Category Archives: In My Opinion
Culture and Courtesy… Being a Better Traveler in Mexico
By: Lisa Coleman
I’m sure you’ve heard “when in Rome…. do as the Romans do,” but when stepping into a foreign country it’s really worth considering these words a bit more carefully. The saying originated in 387 A.D. when St. Augustine arrived in Milan and observed the Catholic Church did not fast on Saturday like it was done in Rome. He consulted the Bishop of Milan (St. Ambrose) about the matter who simply replied: “When I am in Rome I fast on Saturday; when I am in Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of where you are.” That sentiment has stood the test of time and can really make a difference when visiting Mexico, or any other country for that matter.
I have traveled the world and feel there is nothing more frustrating than watching “ugly Americans” (Canadians are guilty, too!) being rude or disrespectful to the local people. Regardless of whether it’s an all-inclusive in Cancun where everyone speaks English, or an eco-hotel in the remote jungle of Chiapas, you are still a guest in Mexico… you are still visiting someone’s home. As a citizen of the world, you owe it to yourself and your hosts to take the time to understand the basics of the Mexican culture and to embrace their hospitality with the respect it deserves. I have seen bad manners exhibited many times in Mexico, so I am hoping to shed a little light on some common courtesies that may change your travel experience. At the very least, it will bring a smile to your Mexican hosts!
First, let’s talk about changing your mindset when you plan a trip to Mexico and switch from being a tourist to being a traveler. What’s the difference? Plenty…
• A tourist expects (and insists) everyone speaks English. A traveler tries to use even the most basic high school Spanish to make an effort.
• A tourist is content to hang out at the swim-up bar getting lobster-red sunburn while becoming louder, drunker, and more obnoxious by the minute. The traveler heads into town, checks out the local markets, tries to make heads or tails of the menus at local restaurants and takes the time to stroll the streets, smile at the people and take in the flavor and color of the place they are visiting.
• A tourist goes to the local McDonalds, American chain restaurant, or orders a hamburger at the hotel. A traveler will find out where the best local dishes are served and at the very least give them a try.
• A tourist is content to be part of a group and to take large tours to all the most famous spots. A traveler tends to rent a car with a few other people (or solo) and explore the area on their own.
That list could go on forever, but you get the idea.
Mexico is also far more formal than many would think. If you know anything about Mexican history, you know the Spanish had a tremendous influence on the people and culture of the country. The early Spanish overlords who came to Mexico in the 1500s brought the etiquette of the Royal Court of Spain, and many of those formalities still exist. As a rule, the Mexicans have maintained this cortesía, and it’s important that foreigners be aware and sensitive to not insulting the dignidad of the people they encounter.
• For starters, it helps to use Señor (Mr.) or Señora (Mrs.) with the men or women you encounter. Mexicans always address by social status and this immediately shows respect and will be a quick step in the right direction. (Señorita would be used to address a young, unmarried woman and is similar to Miss.)
• In a restaurant, if you wish to call the waiter, you generally use the term Joven (Ho-ven). Though it means “young person,” it is an accepted term for all waiters. If you have a waitress, Señorita is appropriate. Snapping your fingers? Never.
• “Please” (por favor) and “Thank You” (gracias) are a given if you’d like to ask an employee (or anyone for that matter) to do something. Look them in the eye and be sincere, it will take you a long way.
• Americans tend to enter a room of strangers and only say hello in passing, if at all. They are usually casual, self absorbed and miss the almost constant greetings by their Mexican counterparts. Whether it’s in a public place with strangers, or with people you already know, say buenos días (good morning), buenas tardes (good afternoon) or buenas noches (good evening) to those you see. You’ll notice smiles right away.
• Being humble is a cultural virtue often forgotten by visitors. Mexicans will always welcome you when you arrive to your destination and refer to their home or even your hotel as su casa (your house). They are modest and truly want you to feel at home in their country. Keep an eye out for that and be sure to thank them for their hospitality.
• If you can’t speak Spanish, don’t insult the local people by shouting louder and slower in English. It’s rude and it doesn’t change the fact that they don’t understand. They will appreciate any effort you make, regardless of your skill level.
• YES it is customary to tip in Mexico. Here is a great article for reference: http://gomexico.about.com/od/historyculture/qt/tipping_in_mexico.htm
• Come to a church just as you would at home. Be aware when entering and always take off sunglasses, baseball caps or hats. Wearing shorts is rarely an issue in the beach areas, but women should take care to wear a wrap or sweater to the waist to avoid showing too much skin, which could viewed disrespectful in such places.
• The beach is the beach, but away from the resort areas shorts are very rarely worn by Mexicans on the street. Be cognizant of how you look and avoid drawing too much attention to yourself as a foreigner. Never wear shorts to a business event or to a restaurant outside the immediate resort area.
The Mexican culture isn’t overly complex. It’s built on simplicity, humility and courtesy. The people are tremendously warm and inviting, and genuinely care about their guests. Whether you’re a tourist, a traveler, or a little of both, take an extra few minutes to embrace Mexico at its core and I think you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation of a country waiting to invite you home.
This article was originally posted on www.mexicotoday.org. Click to read all the latest Mexico news.
Should You Move to Mexico?
It seems like a simple enough question, doesn’t it? You are at point in your life when a major change is possible. You’ve traveled to a few places in Mexico, kicked back on the beach at sunset with a cold cerveza and thought “I really like this place – the weather is perfect, prices are good, the people are amazing – yes, maybe I could make this happen.” And then, of course, most of us go back home and dutifully fall into the familiar daily grind, only occasionally allowing ourselves to remember that day on the beach and the possible plan that always seems…just out of reach.
But now, more and more of us are acting on those elusive dreams. For many that time in life has arrived when the impossible becomes the possible, the impractical becomes “just maybe.” The Baby Boomers, those ‘60’s counterculture rebels-in-waiting, have worked for 40 years and are finally ready to be the people they remember they were. At the core, they are still the backpackers and wanderers, the idealists and the dreamers. And Mexico, after all, is so close, and it has all those warm beaches, and history, and food carts serving those mesquite tacos…just maybe.
And it’s not just the Boomers. The internet has changed everything over the past 20 years. Today you find younger gringos, many with families, living in Mexico. They have web-based businesses they can run from anywhere, or they have started a physical business in Mexico – a restaurant, a tour business, a real estate office. They live in a Mexican neighborhood and are learning Spanish. They have discovered the concept of community, a soul-satisfying lifestyle that has all but disappeared in many towns and cities north of the border.
Moving to another country, without doubt, is a big deal, and requires extensive research and planning. That beautiful little colonial town in the highlands seemed like a place you could call home forever when you visited for that one idyllic week last year. As did the fishing village where you spent two weeks last Christmas – well before the rainy season with all the bugs and humidity that no one thought to mention to you. Finding your spot, the place that you could live, requires that you spend some time there, summer and winter. You need to see if you can adjust to the pace, the daily life challenges, the Mexican way.
Pick several places that you think you could live. Do extensive research on the net, read the blogs and join the discussion groups. Ask questions from people who are in Mexico. Learn all that you can, and then plan a road trip, either by car, bus, plane or most likely a combination of all three. Initially, spend at least a few days in the places you are considering. Look at the neighborhoods where you might live, not just the tourist area. How is the local transportation, the town infrastructure, the cultural options? Can you get back to the US or Canada directly if you need to without sitting all day in the Mexico City airport waiting for your flight. If you’re on the ocean is the water actually accessible for safe swimming? How are the medical services? That is a big issue. How will you spend your days? If you are retiring, what are you going to do with yourself? Will you soon be bored, waiting for happy-hour every day? These are just some of the many questions you will need to answer before you haul all your things down there to set up house and a new life.
I am always asked “where is the best place in Mexico?” And, of course, it is impossible to answer. It is a different place for everyone, and is answered from the heart more than the head. For me it is the West Coast of mainland Mexico, in the states of Nayarit, Jalisco and Colima. I like the jungle, warm water, and crashing surf. I like to watch the sun set over the sea and the discovery of a beach with no footprints that I haven’t seen before. Yes, for me, that is the best place in Mexico, I answer them.
So, is Mexico for you? It is estimated that about a million Americans and Canadians live at least a few months in Mexico every year. I know many of them, and most have told me it is the best decision they have ever made. They feel safe, leading full, interesting lives, and wouldn’t go back full time to their old hometowns if you paid them to. They have discovered that it’s never too late to be that person they remember. How about you?
This article was oringally published on www.mexicotoday.org . Click to visit the site for all current Mexico news.
Mexico, Tourism and the Future
By: Lisa Coleman
Mexico recently stepped onto the world stage, and this time it was for all the right reasons. It’s no secret the headlines don’t do Mexico many favors, but perhaps the tides are turning. Perhaps there will be some much needed focus on the good news in Mexico… because there IS good news… and lots of it.
I recently returned from a trip to the Riviera Maya for the WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council – www.wttc.org) inaugural Regional Summit of the Americas event, which celebrates the economic and social contribution of Travel & Tourism in a particular region (but also addresses the real challenges the industry faces). This was significant for Mexico on many levels, but primarily because it brought together world and industry leaders who understand the importance of tourism.
Tourism defines Mexico, and even in times of trouble, it is this industry that continues to soar and continues to elevate their economy. Travel & Tourism sustained a total of 6.3 million direct, indirect and induced jobs in Mexico in 2011. And for every US$1 million spent on travel and tourism, it generates a further US$1.5 million to the Mexican economy as a whole, as well as 66 jobs per (compared to an average of 42 for all sectors). The Travel & Tourism industry generates more jobs than all other sectors considered – double that of the automotive industry, twenty times that of mining and six times that of the financial services sector.
The very fact that something as prestigious as the WTTC would host an event in Mexico is also sending a powerful message to economies of the world… Mexico is here to stay and is a global leader in tourism. Having been to countless tourism events hosted in and by Mexico over the last 20 years, this was by far the most productive and forward thinking of the bunch. The WTTC has spearheaded global analysis of the economic impact of Travel & Tourism for over 20 years, and is dedicated to measuring the influence of this sector to the GDP (gross domestic product), income and employment in 181 countries. So to have Mexico stand tall amongst this crowd is indeed an accomplishment.
Unlike some events I’ve attended on tourism, this felt very intimate and real, not to mention the laundry list of heavy-hitters on the discussion panels and in attendance. The Summit was co-chaired by WTTC President & CEO David Scowsill and was highlighted by speakers like President Calderón, the Mexico Tourism Secretary, Gloria Guevara, Taleb Rifai, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization, WTTC Chairman (and Chairman of the Executive Board of TUI AG-Europe’s leading travel group), Michael Frenzel, film director, actor and environmentalist Robert Redford, and the Mexican billionaire businessman and philanthropist Carlos Slim.
They all touched on (to varying degrees) the strength of Mexico’s economy. Stats show the Mexican economy has been growing at a sustainable rate of 3.5-5.5% over the past three years, numbers that President Calderón was more than happy to boast about (and I don’t blame him). Both Calderón and Secretary Guevara drilled it down to the direct industry GDP of Mexico’s Travel & Tourism, noting this particular sector expanded 58% between 1990 and 2011, while the total economy expanded 72%. Based on further data compiled by the WTTC, that number is expected to grow at an annual average of 4.4% over the next decade.
Those are powerful, positive numbers for not only Mexican destinations, resorts, airlines and tour operators, but compelling news for those in the travel business worldwide. It’s also a testament to the success of tackling security issues head on. It’s clear that Mexico’s efforts to educate the travel audience are gaining a foothold, and tourists are believing and understanding the message. And with an election just months away, a new president and a new administration will undoubtedly keep the ball rolling.
With the endless negative press about Mexico, you have to dig deep in the news to find the good stuff. But here, in this arena, at a global event, the good news seemed to finally be in spotlight. I felt lucky to have been a part of all of it and to have had the rare opportunity to learn from world and industry leaders. Keep in mind the reality of Mexico’s image problem, safety issues and other challenges weren’t pushed aside, but the panel discussions here were geared to be part of the solution. As a journalist, tourist and traveler, I embraced a forum that really addressed Mexico’s (and the world’s) position on tourism and its extraordinary impact on economies of all scales.
* This article was originally published on www.mexicotoday.org. Click for all Mexico’s current news.
The Blue Tarp School
By David Simmonds
It was the summer of 1980 when David Lynch, a special-ed teacher from Long Island, New York, traveled to Tijuana with some others to volunteer in a colonia by the municipal dump. As David tells the story, the kids in the colonia were the children of the “trash pickers”, or pepenadores. That is how they made a meager living, by recycling other people’s trash. He quickly noticed that they had no school to attend, so he spread a blue tarp on the ground and asked the kids to join him there. Every day more kids would show up and David would do what he does – teach. Now, 31 years have passed and David is still there. Over 6,000 kids have attended the school and have had their lives forever changed because one man decided to do something bigger than himself.
Illustrated by Hernan Sosa
Thanks to word-of-mouth and media coverage there is now a two-story school built on the original blue tarp site, built with donations (including Susan Sarandon) and a lot of hard work. Felipe Gonzales was one of David’s first students, one of the dump worker’s sons. He is now a teacher at the school, one who knows how important it is to be given an education – a chance at a better life. Many other students have gone on to lead equally productive lives as professionals, shop owners, factory workers and on and on.
I met David Lynch when my son, Tanner, a high school junior (who has just been elected ASB President), was looking for a community service project in which to be involved. His research led him to call David Lynch and ask what he could do to help out. Since I have years of driving in Mexico experience, I offered to join Tanner in driving the school’s large van on field trips, which we have done on several occasions. And then more recently, Tanner spearheaded a Santa’s Gift project at his high school in San Diego, collecting over 200 Christmas gifts for the kids at the Tijuana school. The kids were amazed and so grateful, but what struck me more than anything else was how genuine, curious and well-mannered they are. They expect nothing and appreciate everything, seemingly forgotten traits by many kids north of the border. I think Tanner has learned more than he thought possible by his interaction with the Tijuana kids, about humility, perspective and acceptance.
Tanner with some of Santa’s Gifts
There is a children’s book about all of this called Armando and the Blue Tarp School http://www.bluetarpschool.com/, and David Lynch’s web site is here http://www.responsibilityonline.org/
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.
Mexico Travel…. Risk and Reward
By: Lisa Coleman
I know this is an ongoing topic on our blog and many others, but since I just returned from Mexico, it seems completely relevant to me. I had lunch with friends today and was talking all about my trip, and, of course, the topic quickly jumped to the violence in Mexico. This subject always puts me on the nearest soapbox. So make room… I’m coming up!
So this is how it went… Someone had read on Facebook that someone had canceled a trip to Puerto Vallarta because of all the “murders” in Mexico. Let’s be real for a moment, and let’s take the time to read our news, understand some geography and put things in perspective. Are you going to skip that trip to L.A. at Christmas because you heard some gangs are killing each other in Oakland? It’s really the same thing, but since most people are geographically challenged when it comes to Mexico, things always have a negative spin. Mexico gets singled out over and over again by press who are determined to make sure you hear every detail so readers can perpetuate the “bad” while the country is fighting so hard to do some good. Okay, I understand the topic of danger in Mexico is once again front page news after the sad news out of Guadalajara last week. I get it. People are getting killed… and we all know how the American public has a morbid obsession with anything having to do with murder.
Guess what? It happens. It happens in Mexico… it happens all over the world. Chances are pretty good it happens in your own hometown. The news here in Phoenix isn’t much brighter most of the time, but it sure won’t keep the golfers away. Should we stop promoting our tourism because gang violence in town is at a 20 year high? I doubt it. The deal is simple… the drug cartels have kicked into gear against Calderon’s efforts and the gangland style murders have soared and jumped into the headlines on an almost daily basis. I know I sound like a broken record, but people, really, let’s be honest about how directly, or indirectly, this will affect your Christmas vacation in Cancun. My personal guess is… not at all.
Unless of course you are an active member of a foreign drug cartel, or you go snooping around in search of large quantities of drugs or weapons, I seriously doubt your vacation, or any tourists in general, will ever be touched by the problem. And I do acknowledge it is a problem, a monumental problem. However, Mexico is in transition in terms of government, democracy and development into a modern nation. Unfortunately, it’s simple economics… supply and demand…. and as long as the Americans are buying, the Mexicans are going to be selling. Throw in a President determined to clean it up, and there is inevitably going to be a clash.
I respect and understand the concern for safety, but let’s not read a story and make a blanket assumption that an entire country is upside down. It simply isn’t fair. If you know Mexico at all, you know that it’s pretty damn safe to travel around to see the sites. The tour operators, hoteliers and tourism boards from city to city fight against the press every day to keep their guests coming and to survive this crisis. And you should go to Mexico. In fact, you should go more often. You should learn about its history and culture, and you should not be deterred by things that won’t touch you. Enjoy, explore and let the Mexican people embrace you with their warm smiles. That’s what it’s really all about anyway.
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the Mexico Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things Mexico shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination
No Chimichangas Por Favor!
By: Lisa Coleman
My friends (who shall remain nameless to protect them from further ridicule) are crazy about “Mexican” food, or what they believe to be something that originated south of the border. When I get dragged to an evil chain restaurant, I usually settle for chips and salsa, as I can’t bring myself to order from a menu that insults the culinary genius that is real Mexican cooking. For the people of Mexico, food is more than a necessity; it is a symbol of their heritage. Trust me when I tell you it’s not Taco Bell or any franchise derivative thereof.
Just in case you were wondering…. Cheddar Cheese hails from the English village of Cheddar… in Somerset…. in ENGLAND. It has driven me crazy for years (and I tend to obsess) that Americans seem to somehow believe that authentic Mexican food involves orange cheese, hard shell tacos and heaven forbid…. the Chimichanga.
According to Wikipedia, this lovely food item may have originated in my home state of Arizona. (I am not proud of this.) “One source says, the founder of the Tucson, Arizona, restaurant El Charro, Monica Flin, accidentally dropped a pastry into the deep fat fryer in 1922. She immediately began to utter a Spanish curse-word beginning “chi…” (Spanish speakers insert full word here), but quickly stopped herself and instead exclaimed chimichanga, a Spanish equivalent of thingamajig. Fortuitously, the euphemism was a well understood Indianism for the standard Spanish “chango quemado”, meaning “boiled monkey.” That explains it… don’t you think?
In Mexico, cuisine is culture. Layered by time, and influenced by its European conquerors, this is the original birthplace of fusion cooking. They have always believed taste, smell and visual beauty of food enriches and inspires the spirit. Their interpretation and preparation of food is a mystical experience, a tribute to the great Mexican imagination.
Mexico has a remarkably powerful indigenous ancestry. As a result, it’s one of the world’s most captivating yet subtle cuisines. Contrary to popular belief, there is no singular, monolithic “Mexican food.” The dishes of this fascinating country are diversified by region, each as unique and distinctive as the area and its people. Throughout time, traditional regional dishes have come to represent unity, identity, and the foundation of a heritage.
With over 6,000 miles of coastline, fish is a staple… grilled, not deep fried. Meats are carefully prepared in countless ways, each with its own nuances. Tortillas are handmade and never frozen. And tacos, depending on the region, are made with local grilled fish (pork or beef), lime, maybe some chiles, a few onions and tangy salsa fresca…. And they never, ever come in a hard shell. The cheeses are always fresh and aren’t packaged by Kraft. You just can’t add a mariachi and a margarita and call it authentic…just sayin.
But there is some good news for those of us who fight for the dignity of Mexican food. According to the Associated Press, Mexico is so proud of its cuisine that the government lobbied UNESCO to declare Mexican food an “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.” And a year ago, it became official. And, if you really want to know what’s what in terms of Mexican cuisine, there are some amazing blogs out there. (I am a huge fan of Mexico Cooks! and its incredibly passionate and talented creator, Cristina Potters.)
So next time you’re in Mexico, drop by a local little restaurant. Make sure there are no gringos within a city block, put on your best smile, and simply point to something on the menu. Now that’s real Mexican food!
Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Community Manager for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own. Mexico Today is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination.