Live or Retire in Mexico: Talk to Your Neighbors

Live or Retire in Mexico:
Build a Strong Future by Talking to Your Neighbors

Along with the decision to live or retire in Mexico comes a necessity to learn to talk to your neighbors—whether you know it beforehand or not. One of the major cultural differences between Mexico and the US and Canada is the importance placed on interpersonal relationships.

Mexican friendships involve continuously building and managing extensive favor networks. When you arrive on the scene, you will be surrounded by people who already have existing friendships (and favor networks). They will naturally begin to include you. Since you won’t have any knowledge of the already existing, long-term favor networks in your neighborhood you may be at a loss about what to do. “Taking sides” is very dangerous because people will also already have existing conflicts.

I was very uncomfortable with the amount of attention I received when I first moved into my new neighborhood. I didn’t understand people’s motivation for offering help or giving me open invitations to family events, etc. Since as a north American I needed to size them up through simple, non-committal chat, I found myself backing out. For me, their offers came too early and were too forward.

People will target you when you come to live or retire in Mexico to develop favor relationships with. Mostly, Mexicans are very welcoming and love to be good friends and hosts/hostesses. Another key aspect to the favor network system is that people try to make connections to members of the upper class because those people can pull strings or do them favors when they need it. The thing is that Mexico is a very class-ist society and you, as a north American—especially if you are white, embody a precarious position. On the one hand you are pale (guero) which is generally considered a good thing. On the other hand you are American and many people have negative or mixed feelings about Americans. [If you are Canadian, English, etc. let people know right away so you can avoid the stigma of being considered American.]

I won’t get into a deep analysis of class-ism, nor the potential conflicts a north American expat may have in “playing” that system because it is beyond the scope of this web page.

The thing you need to know when you live or retire in Mexico is that you should respond humbly, and with gratitude to these advances. If you don’t play along, people will eventually give up on trying to get into extensive favor trades with you and you will feel the “heat” on you turn down. The crucial thing is that you do this with extreme grace.

cover page of ebookNeed to know more about cultural differences in interpersonal relationships? Click here to see a description of an e-book prepared by the author of this website.

If you reject people’s advances too bluntly, or don’t respond with gratitude you will be labeled as someone who thinks too highly of yourself. People will talk behind your back and not cooperate with you in the future. Lack of cooperation can show up in issues like prices at neighborhood stores, parking troubles, etc. If you are labeled as “too good for your britches” you will be the victim of ostracism and cheating.

So, when you first live or retire in Mexico, you have a two-fold objective.


Avoid “playing favorites” and getting yourself committed to close favor networks with certain people before you have time to get to know the people and the implications of the favors involved. This involves extreme tact and grace. Express gratitude and be vague.


Remain open to contact with people. TALK to people. Spend time shooting the breeze at the neighborhood store. Talk with your neighbors when you see them out and about. People love a good chat and don’t take too well to those who are always too busy. Say “buenos días,” “buenas tardes,” and “buenas noches” whenever you pass by people in the street. Don’t frown or look too serious when you walk by your neighbors.

This need to “shoot the breeze” is especially important for men. If you arrive as a couple, the man is crucial in connecting to other men in the neighborhood, while women can build connections with other women.

Back to “Cultural Differences” — live or retire in Mexico


1 comment

  1. Jorge Sep 11

    Key: Courtesy is our Great Wall of China. Cf. “Máscaras mexicanas”

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