Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Music to My Ears

I sometimes have a hard time explaining to people why I don't like living in Mexico. They see beaches, warm weather, and a relaxed atmosphere -- all of which are plentiful where I live -- but that's the tourist view. Living here is much different.

I've debated writing about those things that I don't like. Of course I could do without the violence, and I think it's clear how I feel about THE HEAT, THE HEAT, GOOD GOD, THE HEAT, but I don't think I've gone into much detail about the other reasons.

Well, during my Canadian research I came across a section titled Important Social Standards. These might seem obvious to most of my readers, and you may find yourself wondering why this even needs to be spelled out, but LET ME TELL YOU, the rest of the world does not function this way. (I don't mean to insult anyone's intelligence or world experience -- I'm sure a lot of you are aware that the US is not the center of the universe.)

Here's the portion of the list that had me longing to be anywhere but here:

1) Lining up or queuing: People normally line up or queue according to the principle of “first-come, first-served.” They will be angry if you push ahead in a lineup instead of waiting your turn.

2) Not smoking in private homes: Most Canadians do not smoke. When you are in people’s homes, you should always ask their permission to smoke. If they do not smoke themselves, they may ask you to go outside to smoke.

3) Being on time: You should always arrive on time — at school, at work and for any meeting. People who are often late may be fired from their jobs or suspended from school. Many Canadians will not wait more than 10 or 15 minutes for someone who has a business meeting. For social events, people expect that you will arrive within half an hour of the stated time.

4) Respect for the environment: Canadians respect the natural environment and expect people to avoid littering (dropping waste paper and other garbage on the street or throwing it out of your car). They expect you to hold on to your garbage until you can find a proper garbage can.

I could tell story upon story about each of these, but I'll let your imagination fill in the blanks. Let's just say that I have had entire conversations with Ibis about each of these "social standards."

What say you?


laundromatters said...

The on time thing drove me nuts too. It seems like time is an "option." Not even a guideline really.
Tell them to be there at 4, expect them at 7:30.

Janna Qualman said...

I think those are great. And no one should expect anything less; unfortunately, they do.

Melanie Avila said...

Welcome laundromatters! Where did (do?) you live? Being married to a Mexican man and hanging out with his Hispanic friends, I've definitely gotten used to the tardiness, but that doesn't mean I like it.

Janna, a lot of people don't even realize that what we're used to is considered the norm.

Stephen Parrish said...

You have no idea how much I wish Germans would learn how to wait in line, rather than push their way rudely to the front.

(I also wish they would allow stores to stay open late, but that's a different subject.)

Melanie Avila said...

Stephen, I first visited Mexico when I was eleven, and my parents taught us then that people in other countries don't wait in an orderly line. We were instructed to hang onto each other so we didn't get separated and do our best to move forward with everyone else. So at least I've been used to it for a long time.

The strangest thing for me was waiting in an orderly line that snaked around the Mexican Consulate in Chicago. Apparently those Mexicans had adapted.

MeganRebekah said...


I used to live in Belize, so I can completely relate to your frustrations! And I've never seen a proper list like this, but wow, it's funny to see the differences in social expectations spelled out.

The one that cracked me up the most was being on time. We used to joke in Belize that everything was 2-3 hours behind. If the flyer said a parade started at 3pm, not a single person would arrive before 5pm. It drove me crazy!!

momcat said...

In third world countries a lot of those standards are the first thing to slip! Its very difficult if you are a first world person living in a third world country.

mary h said...

As I believe I have mentioned to you before, your experiences of living in Mexico vs. vacationing in Mexico have drastically changed my idea if I want to retire there on a full time basis. The answer is NO! Although I love visiting for a few weeks and could probably even stay a 3-6 months, year round is now off the table, for me at least.

The time things makes me crazy! In my world, if I am not 10 minutes early, I am late. Jody is the same. It is so deeply ingrained I think I would have a hard time changing that habit.

I try to be very environmentally conscious, as many of us are these days. Compost, recycle, no styrofoam, electric mower, even the reusable grocery bags which I finally am in the habit of using. I see the cultural differences even here in my neighborhood in Renton where we have a large hispanic population, garbage on the streets, in the park, ect... The trash in Mexico has always bothered me. One of our friends who lives in a small town there, takes his trash out back in the evening and burns it. Lots of styrofoam and plastic. Jody told him not to stand in the smoke as it burned since it is toxic and he just replied "No, it is OK"!

I have not experience the no-line problem, yet. I have only been in lines in the banks and grocery stores and they have been orderly. Guess I have that to look forward to!

The final cultural thing that bothers me is the way the animals are treated. I am such an animal lover and to see the dogs and cats, wandering around thin, mangy and sometimes injured, breaks my heart. I have seen little children kick at dogs and cats and can't help myself but chastise them gently.
I want to load all of those sweet animals up and bring them home with me!

Gee, Mel, I think you touched a nerve! Getting off my soap box now!

Gary Hooyenga said...

Ok, on a two month reprive from the hussle and bussle of US instant gradification, visiting Zihua is great, But! The negatives are there, Trash, crowding, fresh market sanitation,animals, noise. No to more than a few months. There are better places for mid seasons.

EriCan said...

I would totally understand why those would be negatives.

I'll admit- I run late, but I always call, and it's usually not more than a few minutes.

I can't stand when people cut in line- like, what makes you better than me, who's been waiting here for an hour?

The environment- it amazes me that people still litter- there are trash cans everywhere!

I've only visited Mexico- so I didn't see a lot of that, but I assure you, it would get old. Sorry that is something you have to endure.

Melanie Avila said...

Megan, TWO HOURS for official events like parades? That's nuts. Things like that tend to start about a half hour late, but two hours? Jeez.

momcat, I've grown accustomed to them, but visits home reopen my eyes to some of the more negative ones, like the trash.

Melanie Avila said...

Mary, you have so many things for me to reply to. The burning trash is a huge one. When I talk on facebook about people burning things, I don't think my US friends realize it's usually toxic things like you're talking about. Namely trash.

And yes, the animals. I was nervous for our nephew to play with Owen because he's already learning to be mean to animals, but we explained that Owen is like a baby and he seemed to get it.

The lines are more at the market and places like that -- where they don't corral you. ;P

Melanie Avila said...

Gary, I thought of you with the trash comment. I know how much that bothers you (it does me too, I'm just saying...) And yes, the noise... the sanitation. Everything is covered in mud right now because of all the rain.

Erica, the difference between you running late and the way it is in Latin countries is you REALIZE you're inconveniencing people. They don't. Or if they do, they don't care. There are no apologies.

And the trash -- when you drive along the coast here you're torn between awe over the beauty and disgust over the acres of trash that people throw down the sides of the cliffs towards the ocean.

Pink Ink said...

Hurrying up to be somewhere is considered rude in the Philippines. If you ask someone, "How are you?" you stay and visit. Just flipside expectations, I guess?

Well it's good to know that Germans have bad habits, too. I'd hate for "third world" countries to be the only rude ones in the world.

JLC said...

Cultures are different everywhere, even within the US. The state I live in now is very different from the one I used to live in.

Cultural behavior is probably effected by so many different elements. Weather, natural resources, economy, education, and government. It is most certainly difficult to adapt to a new culture and I can completely understand your frustrations. Every time I enter a certain in-law's house, I have to bite my lip because they have such vastly different beliefs and mannerisms than I have. (Eventhough we are the same race and 'culture') When I leave their place, I gasp for 'normalcy' and to surround myself back with my peers who share my beliefs.

I am still keeping my fingers crossed for you and hope you will find an easier time in Canada. (hug)

Nadine said...

It's interesting how things we take for granted (i.e. lining up) aren't present elsewhere.

The tardy thing I've become used to here. People joke that it's "Maui Time." It drove me nuts when I first moved here but I've slowly adapted. Now I know that if someone invites us to dinner at 6pm, they want us at 6:30. (sometimes we've gone 15 minutes late and our friends aren't even home yet).

Melanie Avila said...

Pink, I think there's a difference between hurrying and being punctual. I've always been the type of person who's on time for things, and usually I have to force myself to slow down or I'll be early. That said, it is interesting to learn how different cultures view it.

JLC, I know a few people like that -- they have similar upbringing, etc, but the way they view things are SO different. Just another reason we love our homes, eh?

Nadine, that's crazy that they weren't even there when you arrived late! I guess you also have to know HOW late the lateness is... With our group of friends in Chicago, there are varying degrees of late. We're usually the first ones. ;)

Robin said...

I love this post! I was expecting really bizarre "spelled out" rules like, "Canadians only fart in the bathroom", but these were almost funnier because they were more mundane.

Melanie Avila said...

Robin, that WOULD have bun funny. :P

laundromatters said...

I lived in Spain for a while, but I spent a few weeks in oaxaca. It was a great time, but a pace I couldn't get used to.

Melanie Avila said...

I would love to live in Spain (after living in another English-speaking country first, lol) and I've heard they're really bad about time.