nuances of the Mexican people.

"No te preocupes, amor... ahorita lo hago!"


The Secret Language of Mexicans

I’m not sure how to go about this post because it’s a topic that I still don’t understand after six years in Mexico.

During my time in this fascinating yet incredibly frustrating country, I’ve noticed that Mexicans have their own subtle ways of communicating that straight-shooting Americans like myself will never comprehend.

On Monday I woke up not feeling well, so I sent my boss a text message asking for the day off. He answered me with the following message:┬á “Don’t you have your interview today?” (some survey thingy our department is doing)

I texted back “No, not until tomorrow.”

I then sat around for a few minutes waiting for my boss to text me back with an answer. “Why doesn’t he say anything?” I said to Jorge.

Jorge responded with a casual, “He already gave you permission not to go in today.”

Me: “No he didn’t. He asked about my interview, and I said I didn’t have one until tomorrow.”

Jorge: “That means yes.”

Me: WHAT?!?! How does a question mean “yes”??? In the US, it doesn’t mean “yes” until someone says “yes”.

My boss never texted back and asked me how I was doing at work the next day, so I guess it did mean “yes”.

 

When I was in college here, this happened to me a lot with my classmates. There were several occasions when I might make a comment to a teacher, only to have my classmates later tell me, “Don’t you remember we agreed not to say that to the teacher?” Turns out there had been insinuations and clever nuances in previous conversations that I wasn’t even aware existed. I appeared to have broken some sort of code.

 

On weekends we go out a lot with my in-laws. Frequently we’ll get into the car to go somewhere, like Jorge’s aunt’s house, for example. We’ll then head in the direction of a supermarket. Conversations go like this:

Me: Where are we going?

Jorge: Walmart.

Me: I thought we were going to your aunt’s house?

Jorge: Yeah, but my dad said we have to stop by Walmart first to pick up some snacks.

Me: When did he say that?

Jorge: Right before we left.

Me: But WHEN did he say that? I was with you both the whole time!

 

I used to think it was a language barrier. Maybe my limited Spanish was preventing me from picking up certain sentences. Now that I speak fluent Spanish, I see that’s not the case. Mexicans have a way of saying something without directly saying it. I wish I could go into further detail, but I still have NO IDEA how it works.

Ok fellow expat bloggers in Mexico, tell me you know what I’m talking about!! What is this secret language and how does it work?

I'm Still An American on the Inside

As I’ve mentioned before, I use taxis a lot here in Cancun. They’re easy to find, they’re cheap ($20 pesos to get almost anywhere you want in downtown Cancun), they’re fast and I even get serenaded by taxi drivers on occasion.

They do, however, have a habit that causes my inner American to scream, “Oh no he didn’t!!”

Not having change.


I totally understand if they don’t have change for larger bills. If I have anything worth $200 pesos or more, I will always ask if they have change for it before I get into the vehicle. However, what really bothers me is when they don’t have change for my $50 pesos or $100 pesos, and don’t bother to tell me until we reach our final destination.

Some will ask you from the beginning, “Do you have exact change?”, which I think is great. Usually I have it, and if I don’t, we’ll stop by a gas station along the way (gas pumpers always have change).

But what I CAN’T STAND is when we get to our destination, I hand them a $50 peso bill, and they say to me “Sorry, I don’t have any change. I just started my shift.”

WHAT?????

My American mind reels, screaming in my head that people providing services should always begin their shift with change, to make life easier for everyone and to earn money faster. I could certainly forgive someone who started their shift with change, then ran out as the day went on. Completely understandable. But not having change to begin with would seem to be just plain rude.

Still, I have to bite my tongue and remember that I’m a visitor in their country. The local culture has a tendency not to plan ahead, which works just fine for them because they have been blessed with the virtue of patience… something seriously lacking in American culture.

So when a taxi driver says to me, “Sorry, I have no change. I just started my shift”, all I can do is sigh, let go of my inner American, get in touch with my inner Mexican, and answer, “Ok, no problem… let’s go to a gas station for some change.”

Viva Mexico, Cabrones!

Today, September 15, is a special day in Mexico.

Tonight at midnight, we start to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day, September 16.

In the Zocalo (Main Square) of Mexico City, the president will gather with masses of people to give “El Grito” (“The Cry”) at midnight. They’ll be joined by Mexicans all over the country and the world watching them on TV.

El Grito goes something like this (can be changed a bit):

Mexicanos!
¡Viva la Independencia Nacional!; (Long live Mexican Independence!)
┬íVivan los h├ęroes que nos dieron Patria!; (Long live the heroes that gave us our Fatherland!)
┬íVivan los h├ęroes que nos dieron libertad!; (Long live the heroes that gave us freedom!)
¡Viva Hidalgo!; (Long live Hidalgo!)
¡Viva Morelos!; (Long live Morelos!)
¡Viva Allende!; (Long live Allende!)
┬íViva la Corregidora!; (Long live the Corrector… famous woman of independence)
¡Viva Aldama! (Long live Aldama!)
¡Viva Guerrero! (Long live Guerrero!)
¡Viva Mexico!;
¡Viva Mexico!;
¡Viva Mexico!

So tonight, every Mexican will be at some bar, nightclub or house party with family and friends drinking some beer and screaming as loud as they can. Should be fun!


Google's Mexican Independence Day design! Love it!

This year is especially awesome because it’s Mexico’s bicentennial celebration! We’re all very excited.

I don’t work tomorrow, but I’ll get back to you guys on Friday to let you know how my Mexican Independence Day went.

I’ll also be back later today with some awesome bicentennial videos! (Seriously, they’re awesome.)

If you want to read up a little more on the history of El Grito, check out Wikipedia’s article.

**Update: Tropical Storm Karl is threatening to ruin tomorrow’s day off for Mexicans (and me!) throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.

Purse Superstitions

Mexico is known for having many superstitions and old-wives tales. I’m still in the process of learning some of them, and in general I just try to ignore them. One of the ones that affects me the most is the purse rule.

In Mexico, it’s believed that if you leave your purse on the floor, you will have bad luck with money.

This is a problem for me, because I leave my purse on the floor ALL THE TIME. For Mexican women, this is apparently not an option. Normally I try to be understanding and gracious, and I’ve changed certain habits without really knowing why, but this is one area where I just ain’t gonna change. Let me give you a few scenarios of what often happens when I go out to a bar with friends:

1. There is an empty chair at the table. Sweet! No problem. All the girls place their purses on the chair.

2. There is no empty chair, but the chair backs are square-shaped and you can hang your purse on them. Most gals will hang their purse on the back of the chair in this case. Sorry, not for me. I’ve had purses whose handles get stretched/torn up that way. (My purses are usually large, and can be a bit heavy, causing more strain on the handles.) I place mine on the floor. Some lady friends might look visibly upset. When I go to the bathroom and come back, I will often find my purse hung up on the back of my chair. I’ll place it on the floor again, and someone will say, “Don’t put that on the floor!”

3. There is no empty chair, and the chairs have round backs. The Mexican girls will spend the entire evening with their purse in their lap or behind their back.┬á HECK. NO. I might do this if carrying a small clutch. MAYBE. I’ll put my purse on the floor, like a normal person, because eating with a huge purse in your lap is quite uncomfortable. Sometimes everyone will place their purse on top of the table, if there’s room. I find this a bit unsanitary. When was the last time you washed your purse? Maybe I’ll buy them one of these:

Even though my friends get unsettled by this, I keep doing it, for comfort reasons. Despite their best efforts to improve my money luck, my finances are just fine. ­čÖé