Cultural Differences: Friendships May 4
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.