How Cultural Differences Impact Life for Newcomers in Mexico
Many people who come to Mexico for the first time arrive with preconceived notions. Unconscious cultural filters dictate newcomers´ perceptions of how things are going to work in their new country. This is especially true when they have no prior intercultural experience. In many instances, ethnocentrism sets in - The belief in the centrality of one’s own culture. This can lead to judging the host culture by the standards of one’s own.
In the area of healthcare, for example, newcomers arrive thinking that they can show their insurance card at the doctor´s office and that the doctor will not only pull up their medical records, but also bill them later. When Mexican hospitals and doctors demand payment up front even though patients have insurance, they are taken aback. They frequently counter the impact of these differences with frustration: They assume a kind of Western superiority; or see Mexico as a “developing nation” that hasn´t learned yet to follow the Western model. They say to me; “Melanie, isn´t my health insurance going to take care of this?” Others call the Mexican Red Cross in a medical emergency and expect that the operator speaks English. They may also expect the operator to understand what they are saying, even with the complication of a Texan or Canadian regional accent.
So, what can newcomers to Mexico do to overcome these effects of ethnocentrism before they encounter the difficulties I have outlined?
- Become familiar with Mexican culture, history, and customs.
- Read articles on this website (“The Best Places in the World to Retire”).
- Join Facebook groups like Expats Living in Mexico
- Spend time in Mexico (several weeks or more) before finalizing a decision to move permanently.
- While visiting Mexico, reach out to the local communities (English-speaking Mexicans and expats) to find out about the cultural nuances of living in Mexico.
- Contact local healthcare, real estate, housing, and other bilingual professionals.
- Connect with full-time expats in Mexico on Facebook.
- Check out anything you learn or hear with others before believing it is true. Be vigilant in pursuing the truth behind your presumptions.
Expats are normally eager to offer personal opinions and advice on how things work, although each person will offer his or her own cultural filter and bias. Some expats become more immersed in Mexican culture than others, regardless of how many years they may have lived in Mexico. Seek out those who are the most bicultural and bilingual. They will be able to offer the most accurate information.