Mexico is a beautiful and culturally rich country to visit, so if you have the chance, by all means go. As with every trip, there are certain things you should keep in mind. Here is a list of things that will help you avoiding cultural faux-pas.
Don’t drink water from the tap!
This is not to say that the hygiene is less in Mexico, but your body is used to different bacteria and so it is always safer to stick to bottled water. If you have an especially sensitive stomach, ask for your drinks without ice cubes and stay away from fresh and raw vegetables for your first days. Your body will get used to Mexican food and water in time, so the first days are the days you should pay particular attention.
Don’t compare everything to your home country
Although the public restrooms in your home country might be cleaner or the public transport more comfortable, you don’t always have to remind people of that. Accept Mexico as the place it is and enjoy the new experiences instead of expecting everything to be exactly like at home.
Don’t flush toilet paper
The sewage system might not be as developed as it is at home, and every toilet will be equipped with a trashcan. It might feel weird initially, but it is common to throw your toilet paper in the bin and not down the toilet. Being responsible for a clogged toilet will be much more embarrassing than learning to throw toilet paper in the trash is difficult.
Don’t forget to take toilet paper with you
The quality of toilets will vary from place to place and depend on how rural the area is. But you’ll have a much more pleasant trip if you remember to carry toilet paper with you. Even if you pay attention to what you eat and drink, you might want to be prepared for an unscheduled and extended visit to a public bathroom.
Don’t bring marigolds as a gift
In Mexico, marigolds are associated with death. So if you are invited to dinner, that bouquet of marigolds might not illicit excitement in your host, but remind them of death instead. If your botanical knowledge is limited and you can’t tell a marigold from any other flower, opt for a different gift instead.
Don’t underestimate the chile peppers
Not all Mexican food is spicy, but Mexico did give the world the gift of the chile pepper. There are many varieties to choose from and a rule of thumb is that the smaller chiles are the spicier ones. You might be known among your friends as someone who can handle extremely spicy food, but you’d be advised not to overdo it. The Scoville scale records levels of spiciness you never even imagined.
Don’t expect everyone to be fluent in English
Mexicans that work in the tourist sector are likely to speak great English and a lot of other Mexicans do too, but the national language is still Spanish and that is how Mexicans communicate. Try to show a little bit of appreciation for their culture and learn some phrases or at the very least don’t get exaggerated when someone doesn’t speak English. Repeating your sentence slowly and more loudly won’t help anyone understand you any better.
Don’t marvel at how cheap everything is
For you, Mexico might offer incredible deals and seem dirt cheap. Don’t make Mexicans feel like dirt because of that. You don’t earn your money according to the Mexican economy, so what looks cheap to you might not be cheap to Mexicans at all.
Don’t take the first price offered
Supermarkets will have fixed prices, but in markets, you may have to inquire about the price. Naturally, everyone will always be out to make the best deal for them, so the initial price offer will often be too high. Haggle and try to get the price lowered. You’ll get the hang of it quickly.
Don’t haggle excessively
Although haggling is perfectly acceptable, don’t take it too far. You’re on holiday so you can splurge a bit and it’s not good for your karma if you try to reach a price at which the vendor doesn’t make any profit at all. A dollar is just a dollar to you, but to them it might be worth a lot more.
Don’t be careless with your money
Don’t carry all your cash around with you and try to always have a few small bills or coins at hand. Not everyone will be able to give you change for a large banknote and you will avoid many uncomfortable situations if you are aware of this.
Don’t underestimate crime
Mexico is far less dangerous than the coverage of the war on drugs might make you believe. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any pickpockets, scammers or worse. Be vigilant and exercise caution, just like you would anywhere new.
Don’t underestimate the sun
Sure, the sun also shines where you are from, but there you lead a regular life and are unlikely to spend all day basking in the sun. Wear sunscreen and drink plenty of water, a sunburn will ruin your holiday and be incredibly painful.
Don’t expect the waiter to just bring your bill
When you’re done eating, you should ask the waiter to bring you the bill. They won’t just deliver it to your table when they think you are done. It is customary to tip, so don’t forget to add around 15 percent to your bill.
Don’t offer to split the bill
Splitting the bill is not common in Mexico, so if you’re inviting someone to dine with you, you should pick up the bill. Of course, they might invite you, too. Suggesting to split the bill can lead to an awkward moment with your new friends and the waiter might not know what to do either.
Don’t wear revealing clothes in places of worship
You might want to visit a church while you’re in Mexico. If you do, be sure not to wear a shoulder-less outfit or short pants or skirts. If you’re not sure about your plans for the day, just pack a cardigan in case you pass by a particularly beautiful church you’d like to explore.
Don’t expect every Mexican to want to leave the country
This goes especially for U.S. Americans, who are used to Mexican immigration to the United States. Don’t just assume that every Mexican has a desire to move. Mexicans love their home country just like everyone else, so it would be rude to think they are all just looking for a way out.
Don’t do drugs
Mexico might be a large exporter of drugs, but that doesn’t mean that drug use is legal or even widespread. Don’t risk being jailed for drug-related offences, as they are federal crimes. It’s unlikely that you are traveling with your kick-ass lawyer, so don’t add a stint in a Mexican prison to your CV.
Don’t just stick to what you are used to
Chances are that you are more used to Tex-Mex food and margaritas than to actual Mexican cuisine. Well, you can have those things at home. Mexico has so much great food (and tequila!) to offer, gorge yourself on that instead.
Don’t forget to enjoy your stay in Mexico
Don’t be so busy trying to avoid mistakes or fearing ‘Montezuma’s revenge’ or street crime. Mexico is a fascinating country and you will be able to make so many wonderful memories. So enjoy your travel and take in as much as you can.