El Gabacho in Mexico… five things to know when you leave the beaten track in Mexico

Mexico for me has always revolved around people.  Secluded beaches are nice, but I’ll take a table on the zocalo with friends any day.  The problem is if you are not well versed in the culture and language, you can get your self into some dicey situations.  That happens when you throw caution to the wind and resolve to not just observe the culture from a safe chaise around the pool or at the beach.

But that is all part of the joy of learning to live, thrive and become accepted in Mexico.  I could share with you enough lessons to fill an entire book, but today you get only five.

Are they the most important?  Who knows.  It will probably depend on where you are and who you are with.  One thing I know for sure, if you can master these 5 lessons, you will be on your way to a better understanding of the people and culture of My Mexico!

A "taco" in Mexico can be an entire meal

A “taco” in Mexico can be an entire meal

A taco is a taco, unless it’s an entire meal.  I was in a small village, had already eaten a big breakfast when my friend Gloria asked me if I was hungry.  I said no, but she begged me to sit with her anyway and have a taco. Trying to be polite, and because I can always eat a taco, I said yes.

In just a few minutes my taco arrived.  It was a full plate of huevos, frijoles, arroz, tortillas and of course salsa.  So how do you know?  You just do, but one way to be sure you’re going to get a taco is to be at an actual taco stand.

Many words can sound alike, so unless you are sure, be careful.  There is famous story among a group of churches in Ensenada about an American who preached a wonderful sermon about spiritual donuts [donas].  Too bad he thought he was preaching about spiritual gifts [dones].

You should never ask for your carne to be “bien rosada”, and always be careful when you hear the equally treacherous ahorita/horita conundrum.  But perhaps the most dangerous mixups involve the Spanish words for a comb, penne pasta and a certain part of the male anatomy.

Misuse of any of these words, which sound incredibly similar to the gabacho ear will almost always bring you a night of embarrassment.  Proceed with caution!

Time is different in Mexico.  There’s a saying in America that goes like this… “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. To be late is unforgivable.”  The key thing here is that this phrase is popular in the US, not Mexico.  If you get an invitation to a party south of the border and arrive at the time listed, chances are you’ll be pretty lonely while you wait for everyone else to arrive.

Few get there exactly on time, turning the American ideal of time management upside down.  Once you realize that relationships are more important than the clock, and that the culture lives by this axiom, you’ll do fine.

It’s never just ahead, or around the corner.  This is useful to know if you are ever giving someone a lift in the more rural areas, because for them, it’s always just ahead.  Just ahead, or around the corner for me has at various times meant “and up that dirt road” “and across that river” “and then another 10 kilometers.”

All of this is to say, dropping someone off is never as easy as it sounds, and is going to take longer than you expected.  Even before you have to go in for a cup of coffee that will almost certainly be offered and would be offensive to refuse.

Finally, hot coffee cools you off.  Really! At least that’s the theory.

I was sitting with a friend in a house years ago in Guadalajara before the summer rains started.  That meant it was humid and steaming hot.  More so in a house with few windows and little or no ventilation.

I remember sitting there with sweat running down my face when our hosts brought out a tray of steaming mugs of coffee.  Seeing the look of surprise on our faces, she explained how drinking something steaming hot, on a warm summer day will actually help you feel cooler.

Now, if you’ve got others, help us out.  Who knows, maybe they’ll make the next installment.

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