Mexicans have a somewhat relaxed sense of time, so be patient. It is common to be 15 minutes late.
When someone, even a complete stranger, sneezes, you always say “¡salud! (“to your wishes” or, more literally, “to your health”): otherwise it is considered rude. In rural areas, especially in central Mexico (Jalisco, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, etc.), a sneeze is followed by the pious “Jesús te bendiga” (May Jesus bless you).
The vast majority of the population is and has been traditionally Catholic, and this faith is still widespread among Mexicans of all socio-economic classes. However, missionary activity in the United States has created a large Protestant community, and there seems to be an Evangelical or Pentecostal church in even the smallest towns. One of the largest Jehovah’s Witness communities in the world is also in Mexico. Smaller communities, such as Mormons and Jews, also live in small concentrated areas throughout the republic. Irreligious people are a small minority, even compared to Mexico’s northern and some southern neighbours, and are found mostly among the upper middle class and highly educated urban population. Saying you don’t believe in God can simply be ignored or lead to long discussions or even attempts at conversion, depending on who you meet.
In many ways, Mexico is still a developing country and attitudes towards LGBT travellers can sometimes be hostile. However, Mexico City and the state of Coahuila have legalised same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court has ruled that such marriages must be recognised by all states in the rest of the republic, tacitly legalising same-sex marriage throughout the country (provided the marriage takes place in Mexico City). Just as it is not fully accepted in rural areas of the United States or Canada, it is not accepted in rural Mexico. But in the cities, the atmosphere is much more relaxed. The south of Mexico City is the best place when it comes to tolerance.
When entering a church, always remove your sunglasses, caps or hats. Wearing shorts is rarely a problem, but always wear a sweatshirt or jumper to the waist to avoid showing too much skin, which could be disrespectful in these places. However, outside of beaches or northern areas, shorts are very rarely worn by Mexicans on the street and therefore draw more attention to you and make you stand out as a foreigner.
Respect the laws of Mexico. Some foreigners believe that Mexico is a country where laws can be broken and police can be bribed at any time. Corruption may be widespread among Mexican police officers and public figures, but since it is a problem that Mexican society has only recently recognised and is working to solve, it is considered extremely disrespectful for foreigners to behave in a way that they expect this easy corruption, and could therefore be used by the police as an excuse to “teach you a lesson in respect”. Remember that offering a bribe to a public official can get you into trouble.
As in other countries, politics, economics and history are very sensitive topics, but in Mexico they are also considered good topics of conversation when talking to foreigners. As in Europe, Canada and the United States, Mexican democracy is dynamic and diverse, and people have a variety of opinions. However, since Mexico has only recently become a truly functioning democracy, Mexicans are eager to share their opinions and political ideas with you. As in your country, common sense applies: if you are not sufficiently familiar with Mexico’s political landscape, ask as many questions as you like, but avoid making too strong statements.
Many US citizens (and to a lesser extent other foreigners) make careless mistakes in their conversations with Mexicans. Mexicans, although strong and robust, can be very sensitive people when it comes to their country. Avoid saying anything that might give the impression that you think Mexico is inferior to your home country. Do not assume that just because you are a US citizen that you are an immediate target for kidnapping, as the vast majority of victims are Mexican. Do not be overly cautious, especially if you have hosts who care about you and know where you should and should not go. This will only offend your host and they will assume that you do not respect or trust Mexico.
Avoid talking about Mexico’s shortcomings. Avoid talking about illegal immigration to the US, drug trafficking or other contentious issues; Mexicans are well aware of their country’s problems and want to forget them from time to time. Instead, talk about the good things about Mexico: the food, the friendly people, the scenery. This will make you a very good friend in a country that can seem threatening if you take it on alone.
Although overt racism is not evident, in general wealth and social status have historically been linked to European ancestry and skin colour. Mexican society is strongly divided by social class, with the rich, middle class and poor often living very separate lives and may have very different cultures. The social practices or tastes of one social group are not necessarily shared by all classes. Clubs, bars and restaurants may largely cater to one group or another, and a richer person or tourist may feel crowded out or receive unwanted attention in a working-class canteen; a seemingly poor person may be blatantly turned away or stared at with unpleasant looks in an exclusive establishment.
There are many words in the country according to ethnic origin:
Do not be offended if you are called “güero(a)” (blonde) and its diminutive form “güerito(a)” (blondie), as it is a common way for the average Mexican citizen to refer mainly to white people, including white Mexicans. The word “gringo” and its synonym “gabacho” are used regardless of the actual nationality of the tourists and should not be considered offensive terms. In fact, they are often used as terms of affection.
If you are originally from East Asia, you are called “Chino(a)” (Chinese) and its diminutive “chinito(a)”, whether you are Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean, etc. The exceptions are in the capital Mexicali and Monterrey, where there is quite a large Korean community. The exceptions are in the capital Mexicali and in Monterrey, where there is quite a large Korean community.
If you are black, “negro(a)” or “negrito(a)” may sound harsh, especially if you are from the United States, but it is not a bad word. Although there are few black people in many parts of Mexico (except on the east and west coasts in the south), Mexicans, especially the younger generation, are not hateful. In fact, one revolutionary who later became the second president was a man of mixed European and African descent, Vicente Guerrero.
Historically, all people from the Middle East were called “Turks” (even if they came from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, etc.).
When trying to use your Spanish to address people, be careful to use the forms “tú” (informal, friendly and “tutear”; which is a verb to call someone “tú”) and “usted” (formal, respectful). Using “tú” can be humiliating for people because it is the form normally used to address children or close friends. For foreigners, the best way to deal with “tú” and “usted” is to address people as “usted” until they are asked to say “tú” or until they are addressed by their first name. This may seem a little old-fashioned but still respectful, while the opposite can be quite rude and embarrassing in some situations. Always use the “usted” form for a law enforcement officer (or other authority figure), even if they may use the “tú” form to speak to you.
Use “usted” unless the person is really your friend, is under 16 or explicitly tells you to use “tú”.
People talk to each other based on their social status, age and friendship. To address a woman, we always call her “señorita” (miss), unless we are sure she is married, in which case we call her “señora” (woman). If you are talking to an older man, use “señor”, regardless of his marital status. If you want to address a waiter, call him “joven”, which means “young man”. You can address someone by their job title (“ingeniero”, “arquitecto”, “doctor”, “oficial”, etc.). In fact, Mexicans use “tú” and “usted”, “first name” or “last name”, depending on the relationship, and the code is not easy to learn.
Although the word “güey” is synonymous with “buddy” or “pal” among young people, it is still considered extremely vulgar among older people. This dismissive expression of affection is only used between people who have reached a certain level of trust, so avoid using it.
In Mexico, “estúpido” means much, much worse than “stupid” in English.
Due to the strongly matriarchal nature of Mexican culture, the word combination “tu madre” (your mother) is cacophonous and considered offensive by residents, regardless of age or gender. If you must use it, remember to replace it with “su señora madre” in formal situations or with the softer “tu mamá” in informal situations. Never use strong language when speaking to a woman.
This can refer to male chauvinism, which is losing popularity but is still perceived and tolerated in small towns or in cities that receive significant numbers of rural migrants. It can be defined as the strong desire and ability of a man to dominate and impose his will on his wife, sister or any other woman close to him. It can also be identified by his desire to prove his mettle through overt bravado and his status through a series of yes-men and henchmen. Although it is not usually aimed at visitors, it can have a variety of merits. The best thing to do is to pretend not to notice and move on.
Another type of machismo that can stem from the same desires but does not have anti-social connotations is male politeness towards women. This is expressed by standing up when a woman enters a room, opening or holding open a door, giving a preference or right of way, giving up a seat, offering a hand when descending a steep flight of stairs, etc. It is a form of male politeness towards women. It is usually reserved for older women or women of great power, merit and social standing. Refusing such kind gestures is considered arrogant or rude.