Things You Should Never Say to a Mexican, Ever

Metro in Mexico City, Mexico
Metro in Mexico City, Mexico | Photo by Alejandro on Unsplash
Stephen Woodman

Mexicans are a welcoming bunch, but there are a few things you should avoid saying as a foreign guest. As with any country, it is important to be aware of cultural etiquette and taboo subjects during a vacation in Mexico. Here is a list of the things you should never say to a Mexican.

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This is my first time in Central/South America

Where do you want to go?

Geography knowledge is of great benefit in Mexico, a country which many foreigners believe is in Central or even South America. Mexico is actually a part of North America, which is why it is included in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) along with Canada and the United States.

The flag of Mexico

There are 289 individual languages spoken in Mexico, according to Ethnologue, a publication that provides a linguistic profile of the world. However, none of these languages is called Mexican. The word “Mexican” refers to the nationality, not to any language. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in the country, with more than 99 percent of people speaking it.

How much money do you make?

Mexican money

When it comes to money, Mexicans are private, so asking about personal finances is a taboo subject. Although this information may be shared between close friends, asking strangers about their salary is a definite no-no.

Chilango

You might hear this word used to describe a Mexico City resident, but avoid using it yourself. The word has pejorative connotations and you’re likely to lose friends in the capital if you start casually employing it.

I don’t like Mexican food

A mixed taco plate served with an all-natural-flavored Jarritos Pineapple Mexican Soda.

Mexicans are proud of their culinary culture, and they are not the only people to recognize that their food is mouth-wateringly delicious. UNESCO even added Mexican cuisine to its cultural heritage list in 2010. Avoid generalizing about Mexican food, which is very diverse, with each region using different ingredients and techniques. There is a whole lot more to Mexican cuisine than Taco Bell, so it is best to leave narrow-minded notions of melted cheese and burritos at home.

‘Estupido’ (stupid)

I’m sure you can think of many more offensive words in English than stupid. But the Spanish equivalent, “estupido,” is much more powerful and shouldn’t be used lightly. Never call anyone else “estupido” and avoid using it in any context, even when referring to yourself and those stupid little mistakes we all make from time to time.

‘Coger’ (to take)

Taxi in Granada, Ciudad de México, México

This verb, which means “to take,” is used in Spain all the time, especially in the context of “taking the bus” or “taking the metro.” In Mexico and throughout Latin America, the word is certain to trigger giggling, because “coger” is a synonym for a certain four letter word in English. Never suggest anyone coger a taxi.

Blasphemous curse words

Those fun curse words you picked up in Barcelona are not going to impress people in Mexico City. Certain blasphemous phrases that are common and casually used in Spain would be regarded as shocking and offensive by most locals in Mexico, which remains a deeply religious society. Although Mexico does have its own impressive pantheon of swear words, God, heaven and the Virgin Mary are treated with reverence.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Ángel de la Independencia, Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City, Mexico

Cinco de Mayo, or May 5, is celebrated to commemorate the Mexican Army’s victory over the French during the Battle of Puebla in 1862. In the United States, the day has come to be a celebration of Mexican-American culture, but it has no such importance in Mexico, where the battle is only marked by the odd military parade. Instead, Independence Day on September 16 is the day given over to the celebration of all things Mexican.

‘Tú’ to an older stranger

The formal “usted,” the polite version of you, is still used in Mexico for conversations with a boss, an older stranger or anyone else you would like to show respect to, rather than suggest familiarity. Mexican society is sensitive to status and the use of “usted” is more common than in Spain. As a general rule, “tú,” the informal form of you, is reserved for friends, children and family.

Yet to complicate things, you sometimes have to be careful using “usted” when you are talking to under 50s – some people may take it as a comment on the age.

Hurry up!

What’s the time?

Patience is a virtue, especially in Mexico. Don’t take it personally if people are late for appointments or guests turn up two to three hours after the party was supposed to start. There are many reasons for the lateness: a delayed bus or the heaving traffic – but you’ll soon realize that the main reason is cultural. Time in Mexico is flexible and trying to impose foreign standards of punctuality is a sure path to frustration.

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