Recently, members of Merida’s international community have asked me this question with more frequency… I have debated back and forth whether I should post on the topic. After all, I have written about it before… But for those who have missed some earlier articles, this is my take:
In any city of the world, when a minority is small, the locals have no opinion either way, but when that number increases, they start to notice things… There are now A LOT of new internationals living in and around Merida. One figure I heard recently was 20,000 in the city of Merida alone (this number includes all foreign residents – not just English speakers)
To generalize the opinion of ALL Mexicans is impossible, but those I know like “los gringos” – this is what they call all Caucasian foreigners (no matter where they come from: USA, Canada, Europe, Australia – wherever) they use different terms for people who have other racial characteristics: (blacks: los negritos… orientals: los chinitos and so on)
I used to bristle at these monikers but I know they are not meant to be derogatory. After all, the nicknames that Mexican people call one another by (very openly) are quite expletive: Flaco: someone who is thin, Gordo: someone who is fat, Chula: a pretty young woman, Guapo: a handsome young man etc… It is part of the culture to be “descriptive.”
- Not speaking Spanish: It is seen as a lack of respect when new residents don’t bother to learn at least minimal Spanish – enough to be polite and ask basic questions is all that’s expected. This is not hard to do
- Because new residents fail to catch on to the social nuances, they often make mistakes. For example, not greeting everyone as you come into a room is considered to be very rude. Speaking English loudly amongst Spanish speakers is also not looked on as being polite. Watch how locals behave, you’ll catch on.
- Failing to patronize local businesses: Of course there are items you need to buy at the big stores but neighborhood merchants desperately need your business. You’d create a lot of goodwill by purchasing eggs, basic cleaning or hardware supplies, some fruits and veggies, snack items, soft drinks, beer and so on from them.
- Unfriendliness: Newcomers are expected to make the first move. This can be a smile, a nod – whatever. I got to know my neighbors with what I call “cookie diplomacy.” Sometimes when I baked, I would pass some of it out around the neighborhood … I know one Santiago resident who endeared himself to the elderly ladies who live on his street by bringing a chair outside “to enjoy the fresh air”, as he saw they did every evening. Eventually, they asked him to join them.
- Insensitivity: Mexicans have a perception that some people come to live here and embrace all the advantages of the place, but fail to become part of it. One person I know is very critical of a foreigner who came to town, inconvenienced her terribly while renovating an old house next door to hers, over an eight month period… then turned around and sold the place to people who renovated still more.
- Tipping: In Mexico, tips are expected. Right or wrong, service workers depend on them. 15% is the standard amount in a restaurant. Other people: car parkers, grocery store baggers, gas station attendants, garbage pick-up workers, gas and water delivery people etc., etc., all appreciate a gratuity for their attentions. Ten pesos is standard.
- The Help: Those who work for you, even very part-time, must also be treated well. They really appreciate a meal and frequent drinks while working (water, a Coke), and if you can’t provide this, you should give them something to take home. They also are grateful when you offer them clothing and household items you are no longer using.
One other unfortunate thing happens. Mexicans read about how they are portrayed in the foreign press and they sometimes assume that the internationals living here share the opinions. It’s important to let them know you are not of that negative perception. If you were, why would you be here?
Having said all this, I must say that my friends also recognize, and are very appreciative of the community efforts made by the international residents. For example, the spaying and neutering campaign was really seen as a valuable contribution.
So what’s the bottom line? I believe it is: R-E-S-P-E-C-T… if you show this, and consideration for others, you’ll get it back in spades.