Live long enough in Mexico and eat enough tacos and you will inevitably find yourself, head-tilted, pinkie in the air with the other four fingers gently pinching together two sides of a tortilla overflowing with deliciousness. Tilting your head instead of your taco simply makes good sense (that way you don’t lose all the juicy goodness), the pinkie in the air like a royal at tea… who knows!
Most foreigners who live in Mexico will tell you that their staple products in the refrigerator will make a slight shift. While you will most likely still treasure your jar of peanut butter, vegemite or dulce de leche, you’ll begin to notice that there is a constant supply of limes, salsa, and tortillas in your stash too that now you simply couldn’t live without.
Mexican fondas and street stands resound with the sounds of provecho!, Mexico’s bon appetit, all during the lunch hour. As a matter of etiquette you’ll find that if you don’t say it to those eating around you (both when you arrive and when you leave) you will stick out like a sore (rude) thumb. It’ll take some reminding at first but eventually it will roll off your tongue without a thought.
Although a few hold-outs live in Mexico for many years and never get the salsa bug, for most of us, it’s just a matter of time before we are adding hot sauce or spicy salsa to eggs, pizza, potato chips, and everything else within sight. While thresholds vary, most foreigners eventually succumb to their craving for spice, since even salsas that Mexicans say “no pica” (“it’s not spicy”) tend to have a little heat.
Along with saying “Provecho!” to random diners you pass with a mouthful of food, Mexico will teach you to talk to strangers on a regular basis. People get into a crowded bus and greet the crowd, someone passing you on the street will always say “salud” when you sneeze if they are close enough to hear it and “premiso” which means, “excuse me, can I please pass,” is a vital pass phrase for interaction in a culture that likes to mix and mingle in public spaces like markets, parks and street festivals.
Eating on the street is an integral part of what it means to live in Mexico. Walk out your door in the morning and the first dozen people you pass are likely all to be eating something – tamales, popsicles, potato chips covered in valentina sauce, fruit in cup with lime and chile, or, the breakfast of champions – tacos. Spend any amount of time in the country and you will learn the joys of street eating. You’ll wonder why you ever ate inside.
And while other places around the world may give this country a run for its money in regards to noise, many foreigners living here have perfected the art of blocking out the constant sound. Everyday the gas guy announces his presence with a call or a song, the sweet potato vendor has a piercing whistle, the trash guys hammer away on a bell to let you know it’s time to bring out your trash – and that’s just in the city. In the country it’s the local high school brass band practicing out on the field, dogs barking, construction, and fireworks every night of the year!
Latinos in general have a much more relaxed attitude about being on time. Mexicans are no different. No matter how strict and principled you are about being on time when you arrive to Mexico, after a few years you will find yourself justifying being 10 or 15 minutes late. Not to mention that you will simply expect people to be a few minutes late for meetings both formal and casual – it’s up to you if you let it drive you crazy for the rest of your life or not!
Highways and byways are notriously low on signage in Mexico, often with an exit sign only popping up a short distance before the turn off. Major cities like the capital are also jammed with dozens of streets in different neighborhoods with the same name, so you better know where you are going to use google maps. This in addition to the fact that folks here so genuinely desire to be helpful that they will give you directions even if they don’t know where you are going. But if life is a journey, getting lost is part of the adventure. Just expect to get lost now and again and you will breeze through life in Mexico.
Mexicans are particular to their love of the diminutive in language. So, regalo (gift) becomes regalito (little gift), comida (lunch) because comidita (little lunch), ahora (now) becomes ahorita (don’t even try to understand the meaning of that). Once you start to speak the language, being surrounded by Mexican Spanish speakers you are bound to pick up this little habit.
Many other cultures around the world greet by kissing on the cheek, sometimes once, sometimes twice and somtimes three times, but for anyone coming from a place where kissing on the cheek isn’t common, it can take some getting used to. However, once you get in the zone kissing cheeks you will evitably find yourself carrying it to your homeland on vacation, freaking out old acquantainces and new with your new-found manner of greeting.