Mexican culture can often be very difficult for Americans to understand. Their way of life is decidedly more relaxed than the rushed approach we are accustomed to in the United States. Mexican people are typically not as defined by the constraints of time, and the more relaxed way of life they enjoy reflects this. This way of life should be considered when planning meetings in Mexico. It is a necessity for many Mexicans to know who you are as a person before they decide that they want to do business with you.
The view of life in Mexico is substantially different from that in the United States. While the mentality in America is that time is a commodity that should not be wasted, Mexicans view time as more of a gift of life. If a speaker at an event goes over the time allotted them, Americans become impatient with them. Mexicans, on the other hand, feel like they have gotten added value out of the encounter.
What Are Some Important Aspects of Mexican Culture?
There are many aspects to Mexican culture that are confusing to Americans. The most important aspect to understand is that Mexicans are exceedingly polite to others.
Mexicans Have a Hard Time Being Impolite or Not Having Answers to Your Questions
Mexicans find it very difficult when they are unable to help others or answer their questions. The overwhelming need to be polite is illustrated by the many words there are that Mexicans use to say they are sorry. There is "I'm sorry" (lo ciento), "excuse me" (desculpe) and even "with your permission" (con permiso).
This trait is best evidenced when you ask someone in Mexico for directions. They will probably answer you in a roundabout way to get you to the place to which you are going. They want to be kind and helpful to others, but it may be good practice to ask multiple people for directions or help to confirm that you are getting the most reliable information.
Mexicans Are Constantly Greeting Each Other and Are Affectionate in Interactions
Some Americans are overwhelmed when meeting their business colleagues and the colleagues’ families in Mexico. There is a high level of formality and depersonalization in American business interactions. This is not true of many other cultures, including Mexican culture. They view family and friendships as inexorably intertwined with their business lives. When you meet the family or friends of a Mexican colleague, there might be an introduction of you to every person, and vice versa. This can be uplifting and enjoyable, but can also be exhausting.
Mexicans Have Different Use of Language Than You Expect
Spanish is one of the easier languages to learn, especially since it is phonetic, but are you sure you are saying the right thing? The use of the word "mandé" versus "que" is one example. Although many Americans in Spanish classes learn to use "que" for "what," Mexicans often use the word "mande," which means "pardon?". Subtle features that are specific to Mexican Spanish need to be learned to help you function in the best way possible. The overlap of the formal and casual linguistic usage is also reflected in the overlap between one's professional and personal life.
Using the modifier "ita" at the end of words such as "ahora" is intended to lessen formality, but it can also lead to some befuddlement. As a matter of fact, the way in which the Mexican culture uses it can be very confusing. For example, sometimes the word "ahoracita" is just a polite yet indirect way of saying "no." One needs to not only listen to the words that are said, but they also need to listen to the way in whichthey are said.
What Are Some Unique Mexican Traditions?
Some unique Mexican traditions might be familiar, some not as much. There are a few that are quite well known:
This is the celebration of a young girl's fifteenth birthday and has long been considered an important cultural milestone in Mexican communities. In the modern era, they have become ridiculously lavish, and some more liberated Mexican women are asking if it is appropriate to "present" your daughter's womanhood with disregard for her personhood. This generational dispute may redefine the role of the Quinceanera from this point on.
Spices and flavors
There have been whole mythologies created based on the idea that Americans all get "Montezuma's Revenge" when visiting Mexico. The main reason this myth has flourished is based on an American misunderstanding as to how other cultures spice their food. Some of this is due to the Mexican custom of downplaying the spiciness of food they are eating or the hot sauce they are using. Many Americans tend to believe the food is not spicy because a vendor tells them so, then find themselves rushing to get a glass of milk when they actually try the food.
The other traditional spices for seasoning are ones you now see in American foods all the time. Mexican people will put chili powder, salt and lime, also known as the spices in Tajin, on everything they eat. Right now, the most popular items to put this mixture on are fruits such as jicama and apples. It is also popular on snack foods like chips as the sweet/salty taste cannot be beat.
Attitude Toward Time
The challenge Americans face in understanding how Mexicans view time reflects a basic lack of understanding of how Mexicans view the world. Whereas time is seen as a commodity to be used or wasted in America, it is seen in Mexico as more flexible and allowing for spontaneity. The largest amount of confusion comes from the use of the word "ahora" or "ahoracita." Most Americans learn that "ahora" means now, so when they ask what time something is due or will be ready, they assume it will be done soon if someone tells them "ahoracita." That is not always the case.
Tips for Foreigners Trying to Navigate the World of Mexican Culture and Traditions
Learn about the Personal Lives of Your Employees
The role of the family in the daily life of Mexicans cannot be understated. It is very important for your colleague to get to know you as a person before they decide they want to do business with you. If you seem hesitant to reveal details about your non-work life, it might make them wonder if you are holding back in other areas as well. This can reflect badly on what they see as your potential honesty in business dealings.
Also, the role of family is valued much more by employers in Mexico than it is by those in the United States. If an employee asks for time off for a family event or to pick up their child, the employer does not view it negatively. It is not seen as an affront to the business as it would be in the United States.
Get Comfortable Being Physical
Although you may not consider yourself a touchy-feely person or you are not comfortable with physical contact, it will be necessary for you to overcome this hangup to interact successfully in Mexican culture. One cheek kiss with your head tilted to the left is the standard greeting in Mexico and shaking hands rather than just introducing yourself is the norm in business meetings.
It is not unusual to see women kiss on both cheeks and men hugging in social settings. Another sign of affection that is shown is a shoulder touch during a conversation, as it indicates that your companion is engaged with your presence.
Negotiating Agreements and Managing Mexican Employees
The idea of "respecto," or respect, is a key concept in Mexican cultural identity. Even though the formal and informal overlap in language and personal relationships in Mexico, there is also a formal chain of command followed at most places of work. The employees must view managers as capable and deserving of their positions. There is an emphasis on hierarchy, but one must also be a benevolent manager to maintain the confidence of their employees. There is a tremendous respect for education and college degrees, as shown in the words used to address doctors, teachers, and other professionals.
There are substantial differences between Mexican culture and the way things are done in America. Many people enjoy the slower pace of life that Mexican culture has to offer. The existence of friendly relationships in both the business and personal spheres are of paramount importance to the people of Mexico. The effusive greetings and intimate treatment of business associates may feel foreign to those from the United States, but the Mexican culture is driven by this familial ideology.
Try to be friendly, polite and patient and you will do well in Mexico. If you are considering moving to Mexico, you might be in for a large culture shock. However, you may also find that the move is just what the doctor ordered as far as quality of life.