After nearly two and a half years in Saltillo, I’m still making regular observations about the differences between Mexican culture and my own. I feel like I always need to preface these posts by saying that no culture is better or worse-they’re just very distinct 🙂
Here are some recent observations:
On Food: I’m officially taking medicine for either acid reflux or gastritis because I’ve destroyed my stomach from eating so much spicy food (as I type this I may or may not be eating chilaquiles…). What I don’t understand is why every Mexican isn’t also suffering from acid reflux or gastritis, because, in comparison, I eat much less spicy food than they do. I pretty much eat everything here. The only thing I’m not crazy about is mole. It’s a savory sauce used with a lot of different, unfamiliar-to-me spices (chocolate being one…what?) that’s usually eaten with chicken. While I can’t say I hate it, the flavor is just too bizarre to enjoy.
On Spanish: Since July, I’ve been working in a 100% Spanish environment (at Berlitz, I used English about 75% of the time). While I can see that I’ve made huge strides in my fluency in the last 8 months, there’s some things I still feel very uncomfortable doing in Spanish. One such thing is talking about a specific subject (where they might be a lot of vocabulary I’m not familiar with/don’t use in everyday life). For example, a couple of weeks ago, there was a group of volunteers from Texas that were with us at work for a few days. Two of the men from the group, an engineer and rancher, respectively, talked about their two jobs during our career class, and it was my job to translate their talks into Spanish. While I did have the sense to look of some basic engineering and ranching vocabulary in Spanish ahead of time, very early into the talk I realized I was in over my head (how do I describe this geometrical concept in Spanish when I literally don’t even understand it in English? what’s the right way to say “brand a cow”?). I did my best, and as always, the point in communicating in another language is to be understood, not necessarily for everything to be perfect.
On Unedited Music: I guess playing unedited music in English in public places here isn’t a big deal because everyone speaks Spanish and most people don’t understand. However, it always catches me off guard. Just tonight, I went to my usual dance class at my gym and the instructor used one unedited rap song which had horrible and disgusting lyrics and I felt really uncomfortable, especially because many of the people in the class are older, conservative women. If they had only known. (To be fair, this also happened to me when I went to the Philippines in 2007 when Akon’s “I Wanna Love You” was circulating the globe. I was in the car with a pastor of all people, when the unedited version came on the radio [not very hard to guess how that goes]. I fully expected him to turn the station because the pastor spoke English, but when he never did I just felt so awkward).
On Tipping: You’re expected to tip so many people here. I always freak out when I don’t have coins because, literally, you always need them to tip someone. While I have fully adapted the custom of tipping the volunteers (usually sweet elderly people) that bag your groceries at HEB, I refuse to tip the guys who “watch your car” in restaurant parking lots. These men are not officially employed by the business (although I imagine that the business does give them permission to take care of the cars in the parking lot). I would be more inclined to tip them if they were officially employed by the business or were actual security guards, but I don’t think they could really do much if my car was getting broken into. Thus I feel no need to tip them (I do sometimes pay them to wash my car, however, when they offer). Once, Carlos and I went to eat at a restaurant on one of Saltillo’s busiest streets. We managed to find a close parking spot and the restaurant had marked signs everywhere saying that parking was free. After we ate and were walking back to the car, we were approached by the “parking lot attendant” for a tip and I was annoyed when Carlos gave him one 😛 In my opinion, if the restaurant claims to have free parking, they should ensure that no one is asking their customers for a tip in their parking lots. But maybe Mexicans are just used to it?
On Being Stereotyped: Just yesterday I got together with a friend and one of her other friends was there, too. The friend of my friend had lived for a year in Texas when she was in high school. She asked me where I would like to raise my kids someday, and after I answered, she told me that Mexico would be better because all Americans are liberal, do drugs, live with various partners and never get married, and it’s normal for girls to have multiple kids with different dads (I was thinking to myself that she must not be familiar with the subculture that is conservative homeschooling that was my life). I know, sadly, that this is not unusual behavior in the US today, but you can hardly say that all Americans are like that.
Though I certainly have my days where I want to move to the US yesterday, living in Mexico has undoubtedly been one of the highlights of my life. I’m grateful for the ups and downs and for everything that I’ve been forced to learn in order to adjust to a life here.