Cultural Differences: Friendships

Cultural Differences: Friendships and Favor Networks

This Definitely Ain’t Kansas Anymore.

You want friendships to be part of your life in Mexico. Get to know the cultural differences before you live or retire in Mexico.

The U.S. and Canada

In the U.S. and Canada, favors are granted in a very one-to-one way. We tend to trade in like-kind favors. Money favors are different from food favors. Granting one’s time to do something is different from loaning tools. Personal possessions are taken seriously. Even a good friend can say “no” to a request, if the thing requested is something the friend feels too protective over to share.

Mexico

In Mexico, one of the first cultural differences you may notice is that everything you have must be shared with those close to you. In fact, one way people will establish their closeness to you is by requesting things from you. It’s an insult to refuse people’s requests because they are not only asking for the “thing” requested, they are trying to start or strengthen a favor relationship with you. If you refuse the favor you are refusing the relationship.  (In their minds, if you won’t do them a favor, you’re not much of a friend.).

I Get Maaaaaaad!

The cultural differences in favor relationships can be stressful, confusing, and fraught with danger for those of us from north of the border. When we don’t understand them, they tend to make us mad. “I’m not in the mood for a glass of coke right now. Why the heck can’t I just say, ‘No, thanks?'” We can easily stick our foot in our mouth and say or do something that really hurts someone’s feelings. Knowing the cultural differences when you live or retire in Mexico will keep your foot on the ground, where it belongs. Also, it will keep you from feeling angry at others. (Anger is a common and uncomfortable result of culture shock).

If we understand the value of favor networks and how they work, we can drop the judgment and get along.

Need to know more about cultural differences in etiquette?
Click here to see a description of an e-book prepared by the author of this website.

The Big Picture

Mexicans, like many groups of people all over the world, live in an environment in which their relationships with others are their only or best form of insurance. These relationships often help people meet economic, political, health, and nutritional needs.

An Example

If you and I have a favor relationship and I run out of money, I can ask you for it. You have to give it to me, or break the ties, and burn bridges. I don’t have to pay it back. I’ll just owe you for life.

Later on, if you find that you need something special that I can offer, such as an introduction to a pediatrician for your sick child at midnight, I have to pay for a taxi and take you to the pediatrician, who will see your child as a favor to me (this is where the network part comes in, because I will have to do some favor or other for the pediatrician some day.) If my relationship with the pediatrician is close, he/she might not even charge you. If my relationship is not so close, he/she will just see your child at midnight, but still charge you. If I am wrong about my favor relationship with the pediatrician, he/she won’t even answer the door; just pretend not to hear me knocking.

Favor Values

The hard part for me about these cultural differences is that in my American-ness I keep judging the relative value of favors.  I am also too attached to my money. Our neighbor always asks for money, and we have to loan it to her. Later, sometimes she’ll cook something extra and send it over to us. I’m always happy to see the food because it means I don’t have to cook, but sometimes I wonder if hotdog soup, with its questionable nutritional value, really is the same as 200 pesos. On the other hand, when my husband got in an accident and was in the hospital, she showed up at 8 am and was there to help us out for two days straight (yes, you need someone with you at the hospital here, but that is another story). Just think about that. Do you have any neighbors up north who would give you 2 solid days of their time at the drop of a hat, without you even asking? I certainly didn’t.

Now, 7 months, and 300 pesos later, I have to remember what she did for us. I’m practicing my generosity and gratitude skills. She is operating in a favor system in which my 300 pesos are equal to whatever favors she gives me. As long as the flow of favors is active, we have a working favor relationship from which we can derive MUTUAL benefits.

Rules for Cultural Differences that Everyone Who Lives or Retires in Mexico Should Employ

RULES for dealing with the cultural differences in favor relationships:

  • Rule #1: Never say “no” to anyone. They will feel very hurt and rejected. (Rule #1 is really hard for Americans and Canadians to follow, because it means that sometimes we have to say something that we define as a LIE. Americans and Canadians like to consider themselves completely honest. Rule #1 can cause a lot of internal conflict. When this conflict bothers me, I go straight to Rule #3 and keep my mouth shut.)
  • Rule #2: If you really can’t do a favor, come up with an excuse, but don’t use too many.
  • Rule #3: Listen a lot. That way you stay out of trouble and people think you are just like them. Plus, you learn the rules.
  • Rule #4: If you are feeling put-out remember, “It’s just money,” and try to see the big picture. Accepting this cultural difference will give you a chance to learn to be generous and let go of some of your American materialism.

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27 comments

  1. Michael Dickson Jul 26

    Julia, this is an interesting website you have. A fan of yours, Mike Goll near Puerta Vallarta, plugged your book on his blog.

    You and I have been in Mexico about the same length of time. I arrived in January 2000. I also speak Spanish. I also am married to a Mexican. Indeed, I have become a Mexican citizen, one of them!

    However, I do not share your openness with the Mexican culture, nor your willingness to play along with it.

    Life in Mexico has been very hard, at times quite perilous, for centuries, and that is what has developed the defensive culture which essentially says: Me first, you second, and not even that if I can get away with it.

    Mexicans focus on their families almost entirely. That´s no secret. “Friends” are essentially backup. It is a very selfish society due to the nation´s past.

    Don´t say no? It´s not polite? If someone invites me to lunch, and I cannot make it, I say no. They have to cope, poor babies. Saying yes would be a lie, and lying is rampant here, part of the culture, part of the national problem, part of the bad economy, part of the rudeness. It´s a huge problem, and I do not “join in.” I do not become part of the problem, nor would I advocate doing so which, alas, you do. Lying here is so automatic, few know why they do it. I don´t barge ahead of people in lines either.

    In another section, you mention it is not “polite” to ask for your money if a loan is not repaid. Not polite? How convenient for the deadbeat. First off, if you loan money here, you can usually just kiss it goodbye. A brother-in-law asked us for $2,500 pesos to repair a collapsing roof on his house some years back. We loaned it to him. Five years later, having never mentioned the loan even once, he bought a red Mercedes. It was used, but still. Then his wife bought a new Chevrolet Corsa. Yes, two cars. Still no mention of the loan. I had a little chat with them, and not long after I got my money back due primarily to my sister-in-law´s extreme embarrassment at my bringing the topic to their attention. Did bro-in-law get pissed? Quite so. Did I care? Not a bit. He´s a bum.

    I could go on. This country and culture have very big problems. Those who come here can do their little, bitty, bit to help move in the right direction by not accepting the lies and selfishness and irresponsibility. Do not lie. Do not roll over to deadbeats. Etc., Etc.

    Understanding the cultural differences is important. Playing along to its many negative aspects is not a good thing. Do not lie. Pay your debts. And be kind to animals. Kindness, courtesy and honesty are the best routes the world over.

  2. Julia Taylor Jul 26

    Michael,

    Thank you so much for your comment. I loved what you said. Most people who read my web site don’t understand it to the depth you do.

    You go! Don’t lie and keep charging those loans.

    I don’t lie either, though I have to go to rule number 3 a lot and keep quiet! I also ask for money back. It’s my job in our family now. I notice that the neighbors ask my husband for money now because they know I’ll charge them later, but they are also a lot better at paying us back thanks to my efforts. I just make sure I ask for the money on a one-on-one basis to reduce their embarrassment. (That’s my way of being kind, which as you say, is very important.) It’s working for us.

    Here’s something to ponder. Think about the role money and earning power plays in these situations. In your case, if your brother-in-law decides to avoid you for the rest of your life you will be relieved of a leach. You will be better off financially due to the loss. But what if you were to get really sick and lose your ability to work? What if you lost your ability to earn money? There’s no unemployment system in Mexico, so how would you pay for things? Maybe your brother-in-law wouldn’t let you eat or sleep at his house, but is there someone who would? Where will you go during a hurricane or flood?

    That’s why my husband keeps me polite. We are living hand to mouth while I’m home raising our son. If my husband were to break a leg or something we might need some help from others. The favor network in which we exist would keep us from starving.

    This network has already helped us out. We had a huge windstorm a few weeks ago and a cement block was blown around our roof until it fell and crushed the kitchen roof and fell on our fridge, leaving a huge dent in it. It was about to start pouring rain and we had to cover the two-foot hole it had created in 5 minutes or less. While my husband got the ladder and charged up onto the roof, I ran for our neighbor. He came out and covered that hole with my husband, getting soaked in the process (and I’m sure you’ve noticed Mexicans believe they will get deathly ill the instant they get wet, so this was a big favor on his part). If either of us had insulted our neighbor by insisting on playing by my cultural rules from the U.S. he wouldn’t have been available.

    If you are rich in Mexico you can afford to avoid changing your behavior to Mexican cultural rules when you live or retire in Mexico. Look at the Ajijic and San Miguel de Allende regions. If you are not rich, you have to play along a little more. Had you ever thought of it in economic terms?

  3. Michael Dickson Jul 26

    Good points. Anyone who is not financially beyond needing local help would do better abiding by the, uh, rules. I am not in that number, gracias a Dios.

    Were I in the hospital, the particular brother-in-law would be the last face I would want to see. My wife´s sister is divorcing him at last.

  4. Michael Dickson Jul 26

    I just reread the first paragraph of your response. Most Gringos down here are indeed challenged with regard to the Mexican world, the culture. Most (retirees) live here for the rest of their lives unaware of the turbulent world around them. There are exceptions, but not many. Without speaking Spanish, it is virtually impossible, and few do speak Spanish. Without having Mexican kin, a questionable accomplishment, it´s also difficult. Perhaps they are classic cases of ignorance being bliss. I take it you are somewhat young. You have bitten off quite a hunk of challenge with this Mexican life. Good luck.

  5. patrick coffey May 1

    What is the money exchange ? How much will a house cost ?? If I am a retired Law enforcement officer,can I have a weapon ?? Are Americans well liked ?? What is the crime like ??

  6. Julia Taylor May 2

    Patrick,

    Phew! What a lot of questions!

    The exchange rate varies. There is a link to a currency converter at the bottom of this page: http://www.home-sweet-mexico.com/costofliving-retirement-Mexico.html

    Housing costs vary depending on your lifestyle level. This is a topic that I cover in depth (and in a unique way that I created myself to help people figure out what kind of lifestyle they should shoot for in Mexico) in my book, Mexico: The Trick is Living Here. You can see an introduction to my coverage of cost of living and lifestyle level on that same page that has the link to the currency converter above.

    I can’t tell you about weapons, but I doubt it. Since you are a retired law enforcement officer who worked in another country, it doesn’t seem like Mexico would “care.” You’d have to ask for information at your nearest Mexican consulate to see if there is even any chance of getting a permit. Mexico has some very strict gun enforcement laws. Honestly, I don’t think I’d want to own a weapon in Mexico. There is so much corruption in the law enforcement system here, someone could falsely accuse you of something and you could get into a lot of trouble. You could try it, but I’d say you should speak Spanish very well and be good friends with a Mexican lawyer before you try. To learn a little about law enforcement in Mexico you can read: http://www.home-sweet-mexico.com/safety.html/ and search on my site with the key word “police” for some blog entries that I have on the topic.

    Are Americans well liked? Yes and no. Lots of people have lived in the U.S. and enjoyed their experiences. Others didn’t like it. Many are sick of our politics–especially lately, if you know what I mean. The Bush administration has done a lot that Mexicans don’t appreciate nor approve of. The “war” isn’t popular nor is the wall. My Italian friend told me that people treat her a lot better once she tells them that she is Italian, not American. She says that she sees a “love/hate” relationship with Americans in Mexico. Sometimes people treat me badly — but, just like my Mexican husband when we were in the U.S. — I can’t tell if the person is just having a bad day or “has a problem” with “my people.” I’m sure there are regional differences in attitudes toward Americans too. In general Mexicans have a much better impression of Canada than the U.S. When the subject of President Bush comes up, I notice that Mexicans visibly release tension once they learn that I don’t like his administration either. If you are a staunch supporter of everything American, you might not be so comfortable down here, but if you openly accept that the U.S. has some “faults” Mexicans are usually willing to forgive you for being American. Whatever you do, don’t tell Mexicans that the U.S. is better. Mexicans are tired of the problems in their country, but they are more tired of Americans being so superior.

    Crime? That depends completely on where you live. Both the regional, and neighborhood come into play in determining that. You’ll have to pick an area you are interested in and ask around.

    I hope that this answer helps you out and gives you something to go on for further research.

  7. Leo Chow Sep 20

    Dear Julia i completly desagree with your comments on the cultural diffferences. One person took you for a ride and didn’t pay you back and now you claim is all Mexican, cultural behavior, Mexicans don’t pay back their loans. One person think his body will melt with the rain and now you claim is all Mexican behavior. I see a lot of kids playing in the rain where i live.
    I think that this kind of comments are totally misleading the readers, further more i think you wrote this with an attitude, the way you describe your neighbor giving you the hot dog soup,i believe that was not nessesary. Not pay back loans or paying back with favors exist every where. I think is more of an individual kind of behavior therefor generalizing one behavior to a whole culture is just plain wrong and denigrating to Mexican culture. You haven’t even been here 10 years and you think you already understand the Mexican culture with just one experience from your neighbors.
    I lived in Dallas for 23 years and many good experiences and some not so good, but i will not dare generalized Amrican culture behavior based on those experiences unless i would have dedicated those 23 years to study the American culture. I do hope you post my comment.
    Thanks. Leo Chow San Miguel de Allende.

  8. Julia Taylor Sep 20

    Dear Leo,
    Of course I will post your comment. You are totally right, of course. It is not right to generalize all Mexican’s behavior based on one experience.

    I’ve considered removing this page, but I keep it up because I do think that it does have validity. I just used one of the many examples I could have written about — and not just from my experience, but from other people’s experiences, too. Of course, the U.S. is full of problems, difficult people, users, and abusers as well as wonderful people. I’m glad you had mostly good experiences during your 23 years of experience there. This page is just a tiny bit of all the varied truth that is out there and I know that, and I hope that my readers do too.

    For what it’s worth, I told in my example about how my neighbor gave us two whole days of her support. That’s a rare thing in the U.S. and not so rare in Mexico. Also, I claim responsibility for having to remember what she did for us. That was an understated way of saying that I can’t be a money-focused, selfish American and appreciate the support I’ve gotten from that one example of a relationship.

    If you were going to write a guide book for Mexicans who were going to live in the U.S. would you only put up the good stuff or would you also include some things about how to identify and avoid the problems? For example, maybe you might warn Mexicans about racism and how to figure out who’s a “closet racist” who will speak nicely to your face, but stab you in the back. (And, see, that’s worse than what I put up here, but it needs to be said about living in the U.S.)

    I’m sorry my example bothered you. Maybe you could add more here about how you do get people to pay you back because I’ve heard a loooooot of people in Mexico talk about how so-and-so owes them and they don’t want to ask for the money back, etc., etc. Notice the first comment on this page from the American who says I’m too “easy” on the Mexican culture. Funny. I’m somewhere in the middle, I guess.

    Sincerely, Julia Taylor

  9. Jo Blasco Apr 20

    I felt a shock of recognition reading about this “network of favors”, for I saw the same thing operating with my Italian father-in-law and his friends in the U.S. And if anyone who “owed him a favor” didn’t promptly come to his aid with help fixing his car or whatever he requested, he was every bit as indignant as if they had refused to pay a money debt!

    I wonder if this system isn’t common in many cultures where no one has enough money to simply pay for whatever they need, but everyone has to rely on friends/neighbors for various favors. Maybe it’s our standard American culture that is unusual, in the grand scheme of things.

    I’m hoping to retire to Mexico later this year, and I’ll certainly want to be part of the “favor network” – thanks for explaining how it works!

  10. Julia Taylor Apr 20

    Jo,

    Thank you for your most interesting comment.

    I hope I’ve explained the “system” well enough. It’s hard to describe culture accurately because every individual and every part of Mexico is different, but I guess my own experiences are a good start.

    I’ve wondered the same as you about favor-networks operating whenever money is scarce among a group of people. Hunter-gatherer societies have similar systems.

    Enjoy Mexico and I’m sure you’ll do great at building your own “favor network.”

    Regards, Julia Taylor

  11. Graziella María Raluy Zierold de Turnbull Dec 4

    Wow, thanks for this. It´s really interesting!

    Me and my husband are Mexican. My first name happens to be in Italian, but my dad and all his family were refugees from Catalonia (Spanish Civil War), although the surname itself doesn´t seem to ba Catalan. My German surname (Zierold) comes from a great-grandfather, and my husband´s surname( Turnbull) from a Scot who came as a train engineer in Don Porfirio´s time. A large part from both our families came quite recently from different regions of Spain ( Plaza, Reyes, Montes ). I might have some native ancestors from Michoacán and Chihuahua, but I don´t know much about them.

    I have always felt I don´t completely understand other Mexicans, and I don´t feel like I belong sometimes. I´ve also had to learn about favors and other stuff the hard way. I felt more at home when we lived in England for 4 years! This is a real eye opener. Maybe I hadn´t wanted to aknowledge that my relatives, my husband, my in-laws and myself aren´t really as “Mexican” as I had always wanted to consider myself and them. Gracias

  12. Julia Taylor Dec 4

    Graziella,

    I think it’s interesting that this description made sense to you — as a Mexican with a very interesting background. Thanks for sharing. I love the way your names tell such an interesting story!

    Also… I just came to these conclusions on my own, so they aren’t necessarily true for everyone.

    Kindest Regards,

    Julia C Taylor

  13. Julio Jul 12

    Is very anoyying to borrow things in Mexico.
    I am mexican and I never do it, I dont care about the feelings so much. In mexico a lot of people will pretend that they are your friends for favours they can receive.
    An advice only do a favor to someone you consider your friend, and this is how we value friendship, if you want to ask a favor back he/she should do it, If he does not do it, then he or she is not your friend.
    If they let you down, you can say one of the most shocking thing like never ask me a favour again, this will make them feel very bad so they would feel gulty for abusing your trust.

    We classifed or friends by trust, you know that someone can be trustful in different situation. For example I only go out to a club with people I know will pay they part. I only go make futbol team with people I know will go to the matches. I only borrow money to people who can pay back and that I am in contact with them often, like neigbours or co-worker.

    You need to understand that the mexican culture is different of the American or Canadian by the fact of how it was constructed this country, while you were colonizer (killing all the native people) Spaniards were conqueror, abusing the indigeneus and slavering. The Mexican culture is very traumatized by this so they have a culture of abusing others and never let them self abuse.

    In a country for example like Germany if someone abuse the system, the circle of friend will be ashame of him or her, but in Mexico if you abuse the system or other the people is proud.

    I believe you can see this behavior in the way they drive, they will never let other to pass before them, because if you do it other will thing you are a idiot instead of a nice guy.

    If you want to trutly understand this phenomenal I recommend you the book of Octavio Paz “El laberinto de la Soledad” he write it when we was living in Paris and understood more about tthe way we behave.

  14. Julia Taylor Jul 12

    Julio, Thank you for your comment! Your bring up a lot of interesting details that help to fill in the picture.

    Kindest Regards, Julia

  15. Hugon Juarez Jul 16

    Hi Julia,

    I read your article, and it came to my mind the speech that a Nigerian writer gave in a university. Her name is Chimamanda Adichie, and the speech was “the danger of a single story”.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html

    what do you think?

    All the best

    Hugon

  16. Julia Taylor Jul 17

    Hugon,

    I love what she has to say! She really communicates how narrow messages about “others” cause us to be blind to the realities of our similarities.

    As I was working on the majority of articles for this web site I was in my own process of adjustment to culture shock. I gave (and still give) myself permission to have feelings about it. The only way I knew how to describe the experiences was with generalizations. If I had put hedge words into everything my web site would have been either too watered down to say anything or too bogged down and boring.

    At the same time, I knew that much of my American audience was the victim of the “single story” as Chimamanda Adichie calls it. I was hoping to use my stories to teach them something about the realities. Hoping to be a model of adjustment — not because I was perfect, or even very good, but because I was willing to TRY, to really WORK AT IT. As I wrote I hoped that other Americans would be inspired to set aside their superior attitudes and join their new communities — even though the process is frustrating.

    I had more stories from Mexico than most Americans — I wasn’t a victim of the single story, but was a victim of the poverty story. My introduction to Mexico came through people who were in serious-enough circumstances to immigrate illegally to the U.S. My images of Mexico were never those of a comfortable life and included a lot of struggle with class-ism.

    I guess I mostly achieved my goal, but I’ll never know for sure.

    I wish everyone would listen to Ms. Adichie’s speech!

    Thank you for contributing something so important.

    Kindest Regards,

    Julia C Taylor

  17. Flippyman Feb 11

    Hi,

    I’m Mexican and I wanted to say that yes, the system of favors exists, but most importantly, it works. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be applied to most of one country’s population.

    In my experience, the lower your economical class is, the more you depend on this system. After all, if you earn 8 dollars per day, you really need to pull favors on very short notice if your child(ren) suddenly falls ill and needs expensive medicine.

    It’s also true that we don’t consider just the economical value of the money. For example, I’d rather give 100 pesos for the Christmas party at the office than having to be the pariah for the next 4 months, even though those 100 could have gotten me a better meal elsewhere (and if I don’t plan to attend, I say, “I can’t make it, but here’s 20). Also, one time I lent money to someone at the office. He never paid me back, but I thought I was better off because it meant that he would be too embarrassed to ask for money again. And if he had been cynical enough to ask me again, I could just tell him that I had already lent him some (plus some small excuse about how I didn’t have any money, after all, it’s all aboot face-saving too).

    Another time, a young singer asked me to buy her CD. I didn’t really want to, but I did. Later on, when she asked around for money for some other thing, I was able to tell her that I already contributed to her.

    What maybe some foreigners don’t see is that the other side of the coin is that these people “owe” you one. If I needed to have someone to sing at a party, I could have asked the singer to do it and I would probably have gotten at least a discount. If I needed someone to help me move, I could have asked the guy I lent him money to.

    Now, the thing is not whether your 300 pesos are worth a bowl of soup because what you’re “buying” is not the favor, but the timing of the favor. You do favors so that WHEN you need a favor, you can call on those favors.

    Does everyone return those favors? No, of course not. But that’s why you have a network. If you do favors to 5 people, and one of them refuses to return it, you still have another 4 that you can call.

    And again, it’s not the value of money that it’s taken into account. In the Mexican mind, it’s better to lose the money if it means that some deadbeat will not have the face to talk to you again. If you work together, it’ll be him who will be embarrassed and try to hide from you. Plus, that person just labeled himself “favor-unworthy” to you and everyone in the same social circle. He’ll have a hard time getting a favor again.

    The guy I lent money to and never paid back became the most hated person in the office, often spending his time by himself. And all we had to do to mortify him was to talk about “paying debts” and he would leave the room.

    Now, there is a limit. I recommend that when you lend money or things, you consider them lost (that’s what I do and it’s saved me tons of regrets). Therefore, don’t lend or give anything more than what you’re comfortable with. I certainly wouldn’t have lent $2,500 pesos like the example above, but maybe $500. Most importantly, once you “contributed,” it means you don’t have to contribute again, or not as much. Remember, it ALL depends on the specific individual and situation. You certainly feel “obligated” to contribute again if it’s an emergency, but that means that person owes you twice as much (especially because YOU saved him in his time of need). Otherwise, just give a small excuse for not having money and add “plus, I already helped you that other time when…”

    Finally, there are millions of people in Mexico and we are all different (I do not like chile nor soccer, which makes me the weirdest Mexican). It’s very hard to cover in a few paragraphs all the different situations that can arise. WITH TIME, you’ll learn who is responsible and considerate, who is not, who is “worth” having a favor relationship with, who is just a hole in the ground that will make your money disappear, and who you’ll give money to in exchange for nothing just because it’s the humane thing to do.

    Greetings from Mexico.

  18. Julia Taylor Feb 11

    Flippyman,

    Right on. Thank you for expanding our understanding of how the system works — and you’re right, it DOES work.

    Kindest Regards,

    Julia C Taylor

  19. Monica Rix Paxson Feb 12

    The system of favors seems to be the way uninsured people manage to pay hospital bills Mexico. Groups of friends pitch in to pay for each other’s surgeries and such. It is understood that you do it because you are probably going to need help yourself someday. I believe the term is “social insurance” and if you think about it, it is like group insurance without a middleman taking a cut.

    Best, Monica Rix Paxson
    author, The English Speaker’s Guide to Medical Care in Mexico

  20. Lori Gonzales May 22

    I came across your website accidentally and decided to take a peek. I don’t know how old these posts are, but I thought I would add my two-cents. I was especially intrigued by your perception of reciprocity in Mexico. I have resided in Mexico for 4 years and I should point out that I am not Mexican or Latina. My name is the result of a marriage to a Hispanic American. Anyway, my experiences have been very different.

    First off, I should also mention that I hold a graduate degree in the history of Mexico and perhaps, my experiences differ because I have a good grasp on how the patronage systems work. Nor, do I live in an ex-pat community. I am the only U.S. citizen in my neighborhood and the surrounding vicinity.

    First, I will talk about neighbors, because the rules are different. You should never feel that you have to say yes, all the time. In my neighborhood, neighbors do not ask other neighbors for money. Most depend upon extended family. When the need arises, neighbors may ask to borrow something or for a small favor. These favors are just part of neighborhood life and we do not keep track. However, one must also keep in mind that the rules differ for those neighbors who are related. It is very common that extended family live in the same area.

    Now, those individuals who do make a habit of borrowing things or money are looked down upon by the rest of the community. I will give you an example. I have some neighbors who are Mexican by birth, but were raised in the U.S. They were deported after serving time in prison and ended up in trouble again; thus, they served time in Mexico too. They were released from prison after I moved into my home. They are a brother, sister and the sister’s husband. It is common knowledge that the home they live in was built by the mother who resides in the U.S. and they do not pay rent.

    To make a long story short, they have no shame in asking neighbors for money, food, and to borrow household objects. We all know they have little money, but the money they do have goes toward beer. They also have 2 small children. They are known as the “escandalosos”. At first, neighbors were happy to help them get on their feet again, but after realizing they had no inclination, neighbors no longer lend them anything.

    Now, family and friends are a different story. I have a very good friend whose family has taken me in as nearly one of their own. His parents and siblings are wonderful and I am always being lectured that I am too generous with my neighbors. However, this connection comes with responsibilities. As part of this extended kinship group, I am often asked to provide something for upcoming events. For example, I was asked if I would provide the centerpieces for the XV años for a niece. Other contributions may involve certain foods, dulces for aguinaldos for the posadas, be a madrina at a wedding, etc… I do look at these contributions as responsibilities, rather than costs. I am a member of a particular group; therefore, I must accept that I am contributing for the benefit of the whole.

    This is just the way Mexican society works. In the U.S., the cost of having an event or party is usually absorbed solely by the parents or immediate family. This is costly. In Mexico, the cost is distributed. Every member contributes something. In this way, the burden of cost is shared. Nor, is it considered much of a hardship on any one family member. A good example is that of a wedding. For a recent wedding each of the following was provided by friends or family; reception hall (salón), food for reception, flowers, dress, shoes, photographer, donation for mass, recuerdos (souvenirs), toasting glasses, etc…

    It is also quite common to lend money to family members and friends. However, it is understood that if it is a large sum, it will be paid back. We generally do not worry about smaller amounts, because one never knows if they may end up in a situation where they need help.

    But, in all honesty, I must say that some individuals will take advantage of you, simply because you are an American. Americans who do not have experience or knowledge of Mexican culture often mistake this behavior as being part of the culture. As Flippyman points out, Mexicans are not push overs and saying no is appropriate in certain circumstances. He also points out that it is a two-way street and those not willing to reciprocate risk being shunned.

    Hoping my two-cents is worth something,

    Lori Gonzales

  21. Julia Taylor May 23

    Lori,

    Your two-cents are definitely worth something. There is no way that my little description could possibly describe the sum total of any set of cultural norms. I like the way you have broken down the rules based on how close of a relationship you have with the people with whom you are interacting. It sounds like you are well-established and you haven’t chosen to be neutral — you have a group to which you now belong.

    I think your description shows readers where it’s all going — toward established, mutually supportive relationships.

    It’s that risk of being shunned due to not reciprocating that made me write not to say “no.” That doesn’t mean there aren’t great ways to meet people half way, such as asking for a glass of water instead of pop if you’re not in the mood — though the first time you meet someone it would probably be most polite to just accept the pop.

    Thanks again, for enriching this dialog.

    Julia C Taylor

  22. Lori Gonzales Jun 3

    Julia,

    Accepting the pop on the first encounter is always a good idea lol! As you become more familiar with people, it becomes easier to decline that 10th taco. One must also be mindful that Mexicans will offer guests food, even when they don’t have enough for themselves. In those instances, it is best to come up with some excuse as to why you cannot indulge.

    Mexicans are often lost on U.S. culture and so it is the same the other way around. It just takes time to absorb. Stereotypes are another problem on both sides of the border and our challenge is we often have to confront and dismantle some of the stereotypes assigned to Americans. As most of us already know, there are some differences that we perceive as strange. The first time a friend told me they were coming over in the “tarde”, I assumed she would arrive before 6pm. It took some time to adjust to the fact that time here is somewhat arbitrary. It is also quite permissible to accept an invitation and not show up to the event. It is considered more polite to do this than to outright decline.

    To readers out there, I cannot stress enough the importance of learning Spanish. Sure, you can get along without it, but you are certainly at a disadvantage. And, learn the Spanish that is spoken in your community, because words differ in context and meaning from region to region. Even an attempt to learn the language will earn you more points and you will be more readily accepted into the culture and community. You will also learn a lot more about your neighborhood and make connections you may need in the future.

    In my case, I need some dental work done at a good price. My friend’s aunt is a dentist, so that helped considerably. That connection ensures that I do not get charged more than anyone else. It also helps to have a friend who can help you communicate. I do not know all the words used pertaining to dental work, so when I get stuck on a word, he fills in the blank. People understand you will not speak Spanish like a native. In fact, my friend does not speak English, but his aunt commented on how funny it is that we can finish each other’s sentences.

    I still struggle with the language and feel I have much to learn. I first learned to read the language, so my listening skills need some improvement. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, because it just means you are human and at least, trying. We laugh about those mistakes. My point is that if you get out there, your experiences will be fuller and richer. And, above all, do not take the Mexican brand of sarcasm seriously. It really is an art form!

    Lori

  23. Trisha Nov 15

    Good Afernoon,

    I just ran across your post and found it interesting. I was just studying the history of giving, and the secular form of giving practiced on Rome was you give to those you want to build favor with. Roman leaders would throw coinage on the streets of newly conquered people to win favor. By this gesture, they expected those people to be loyal if Rome came to them with demands.

    Christians brought a revolutionary way of giving to the world. Jesus taught you should give to those that cannot give back, and five to your enemies. From them we get our word charity. The USA was founded by Christian beliefs, and laws based on Christian heritage. Generosity is for kindness sake is more common here.

    Mexico and much of Central America was influenced by Spain. Like the Romans they came in and used gifts to purchase the servantude of the people. I think Mexicans as a group have a mix of both types of giving as a result depending on individual instruction as children. Some may be taught the cultural use of giving to secure favor, and due to the influence of Catholicism some may be generous for generosity sake.

    I have always practiced giving without expecting anything in return. The danger is in larger populations, someone who is greedy will suck the very life out of you if you aren’t careful. To be generous, but have boundaries, because I have found that the more I teach others how to be generous without strings attached, the more genuine the giving transactions are. I would rather give cheerfully, because I chose to, then to enslave someone to me in debt. Those that take continuously and never give, I find excuses not to hang out with them anymore.

    Like I said, very interesting observations. I found your insight fascinating!

    Trisha

  24. A Kearney Nov 20

    Dear Julia,

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and opening yourself up to the inevitable criticism that comes from talking about cultural differences! Of course we all experience different levels of certain cultural behaviour, but that is not to say that how you deal with your own experiences cannot be a of great use to others.

    For my part, it is simply reassuring to hear of other ‘newcomers’ struggles to adapt to a new society. I have lived in Mexico for 2 years and am currently undergoing what I like to call, ‘the withdrawal’. This basically means that I am coming to terms with what I am giving up/adjusting/learning about myself and what I will have to change about myself in order to live happily in another culture.

    As someone in a committed relationship, I am fighting an internal battle with molding myself to it into this new environment. As a European, I also pride myself on my honesty, punctuality and straight-forwardness. However, I am slowly appreciating that my efforts to change the culture, rather than myself, merely hurt my partner who naturally doesn’t understand why I would want to offend his family/friends by refusing to accept all offerings or be upfront about whether or not I intend to attend a particular event (incidentally, it’s harder for me to understand why I am not allowed to tell a marketseller that I’d rather not buy their cheese this week because it simply isn’t up to standard, but that will probably remain a mystery to me!).

    Whilst I do not intend to completely change who I am – this perceived ‘loss’ of former identity is, I think, one of the most difficult adjustments someone settling in a new country undergoes – I have learnt to focus more (as, it sounds, have you) on what I am gaining, rather than what I am losing. The favor network is a very strange concept for me, as I have been brought up to believe independence is essential and a basic part of adulthood, although I realise how much easier my life will be knowing I can lean on my adopted family for support. Now the challenge is to remove the negative thoughts that lead to selfish rejections when asked for a favor, and to learn how to ask for one without feeling somewhat ashamed.

    Thank you again for your insights and mostly for your honesty. It is a breath of fresh air to read about someone’s experiences in a way that allows to you relate completely to the author, as they leave room for the reader to fill in the appropriate gaps to make the story feel like personal advice.

  25. Julia Taylor Nov 25

    A,

    Thank you so much for sharing your own view of those changes when adjusting to life in a new culture. I was so pleased to read your comment. What a wise person you are to figure out what about yourself you want to keep and what you are willing to change. If we do that with intention we really allow the experience of living in a different country make us better people.

    I think you’re right, too, that the sense of loss is a big part of the adjustment. Maybe that’s why anger comes up so much too.

    Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Yes, let go of that isolating independence. Don’t alienate your in-laws and new friends. They’ll have your back when you need them to. 😉

    Regards, Julia

  26. Jessi Oct 27

    Great informative post. I have been dating someone from Mexico and this article is on point. I was very confused at the way she was thinking and how she handled her relationships. Thank you.

  27. Mathieu Aug 7

    Dear Julia,

    I am a 41-year-old Canadian, married to a Mexican woman with whom I have a lovely six-year-old daugther. We have been living in Mexico City for three years. I have been going through a lot of emotional ups and downs living, and am trying to understand why I feel this way. Your page and the posts on it are among the most helpful material I have read. The post by A — the european who is trying to adjust to living here — made me feel less alone. Your insights into the favor system are very helpful too. In Canada, trusting others is usually fine — though some will abuse your trust. Here trust is a much more complicated matter. Basically, although there are many exceptions, the “network” has a lot more weight. The very simplified generalization would be trust those within your network, trust others at your own risk.

    I have met wonderfully generous people. But I also relate to Julio who says:

    “In a country for example like Germany if someone abuse the system, the circle of friend will be ashame of him or her, but in Mexico if you abuse the system or other the people is proud.

    I believe you can see this behavior in the way they drive, they will never let other to pass before them, because if you do it other will thing you are a idiot instead of a nice guy.”

    And DO NOT DARE tell anyone you don’t know you think they did something wrong. In Canada, thinking about how your actions might affect others is very important. For example, things like gridlocking, cutting in front of others while waiting in line (say for the subway) or parking your car in a place where it blocks somebody else’s are just things people don’t do, and if you do it, you will be shamed by others who will tell you your behavior is unacceptable, que es una falta de civismo. Here some people (not everyone) do these things, and then if you tell them “hey don’t do that, it’s not nice” they get mad at you, tell you you are a “prepotente”, and tell you you are the one with a problem. I know this because it has happened to me several times. So this way of “sticking to your clan or favor network” has some nasty consequences for public life in a big city.

    In summary, for me, living in Mexico has been a disorienting mix of wonderful and really unpleasant experiences. Part of the difficulty I guess is that I find it much harder to know who I can trust and who I can’t (don’t get me started on trying to find “repairmen” who will do what they told you they would do at the time when they said they would do it…).

    Thank you very much for providing your insights, and for creating a forum for openly sharing experiences.

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