How Americans are treated in Mexico depends, which is true anywhere you go. When you’re working with an educated person, it’s a different treatment than if you’re dealing with an uneducated person. An example of an uneducated person is somebody who isn’t familiar with the world, who may have a TV, but hasn’t been exposed to Americans. The name "Gringo", as a matter of fact, is still viewed by a lot of Mexicans as a bad word, because originally, it was, since it meant "take your green money and go."
There are still some Mexicans who don’t know how to deal with you, and when you don’t speak Spanish or even try, then you’re not respected. For example, if you’re saying, “Buenas dias” when it’s really “Buenos dias.”
When I first came to Mexico, I had some conversational Spanish only to prepare me for vacations to Puerto Vallarta or Cancun. We’ve all been there- either spring break, or we’re going to go get hammered for a week, raise hell and flirt with the Mexican señoritas. That was the only Spanish I had, so when I came here, it was time to really learn Spanish. I blurted out a lot of stuff, and my wife used to say, “Goodness, I can’t believe you have no fear.” I had a strong desire to learn, and the only way we learn is to make mistakes.
The Mexican people are wonderful. Once you get past the border towns and come to real Mexico, it’s like going to Kansas in the US. There are real people, and there’s not the glitter about Las Vegas, or the abruptness of New York City, and California’s a whole different planet.
Here in Mexico, there are real people who will help you. The Mexicans will become your best friend. I would rather have a neighbor on each side of me be Mexican than I would an expat, just because American society is more “keep it to yourself” and “mind your own business,” but in Mexico, they know everyone’s business. So if you leave for the weekend and they know it, they’re going to guard your house and look after it. They’re going to bring you some tamales and teach you a little bit of Spanish. They’re going to explain to you how to pay your electric bill before it comes, because when you get your electric bill, it’s already too late, so you’ve got to know to pay it ahead of time.
These are things that I help people with when they move to Lake Chapala. It’s not about buying a house; it’s about learning how to live here. You can have the nicest home in the planet, but if you’re not happy with the place and you don’t fit in the group here, you’re going to sell your house in a year or two. We don’t want that.
We have to teach you how to shop, how to get to the market, how to ride a bus, how to wait in line for the doctor, where and how to pay your bill ahead of time, and understand that Mexicans have more holidays than any other country in the world.
In Mexico, it’s fiesta time all the time. Mexicans have a good attitude- they don’t have the stress that we have. I had a guy tell me, “Hey Felipe. Chill out, man. Have a tequila.” If I get uptight about something, they just say, “Relax. Have a tequila; it will change.” If the light’s not working, work through it. Everyone’s fine. Don’t get stressed out over it.
Americans are treated well in Mexico. Mexicans will treat you better than you treat them. To start with, they will give you the benefit of the doubt. They welcome you to their country; they’re very proud of it, and they will teach you the ways of their country, and when there’s a festival, they will explain to you how and why. Mexicans are very traditional.
Mexicans don’t understand why Gringos always want everything right now. We’re too quick. We have too many drive-through’s of everything: you can drive through and get your drugs or your food. Here in Mexico, it’s more of an event. When they sit down and have their meal of the day, it’s an hour or two-hour thing. Mexicans enjoy that; they enjoy the moment.
Sundays are family day in Mexico. When was the last time you saw a family day? It’s unheard of anymore, because everyone’s doing something else, but in Mexico, grandma rules. I don’t care how tough a “cholo” you are. A cholo is a gangster-like guy, who may be a tough guy, but when he comes home on the weekends or for a Sunday event, grandma will grab him by the ear and jerk him down and say, “You behave.” She still rules.
Mexicans open their doors to the Gringos, and to the expats. They teach you and they help you. If you’re a jerk to them, they won’t have anything to do with you. Some are more educated, they understand where you come from, they understand your social world, and they help you make that transition. The more uneducated people don’t understand you, but instead just want to work for you and make money. They know you have a lot of money, and they don’t want to steal it from you, but they want to get what they can from you. If they are a gardener, they want to garden for you. They want those dollars so that they can get some income.
Mexicans treat expats well. The medical industry will treat you well, as well as the service industry. They are very polite and very formal, and we are not. Us Gringos are very crude and very cold. We might say, “He, Joe!” and wave to you across the street. Mexicans won’t do that. They will walk across the street, shake your hand, ask you how you are, and care about the answer. Every time someone comes into a store or a business, it’s “Buenos dias,” or “Buenas tardes,” and it’s never, “Hey, you got any sodas?” It’s a greeting, and it’s formal.
When you learn to live here in Mexico, you need to learn to be polite and formal, and above all else, respectful. They’re big on that, and you’ll notice that. Even when you’re getting a ticket from a cop, he’s going to greet you first. He’s going to say, “How are you today?” It’s just different. It’s not as cold and hard as it is in other places north of here.
(Family celebrating, Ajijic, Mexico, pictured.)