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Light hearted intro to Mexican Spanish

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  1. 1. Mexican SpanishAssembled by Bill PetryMexican Spanish is clearly enunciated, spoken slower than Spanishfrom the Caribbean, and less apt to drop final endings of words.Mexicans, and Latin Americans, never use the Castilian ceco orlisp-like "th" sound: they pronounce cena (supper) as say-nuh,not thay-nuh. When a male uses the Castilian ceco, uninformedMexicans will assume the speaker is less than macho.Mexicans make frequent use of suffixes for emphasis, or toconnote size like -ito (small) and -on (large). The diminutive-ito is also used to connote affection when speaking to childrenor a sweetheart, and is often attached to the individuals name.Mexican Spanish incorporates many words from the Aztec languageof Nahuatl. These are most prevalent in place names and in itemsof food. As a general rule, words ending in -can, -tlan (mostmean "place of"), -atl and -milco, as well as terms with an -x,are of Nahuatl derivation. Words from Nahuatl are always spelledaccording to the rules of Spanish pronunciation and accents.Avocado (Ahuacatl), tomato (xitomatl), and chocolate (chocolatl)are international Nahuatl words.In Mexico, more than 50 Indian languages are spoken by over 4million people, of whom about 20-25% dont speak Spanish.The Indian ideal is to come to terms with life and the universe.The mestizo ideal is to control life. The Indian tends to acceptthings passively; the mestizo tends to strive to dominate things.The Indian is community-oriented; the mestizo is aggressivelyindividualistic. The Indian willingly subjugates his ego; themestizo revels in his machismo, and the vibrant personality. Thismachismo seems to be a result of Spanish rule.BasicsPhrases for asking directions and terms of courtesy are essentialbecause they are appreciated. Knowing basic pronunciation ishelpful because Mexicans, despite their facility for creativeinterpretation of a visitors needs, have difficulty interpretingforeign pronunciations of common words. Each letter has only onesound. Most letters are pronounced the same as in English exceptthat consonants are generally "softer".a fatherb softer than in English, closer to vc as English: an s like in sit when before e or i; elsewhere a k sounde neighbor, endg before a or o like go except before e or i, when it is pronounced as a throaty whgu like go but with the u silent; with an umlaut the u is soundedh is silenti Tina Page 1 of 18
  2. 2. ie both vowels pronounced separatelyj always a throaty whk does not exist in real Spanishll similar to English yn~ like the ny in canyono forp pullq kqu k with silent ur very short rolled rrr ia a longer rolled ru foodue short e (the u is silent)u..e we as in dwell (looks like an umlaut)w does not exist in real Spanishx h like Mexico (MEHEECO); sh as in Uxmal (OOSHMAL); ks as in Necaxa (NECAKSA); or s as in Xochimilco (SOCHIMEELCO)y same as i: Tinaz same as English s; under no circumstances should s or z be pronounced like English z - this sound does not exist in SpanishAll words are accented on the last syllable except for wordsending in vowels, n, or s, which are accented on the next-to-lastsyllable. Exceptions are noted with written accents, which areconsidered an integral part of a words spelling. Nahuatl isaccented on the next to last syllable; Mayan on the lastsyllable.The Spanish alphabet also contains three letters not found inEnglish: ch, ll, and n~ which are alphabetized after c, l, and nrespectively. Ch is pronounced the same as in English; the ll ispronounced as a strong y as in you; and the n~ is pronounced asan ny as in man~ana.Good manners and proper courtesy are an essential part ofeveryday life. A mistake is always preferable to a stony silence(except when not responding to a cat-call; remember, this guy isdying for attention, and will probably be most crushed by yoursilence). Basic terms of politeness (please, thank you) areespecially well received when attempted in Spanish (most Mexicansknow the English counterparts; the point is to make an effort tobe a gracious guest.) Common terms of courtesy include:por favor pleasegracias thank youde nada youre welcomesalud when someone sneezes; respond with graciasbuenos dias good morningcon permiso excuse me (as when interrupting someone to ask directions)perdone me excuse me (as after stepping on someones toe)?mande? what did you say (colloq, Mex City)no entiendo I dont understand Page 2 of 18
  3. 3. mucho gusto pleased to meet youestoy bien I am fineadios goodbyebueno "Hello!", when you answer the phonea sus ordenes (at your orders)The most common public phone in Mexico is the orange pay phone.Not so common is an orange pay phone that works. To make a localcall (llamada local), insert a 50- or 100-peso coin. Ask busdrivers for 1,000-peso coins to make long-distance calls (llamadade large distancia). Calling within Mexico is pretty cheap.Mexicans do not use the telephone as frequently as we do in theUS. They prefer personal contact for both business and pleasure.As a result, much of our routine day-to-day telephone businesswould there become visits to company offices. We will interrupt aconversation to answer the phone. Mexicans give less credence todecisions made on information sought over the phone.Mexicans use the mail less than we in the US do. Bills must oftenbe paid in person, partly because checking accounts are lesscommon. Direct mail advertising is uncommon.Aside from school and university libraries reserved for their ownfaculties and students, Mexico has almost no lending libraries.Perhaps the single most popular US presence in Mexico City is theUSIAs Benjamin Franklin library on Londres St. Here Mexicans andforeigners alike can obtain library cards and check out books inboth Spanish and English. New books in English are expensive.Many English words have Spanish counterparts; only the endingsare different. But not always. If you are embarrassed over yourpoor attempt to communicate, you are sofoco (enbarrassed), notembarazada (pregnant).Some words have different meanings in Mexico. A tortilla in Spainis an omlette.Nuances of Mexican SpanishThe first rule is to try to speak Spanish whenever possible. Anyattempts at Spanish say, in so many words, that you wishgracefully to be part of the culture; you recognize that you area guest. Mexicans appreciate the effort and readily forgiveerrors in pronounciation or grammar. Remember, communication ismore than just words, it is an attitude which forms the basis ofa relationship. Some claim, too, that by speaking Spanish youshow you know your way around - at least a little bit - and itmight get you a slightly lower price in a market.Mexican money (dinero) as of 1997 comes in 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100,and 200 peso (N$) denominations in paper (billetes) and coins(monedas) are 5, 10, 20, 50 centavos and 1, 2, 5, and 10 pesos.The "no change" dilemma will often confront you: Many shops andrestaurants dont have change (cambio) for your purchase even if Page 3 of 18
  4. 4. the note you offer is valued as low as N$20. In these situations,youll just have to smile and chill out while they send someonenext door to see if they can make change. Enough of theseencounters may compel you to request billetes chicos (smallerbills) when you exchange money.A few financial mechanics will give you insight into just whomakes what in Mexico. The averave wage in 1997 is approx N$25($3US) per day. Rural teachers earn approx $11US a day, touristpolice $9US, bus drivers and maids approx $4US. Taxi drivers makeabout 30% of their take with the rest going to the taxi owner.Tobacco workers (usually women) who weave ropes of 200 driedtobacco leaves each earn N$3 (approx $0.40US) a rope.Prices for services that are fixed in the US are negotiable inMexico, from taxis to auto repairs. Bartering is taken forgranted; indeed, the visitor who accepts the initial price mayreceive the gratitude of vendors, but not their respect.To avoid awkward misunderstandings, always agree on a pricebefore a service is performed. This agreement will always behonored.You can improve the impression you make by shaking handsfrequently. Mexicans shake hands not only when first introduced,but whenever they meet again, and when they take leave of oneanother.Only make hotel reservations during the high season if you aregoing to a beach area. Off-season, just arrive and find outwhats available by calling when you arrive. If you truly want areservation, write or fax well in advance, saying in your letterthat youll forward a deposit upon receipt of a confirmation. Or,instead, call the hotel, make the reservation, get the name ofthe person who takes the reservation, and then send your depositby registered mail, return receipt requested - all of which cantake a good deal of time. If the clerk asks you where yourecalling from, pick someplace nearby in Mexico; if you say the USor some distant Mexican City, the quoted rate could be two tothree times the current local price (this is especially true inAcapulco); if they think youre nearby, they know you can easilyfind out the true rate. If in doubt about the price on arrival,ask the price as though youre just another tourist looking for aroom. Dont tell them youve made a reservation and see whatprice they quote you. If its a lot lower than the price quotedin the reservation, accept the lower price and register. Ifyouve paid a deposit, make sure its applied to your bill. Youhave to debate the point with them a bit, but its worth it.It is appropriate to tip approx. 10% at sit-down restaurants, buteven then only when the server offers service to warrant (no needto tip at fonda/loncherias). Some restaurants include the servicecharge on the bill; be sure to check. Tip taxi drivers if theyrender extra service like offer suggestions and dont rip you off(be sure to fix the price first). Tip N$2 per bag if youre toolazy to carry them yourself and someone helps you out. In hotelstip the maid either in person or leave it in the room, especially Page 4 of 18
  5. 5. if you received extra service (additional drinking water aguapurificada, for example).Gas station attendants, the ones who pump your gas, work fortips. Even if they dont wash your windshield or check your oil(you may have to ask for these services), do as many Mexicans doand ask for some amount less than an even amount of gas and givethe attendant the change. The young girls and boys who bag yourgroceries at the stores are there working for tips. Keep in mindthat many people in Mexico depend almost exclusively on tips fortheir livelihood.It is considered demeaning to offer money for a voluntary servicerendered as a kindness, not as part of a job (A passer-by offersdirections, or helps to change a tire.) Mexicans are hospitablepeople, and resent the image that they are always after moneyfrom rich Norteamericanos. In such cases, a 4-pack of chicklets,few sticks of gum or a beer would be a more appropriate thankyou.Mexicans shop frequently and purchase small amounts. With theexception of modern supermarkets few goods are pre-packaged.Why?: fewer people have cars to transport large amounts, the poorhave very little money to spend at one time, and the rich sendtheir maids to the market on a daily basis. Packaging andcontainers are expensive and sometimes cost extra. Beer (cervesa)and soda (refrescos) are usually sold in returnable bottles;often the deposit costs as much as the contents. So when youpurchase a cold soda from a nearby tienda (local market), be sureto drink it there or pay the N$1 deposit.Some Mexican drinking establishments admit men only. Bars inhotels and restaurants, cocktail lounges and many others admitwomen, but true cantinas do not. Pulquerias not only dont admitwomen, they dont admit men who are strangers (in general).By the way, Mexicans usually drink their beer al tiempo (at roomtemperature). Should you prefer cold ask for frio.If you dont remember the correct verb endings or thesubjunctive, you can manage by using the present tense, the "togo" form for the future, and phrases rather than sentences. Mexican Spanish makes extensive use of the reflexive form, as inthe car "broke itself," the glass "fell itself," or the key "lostitself" [this way no one has to take responsibility; things justhappen]. Two phrases frequently encountered are No se puede (Itcant be done) and No hay (There arent any).When shopping, Mexicans avoid making inquiries personal. Insteadof asking ?Tiene Vd. pan? (Do you have bread?), they will inquire?Hay pan? (Is there bread?) or "?No hay limon?" (Got any lime?).The implication is that no one present is particularlyresponsible if theres none. Since, as in English, certain wordshave double meanings, one obscene, the distinction between "Doyou have?" and "Are there any?" can make the difference betweenracous laughter at you expense and a ready answer.The two most popular breakfasts in Mexico are huevos a lamexicana and huevos rancheros. When ordering the former avoid Page 5 of 18
  6. 6. asking for huevos mexicana as huevos is slang for testicles.Huevos (eggs) and chile, for example, refer to parts of the maleanatomy; only when used in the reflexive and they are taken to beinnocent inquiries about food.Spanish, like other romance languages, has two forms of the word"you": usted (formal) and tu (familiar). As a general rule, tu isappropriate in any situation in which you would address the otherperson by his or her first name. Mexicans tend to be far lessformal in this regard than Spaniards.Terms used in conversations about Mexican society also take onspecial meanings. "Popular" when used to describe taste or asegment of society (ie. popular entertainment) refers genericallyto the working class and below, with no connation of a majority,as opposed to "important" people of culture who control and ownthings. Indio (Indian), when used in reference to individuals,encompasses not only race but lifestyle. Unfortunately, itsometimes carries negative connotations, and is best avoided ifused to refer to those to whom you are speaking. Words we in theUS associate with Marxism - bourgeoisie, proletariat - are usedroutinely without any ideological implications.Mexicans do not identify with government in their speech by usingthe pronoun "we" to describe national policy or action. Whensomeone from the US uses "we" to describe US policy it can implysupport for it.Hugging, abrazos, is normal behavior between good friends. In thesame way, girls will walk with their arms around one anotherswaists; nothing is implied except friendship.Backpacks are the most manageable way to lug belongings around,but they instantly brand you as a foreigner (and probablyAmerican). The outside pockets are easy to pick, so dont storeany valuables in them. If you want to blend in with the localtourist population, bring a duffel or large shoulder bag.Remember, if you cant carry your luggage, by yourself, for atleast a mile in dripping hot weather, youve got too much.As a general rule ones person is safer that ones vunerableproperty. The greatest danger facing visitors is the distraction:the magic of a foreign country leads them to forget the normalrules of common sense. Pickpockets are pervasive, especially incrowds, and especially in Mexico City. One should be especiallycautious about carrying handbags and wallets, and avoid showinglarge amounts of cash. It is important to remember that Mexico isa poor country and wages are about $3 per day; for many, theamount of loose cash carried by a tourist exceeds a weeks incomeor more.Honor means never having to admit powerlessness, for example,admitting that a request is beyond ones ability to fulfill. As aresult, Mexicans will frequently agree to do something they knowthey cannot do, and later attribute their lack of success toforces beyond their control. The so-called man~ana attitude (Illdo it tomorrow) also saves face. Often when you are toldsomething will not be possible until tomorrow - or until nextweek - you are really hearing a polite "No." By suggesting Page 6 of 18
  7. 7. something can be done in the future, but not at present, theMexican can avoid admitting a request is impossible to grant. Ittakes some experience to know when man~ana means "tomorrow," andwhen man~ana means "no."Mexicans believe it is less rude to accept an unwantedappointment or invitation, then fail to appear, than to refusethe invitation. Dont be too offended by being stood up in thisway.It must be realized that most Mexicans value simpatia(congeniality) over promptness. If something is really worthdoing, it gets done. If not, it can wait. Life should not be asuccession of pressures and deadlines. In the business-likecultures, life (according to many Mexicans) has beendesympathized.Mexico is both cheaper and more expensive that the US, for goodsand services do not have the same relative value. As a generalrule, labor is cheap and things are expensive. This makestourism, whose restaurants and hotels are labor intensive, arelative bargain. The same applies to handicrafts. The productsof everyday life tend to be more expensive than in the US,especially if they are imported.Mexicans are a generous people. When you ask a Mexican where heis from, he will often give you the name of the town followed by"donde tiene su casa." This means "where your home is," implyingthat "My house is your house". Dont take him up on it; he isonly being polite. Friendship entails a willingness to share whatone has. Mexicans abhor the "keeping count" practices of the US,such as carefully taking turns in paying for a meal or evenworse, dividing the check according to who ate what. What we seeas fairness strikes Mexicans as stinginess.In conversation with a Mexican, dont admire any of his or herpossessions too much, lest the item be offered as a gift youcannot refuse.A Little Slangciudades perdidas - lost cities, slumsmuchachas de casa - house maidschava - girlfriend, (chavo= boyfriend)?Que onda, mano? - whats shakin, brother?!Que padre! - How fantastic!naco - neuvo riche?Tienes coche o Volkswager? - a putdownTragafuegos - firebreather, uses kerosene & wire torchlimpiaparabrisas -street urchins wholl wash your car windows ata stop lightEl pinche gobierno - the fucking governmentpendejo - very large mas problemtonto - small menos problempollo -mexican name for wetback; like a chicken thrown to thecoyotesel otro lado - the other side (the USA) Page 7 of 18
  8. 8. ... de mierda - ... of shitjefe - bosscuates - palsunion libre - free union (living together)fayuquero - smugglerpepenador - scavenger (nahuatl= pepena)Somos jodidos aqui - Were fucked herehuevos - eggs (testicles)leche - milk (sperm)chili - chili pepper (penis)chi-chi - chic (tits); also melones?Quien sabe? - Who knows?chingar (chinga) -to screw someone literally or figuratively(chingon= one who ...); (chingadera= a dirty trick);(chingaquedito= an irritating person)!Que chingon! - what a guy! (see above)Vete a la chingada - Go to Hell!hijos de la chingada -children of the raped (what Mexicans callthemselves)que chingo que me chingues - that I hurt you before you hurt meel pequeno poder - the little power (bribe)?Ni modo? - What else can one do?Maricon -gay person; also joto (derived from a Mayan word) orputo (activo & pasivo; inserters & receivers)la gripe - any bad coldapariencia agradable -agreeable appearance (= No Indians needapply)puta - whore (-o masc)mango - the charms of a pretty girlNicknamesPaco, Pancho - FranciscoMamo - Guillermo (William)Challo - RosarioChava - SalvadorCars and DrivingMexico, recognizing the difficulty of controlling contraband atthe busy border crossings, has established a semi-free trade zonewithin twenty miles of the border. Within the zone, designatedthe frontera, cars have distinct license plates and inspection isminimal. Beyond the border town, usually at a particularly remotespot, there is an additional inspection. As long as you possessproper papers you will be usually waved through. If you neglectedto stop upon entering Mexico, you are in trouble.Upon entering the country, your tourist card is stamped con coche(with car). Should a member of your party intend to fly home, itis essential that the person who will dirve the car back to theUS receive the special stamp.Driving in Mexico is a marvelous way to escape from the tourists Page 8 of 18
  9. 9. centers and crowded cities and to see the countryside. However,this presents a challenge all its own. Mexican drivers all butignore the rules and every driver seems determined to push hisvehicle beyond the limits of common sense. The road is one placein Mexican culture where speed counts, especially if it will getyou to your destination before everyone else on the road. Themotor vehicle represents a kind of equality: it matters not whoyou are, but how daring you can be in navigating the blindmountain curve. Mexican drivers are good; they have to be. Theyjust lack good judgement. White crosses along the side of theroad mark places where a drivers courage exceeded hisdiscretion. The primary rule ofr driving in Mexico is simple: DONOT DRIVE AT NIGHT!Lanes on Mexican highways are only suggestions; the number ofvehicles that can run abreast is dictated by the width of theroad, not the lane markings.Many commercial vehicles have rear lights to signal when it issafe to pass, a green or yellow left arrow, sometimes with theword siga (proceed). Remember the driver is probably using hisstandard of safety, not necessarily yours.Mexican road signs follow international convention; most of thetime the picture conveys the message even it you dont know theSpanish words. (The word for "Stop" is Alto.) Warning signs areused sparingly. Since many drivers ignore signs out of principle,many towns have installed speed bumps (topes). Take theseseriously, coming to all but a full stop, if you value your car.Construction crews place large rocks, often painted white, on theroad to warn of danger ahead. Whenever you come across stonesleft in the right-of-way, assume it is warning you of something.Avoid driving in cities as much as possible. As a general rule,the right-of-way is something one earns, not something to whichone has a right. At an intersection, dont assume the crossstreet has a stop sign if you dont; even if it does, it might beignored. One-way streets are to be taken seriously. Often theonly indication is a small arrow attached to a building on thecorner, difficult to spot. If the street looks too narrow fortwo-way traffic it probably is.You occasionally encounter one-lane bridges on two-lane highways.The driver who flashes his or her lights first is supposed to bethe one permitted to cross the bridge first. This is standardprocedure for both day and night.Mexico City traffic is as challenging as any in the world. Aboutthe best you can do is watch carefully what is going on in frontof you, and trust that the driver behind you is doing the same.Here again, lane markings appear to be treated as suggestionsonly.Driving seems to embody the ultimate challenge to the Mexicanmales sense of machismo; to yield unnecessarily to traffic orpedestrians is a sign of personal weakness. Yielding to anattractive young woman crossing the street is, of course,something else, and very acceptable. Most drivers are uniformlycourteous to women accompanied by young children.On the subject of women, fair women receive plenty of attention Page 9 of 18
  10. 10. from men in the street, but the usual is a catcall and the worstis an ass-pinch. Granted not welcome, but not dangerous either.Most women travelers feel uncomfortable about hitchhiking and forgood reason; if something happens, no one will know, and yourstory may not be believed by the authorities. Remember, actionsforeign women consider normal and friendly (eye contact, a smile)can be considered explicit advances by Mexican men.Traffic signals are more of a challenge than a regulation; atmost intersections traffic police are needed to enforce redlights. When the officer is facing to or away from you it meandstop. When showing his side it means go. In Mexico looking bothways before crossing the street acquires a special urgency.In Mexico City, in an attempt to cut down on air pollution, everycar (including out-of-state or out-of-country vehicles) has oneday of the week when it cannot be driven. The last digit of thelicense number determines which day: 5-6 Monday, 7-8 Tuesday, 3-4Wednesday, 1-2 Thursday, and 9-0 Friday. The police take thislaw, called Hoy no circula (Today no driving), quite seriouslyand will impound the offending vehicle until 10PM that night aswell as impose a fine of about $120.When parking, you will often be approached by either an old manor a young boy offering to watch your car. Accept the offer;consider him a human parking meter who provides special services.At times, he will specify a fee (perhaps $.50 to $1); at othertimes he will rely on your generosity. Be sure to remember whathe looks like or you may feel compelled to tip the whole groupsurrounding the car on your return.Beware of no-parking zones, marked either with an "E" with a linedrawn through it or red paint on the curb. Traffic police do notjust leave tickets; they will tow the car, remove the licenseplates, or apply the infamous boot to the wheel.Often, either a parking attendant or passer-by will help you parkyour car. A steady slapping on your rear fender is a signal foryou to keep coming, with a hard final slap to tell you to stop.The hand signal to come looks like the US signal to go away.In renting a car, before taking possession of your rented vehiclein Mexico, be sure to check the vehicle carefully for any dents,scratches, or chips in the glass; otherwise, you will be chargedfor these when you return.The PoliceMexican police are professional and generally helpful. Do nothesitate to approach a cop on the beat for directions orassistance. In tourist areas bilingual police officers wear smallflags on theis shoulder denoting the languages they speak.Like most civil servants, Mexican police are poorly paid. Theyexpect to supplement their meager income with the"considerations" they recieve from minor lawbreakers. Often theythemselves have offered a "consideration" to get their jobs, and Page 10 of 18
  11. 11. are also expected to turn something over to their superiors.Commercial vehicles are routinely stopped for allegedinfractions; it is a cost of doing business.Short-term visitors are most likely to encounter the police fortraffic violations. Generally these can be resolved on the spotby giving the officer the fine he demands (should you feel thatyou are innocent ask for a ticket and pay the fine at thestation, otherwise you should negotiate for a better price).Speeding tickets are about $4. Since violators will pay a fine inany case solving the issue on the spot saves everyone involved alot of time and leaves out the middleman. These informalconsiderations on the spot will resolve only minor violations,not major crimes.Another good way to get arrested is to but marijuana fromstrangers (or smoke it in public). Until fairly recently, mostMexicans associated it almost exclusively with criminals. If youare offered illegal drugs, there is a good chance that yourfriendly local vendor is working for the police. Near theGuatemalan border, and in remote areas elsewhere in Mexico,expect to have police descend on your car for a search (as littleas 1/3-oz of pot can land you in jail).Abortion and pornography are illegal but widespread. However,there are no restrictions on sexual activities between consentingadults (ie the girl is not a minor), including homosexuality andprostitution as long as discretion is observed.ClimateMexico City, Guadalajara and many other cities of the centralplateau sport temperate year-round climates. High altitude(1,545m, 5,069ft for Guadalajara, and 2,240m, 7,349ft for MexicoCity) keeps these cities from getting really hot, even in thesummer. In an average year the high temp in Mexico City will bearound 31C (88F); for Guadalajara 35C (88F). In Mexico City,expect temperatures in the upper 20s C (70s F) in April andMay, in the low 20s C (70s F) in the summer and fall, and inthe upper 10s C (60s F) to low 20s C (70s F) in the winter.Summer is the rainy season - in July and August - Mexico City hasrain nearly every day - but usually the rain lasts only a coupleof hours in the afternoon (which necessitates a folding umbrellaand perhaps a lightweight raincoat). It is cool at night: inwinter the temperature may fall as low as 0C (32F) at night.In southern Mexico and the Yucatan, the climate varies dependingon where you are - some areas dry, others have nearly 5m (16ft)of rainfall a year. High in the mountains it is not nearly as hotas at sea level. In Oaxaca, which is over 1,500m (5,000ft) high,the night-time temperatures in winter can fall below 0C (32F) butin summer, in mid-day, it occasionally rises to nearly to 38C(100F). On the Yucatan peninsula, Meridas temperature can riseas high as 42.2C (108F); Cozumels maximum is scarcely above 90F,as it is right on the coast. Anywhere in the peninsula, expectdaily temperatures in the upper 20s C (80s F) year-round; Page 11 of 18
  12. 12. night-time seldom gets below 16C (60F).Northern Mexico is largely desert. The days are very hot insummer - well over 38C (100F) - except in the mountains. It iscold in winter, when it may freeze at night. As you go easttoward Monterrey, the climate is more moderate and less dry, butstill very hot in summer.Acapulcos daily highs of 27C (80F) to 32C (90F) year-roundseldom fall much below 21C (70F) at night. As with most ofMexico, the rainy season is in summer and early fall; there isvery little rain in the winter. Pacific breezes keep thingscomfortable.Further north along the Pacific coast, the temperature issomewhat cooler at night, but otherwise similar. In an averageyear, the max temp in Mazatlan or Puerto Vallarta will be in themid-30s C (mid-90s F). North of Mazatlan, the coast becomes adesert, and the summers are hotter. In Guaymas, the average maxruns 112F. Typical summer temps are in the upper 20s & 30s C(80s & 90s F). The winter is temperate, usually in the 20s C(70s F) in the daytime.Baja has very low rainfall throughout, which occurs in late falland early winter. Temperatures are more comfortable where theland is cooled by sea breezes, as on the southern tip of thepeninsula and along the Pacific coast. Ensenadas summer highwill not rise above 35C (95F); but San Felipe, on the Gulf ofCalifornia coast, may go up to 48C (118F). The desert is cold atnight.What to WearThe word gringo is used frequently as a slang expression forpeople from the US (or any foreigner). It is a 16th centurycorruption of griego, "Greek", which became a generic Spanishterm for any foreign trader. Most of the time it carries nonegative connation. Gringa, or gringita, on the other hand, does.Since Mexican women - with the exception of prostitutes - areseldom available outside marriage: a foreign woman, unchaperoned,is understood to be open to having a good time (an unreasonableexpectation of Mexican men). A completely respectable US, EC, orAsian woman will wear clothing on the street which, if worn by aMexican woman, would signify they are sexually promiscuous.Mexican women in cities tend to dress up more than women in theUS and some other counrties, but you are not there to impresspeople. In Mexico Guero (fem -o; or blanco) is used for blondpeopleIt is considered offensive and in the worst taste for men to goshirtless or for women (or men as well) to wear short shorts, sooutside of resort areas try to adjust your dress and behavioraccordingly. Remote areas are often conservative, andconservative people often feel most comfortable with people whoare not too conspicuous. Appearing bizarre to the local peoplewill gain you nothing, except perhaps the suspicions of the Page 12 of 18
  13. 13. police.Men can wear a guayabera shirt, which can be worn over slacks tolook a little dressed-up while feeling cool and comfortable atthe same time. Women can wear long, loose embroidered dresseswhich are equally cool and comfortable. Permanent-press or knitdresses and skirts are comfortable in hot weather and are easy topack. Pants worn by women are perfectly acceptable. Baggy khakisare cooler than jeans. Long-sleeved shirts help prevent mosquitobites and sunburn, though youll also need insect repellent andsunscreen. A hat will also help keep off the sun.Mexican women (Indigineous mostly) will be seen wearing Huipil(brightly embroidered white blouses), broad-cloth skirts, andRebosos - which resembles a serapi but with a slit from thecenter to one edge leaving the front accessable, rather than aslit through the center to put your head through with your hands& front covered.Even if you enjoy the attention and flattering comments, becareful not to respond to any overtures unless you mean to followthrough. If you dont enjoy the attention, you can minimize theeffects; dont make eye contact, dont respond to their comments,dont smile, dont say thanks, and dont glare or make nastyremarks. Just walk on. Traveling in groups helps too.Nudity, however, even partial nudity, is illegal and dealt withseriously. If you are caught in the nude by someone who seemsupset about it, dont try to laugh it off - apologize and putsome clothes on. The alternative could be arrest (just like inthe US).No matter where you plan to travel in Mexico, bring a pair ofcomfortable walking shoes that are already broken in.Health & SafetyMexico has socialized medicine, and, happily, travelers can takeadvantage of this. Nearly every city or town has a Centro deSalud (government health center), where you can receive free,24-hour medical care. The surroundings may look less thansanitary, but the visit and any drugs you may need are free, andthe doctors are kind. English-speaking doctors are found only inthe larger cities. In smaller places, bring your dictionary.Rest and moderation are the best cure for almost every case ofdiarrhea.The safest course in selecting a place to eat is to lookcarefully before ordering. If no effort is being made to keep thecounter clean or the flies away from the food, chances are goodthat the customer will ingest unwanted bacteria with the meal.The fondas in the markets have the advantage that you can see thekitchen and the food before committing yourself. In these stalls,there is likely to be no menu; simply ask, "Que hay?" - "What isthere?"What to do if you find most Mexican food far too hot? If itsalready in your mouth, reach for the bread, not the water. Beeralso helps. If you are ordering a meal, the word is picante Page 13 of 18
  14. 14. (spicy) not caliente (hot only in temperature).Mexicans are less safety conscious than we in the US.Construction sites, whether buildings are adjacent to a busysidewalk or on rural highways, are often poorly marked. Holesappear in the middle of streets and sidewalks with no warnings.Uninsulated electric wires hang mysteriously from outlets in eventhe most expensive hotel rooms.This apparent indifference to safety is not from ignorance, butfrom safety having a lower priority. Mexico is also a poorercountry; total safety is expensive. Where safety really counts,however, Mexico is not lacking. Its airlines have an enviablesafety record.Language and GenderGender-neutral terms are impossible in Spanish, since all nouns,and the adjectives that modify them, are either masculine orfeminine. Even the Spanish "they" had a masculine or feminineform (ellos, ellas, respectively). As a general rule, nouns thatend in o, e, ma, or a consonant are masculine, and nouns endingin a, ion, or dad are usually feminine. Some nouns take either amasculine or feminine form, depending on the ending, eg viajerois a male traveler; viajera female. Most adjectives becomefeminine by adding an a. There are exceptions: Mexico ismasculine as is los Estados Unidos (the United States).Mexicans will generally excuse modifiers of the incorrect genderexcept when applied to individuals, including oneself. In usingSpanish when less than fluent you should be especially carefulwith such phrases as mucho gusto ("very pleased" to meet you) orencantado ("delighted" or "enchanted" to meet you, without thepretentiousness of the English), since the adjectives gusto (fem=gusta) or encantado (fem= encantada) refer to the speaker.Titles are important in Mexico. In formal situations use apersons professional title if possible, even if you are speakingin English. Be sure the gender is correct, that is, a femalelawyer, Licenciado (or Abrogado), is Licendiada (or Abrogada).Engineer: ingeniero, Professor: profesor, Doctor: medico. If theperson has no title, use the masculine Sen~or or the feminineSen~orita, whether you know the persons name or not. If youdont know the surname, precede the term, whether professionaltitle or a version of Sen~or, by the definite article "the," suchas el sen~or or la sen~ora. Sen~orita (Miss) is used, not Sen~ora(Mrs), unless you know she is married, or traditionally, if shelooks old enough to be a grandmother. A few Mexican feminists areadvocating the use of Sen~o in place of Sen~orita or Sen~ora inorder to avoid a womans marital status becoming an integral partof her formal title, but the usage remains rare, far less commonthan Ms. in the US.Children automatically assume the name of both their parents (thefathers surname first, and alphabetized under his name), acustom only recently and still sporadically adopted in the US.Hence the dual last names so common south of the border. When a Page 14 of 18
  15. 15. girl is married she typically adds her husbands first surname(his fathers name) to her own after the pronoun de (of) anddrops her mothers surname; hence Rosa Gomez Rodriguez marryingJuan Castro Lopez becomes Roas Gomez de Castro. Upper-classfamilies, reluctant to lose any part of their heritages, willtend to add on names, not drop them, and the full name growslonger. Some will emphasize the duality of their distinguishedheritage by adding y (and) to their name, such as the philosopherJose Ortega y Gasset.Mexican LifestylesThe Marginalized live on the edge of society and comprise 25-40%of the population. They include peasants who own barely enoughland on which to support their families, and the hundreds ofthousands of migrants who flock to Mexico City, the border towns- and the US (often to stay with relatives). Most have no regularemployment and so must rely on their wits to survive. Entirehouseholds must work, with children as young as seven sellingnewspapers or candy.Homes, such as they are, are frequently constructed from trashtaken from construction sites. Water is obtained from publicfountains, and electricity, if they have any, may be illegallytapped from utility lines. Streets are unpaved; schools andclinics are miles away. Since public transportation is spotty topossible job locations, many support themselves by selling pettyservices to each other. Alcohol and violence are an integral partof daily life. The pressure of trying to survive makes any kindof real family life virtually impossible. Men desert theirfamilies, parents desert their children.The working class have regular employment. Regular employmentcarries with it a security blanket unavailable to themarginialized. Low wages also explain the desperation with whichworkers everywhere seek to supplement their incomes withgratutities for performing jobs. Organized labor is powerful andhas traditionally pushed for security over higher wages.Typically workers receive free medical care, modest deathbenefits, and severance pay. To discharge an employee legally isan expensive proposition. Upward mobility is restricted by thefact that to go beyond a certain point on the social scalerequires adopting a different lifestyle as well as earningadditional income.As in the US, the Good Ole Boy network is alive and well inMexico. Here it is referred to as the Client and Patron.Middle Class values scorn working with the hands. Regardless ofyour job, you can be considered middle class when you become amanager of a firm where someone else does the work. Middle andupper class Mexicans are not consumers of do-it-yourself manuals.In addition, to be accepted as middle class requires refinedmanners, good clothes, education, fine furnishings, and householdemployees to do the menial tasks. The middle class valueseducation as it provides both a means to respectable career, and Page 15 of 18
  16. 16. because it separates from the classes beneath. Private schoolsare preferred.The Middle Class live a tenuous existence, constantly underpressure to maintain the symbols of a lifestyle that may bebeyond their means. Their status disassociates them fromtraditional Mexico. They admire foreign products, and are proudof whatever English they know. They vacation where Americansvacation such as Cancun. Also middle class women are most likelyto pursue careers, seek a divorce, or have an abortion.Titles and business cards are essential possessions for themiddle class.The Wealthy have relatively new wealth, first or secondgeneration earned wealth, not the wealth of a traditional, landedaristocracy. In reality, Mexico has two distinct upper classes,those whose wealth derives from politics and those whose wealthderives from business. The two rarely intermingle, as they havetheir distinct set of family ties and social networks, althoughthey function and live similarly. They are not ashamed of theirwealth and tend to flaunt it. They do not share the insecuritiesof the middle class, for their income is high enough to maintaintheir separation from the popular classes. They patronizeexclusively private schools and clubs. As a general rule, upperclass values tend to be more traditional than middle classvalues.Mexicans value possessions, titles and servants or attendants assigns of status. They place special value on "possessing" people.In Mexico, status comes from the number of subordinates who areavailable to come to ones assistance. Status demands avoidingpublic facilities used by everyone else.Making ConversationThere are few topics that are out of bounds in conversationbetween Mexicans and North Americans (those from the US &Canada). Since Mexicans divide their world into public andprivate less often, it is always acceptable to inquire about apersons spouse and children. Feel free to ask about politicalissues as most Mexicans are delighted for the opportunity toexplain their nation to visitors. They are curious about the USas long as you do not imply that the US way is the right or onlyway.The only sensitive subjects, at least until the visitor knows hisMexican host fairly well, are those subjects associated with USugly stereotypes about Mexico. Examples include corruption andproblems related to drinking the water.Mexicans do not appreciatethe humor in jokes about the water or the toilets, and these areviewed as typical "ugly American" insults.Photographing Indians can be difficult. You can offer to paythem, but chances are your shots will look terribly posed. If youhave a telephoto lens, you may be able to get good pictureswithout offending people. You can also try using a wide-angle Page 16 of 18
  17. 17. lens, shooting blindly from the hip. The only way to get theshots you want is to spend time with the people; be friendly andpolite until you and your camera become part of the scenery. Theyis may be possible to get excellent and "unposed" shots.Mexican Spanish is rich in colorful slang and obscenities. A fewclassics are usually said in a certain sing-song tone; one is theautomobile horns that mimic the tone of a particularly vile curse(Chinga tu madre, literally "Fuck your mother!"), a delightful ifcrude comeback to the fellow who just cut you off. Visitors arewell advised to avoid such language, especially if your knowledgeonly comes from a phrase book, unless you are very wellacquainted with both the language and the person with whom youare speaking. As in English, context is everything; better to besafe than sorry.A Little Mexican HistoryHuman habitation in present-day Mexico dates back as far as20-50,000BC. Sometime around 5,000BC, people in Mexico began togrow maize and beans. About 3,000BC they began to grow cotton andweave textiles and irrigate the land. In about 2,000BC theylearned to fashion pottery and by 1,500BC they began to fashiongods in their minds.The earliest known civilization was the Olmec who carved hugestone heads and built large ceremonial centers on the Gulf Coastin the present states of Veracruz and Tabasco before 1,100BC,ending suddenly around 400BC. The jaguar played a leading role inOlmec religion. Apparently it evolved into the rain god.Ancient Mexican society reached its height between 200BC and900AD in the so-called Classic Period. It was during this timethat the Mayan (and the offshoot Huastecs who were also mostlypeaceful; the Kulkulkan adherents demanded human sacrifice andengaged in exotic practices that shocked the puritanical, selfmutilating Mayans), Zapotecs (in Oaxaca, who later were invadedby the Mixtecs from the north) and the Toltecs (with theirmilitary elite and their god Quetzalcoatl[the plumed serpent])built grand cities and religious centers in Central Mexico, theYucatan, and Guatemala.Toward the end of this period, new waves of migrations from thenorth overwhelmed the declining Classic states. Thesepost-Classic societies were more warlike and more committed tohuman sacrifice, and they absorbed much of the Classic culturethat had preceded them.The Aztecs arrived around 1250AD. They were a messianic peoplewho believed themselves chosen by their god Huitzilopochtli (theHummingbird - god of war and god of the sun). Tlaloc was theirrain god.With the advent of Flower Wars, eventually human sacrificereplaced the battlefield.Throughout pre-Columbian history, Mexico was predominantly asociety of peasants, who lived off the land. This peasant societywas based on communities, not individuals. Individuals identifiedthemselves not in terms of their own achievements or possessions, Page 17 of 18
  18. 18. but as members of a particular family or village. Families livedtogether in villages, not apart from each other on their ownplots of land. The land, therefore, was owned by the village, notby individuals, even though individual households might beassigned specific plots of land to use. Access to property, asdistinct from ownership, was determined by need and usage, andwas always contingent upon the greater needs of the community.This is continued in Ejido lands that belong to the towns andcannot be bought or sold.Religion (reliance on supernatural forces to influence thefuture) was an important part of indigenous scoiety. Differentcommunities worshiped different gods, gods who seemedparticularly inclined to favor that community.From time to time over many centuries, large city-states arose.Some were commercial centers, others religious centers. Mostdeveloped a privileged class of priests, governors, anchants. Thecity-states attempted to exert influence over the surroundingcountryside, and forcved villages to pay tribute and to providelabor for public buildings and temples. Peasants were obligatedto worship the gods of the city-state in addition to their own.Religion, then, became the dynamism that compelled obedience. Sothe wealth and achievements of the cities were possible onlythrough the exploitation of the surrounding villages. This legacyhelps to explain the preferred isolation of many remote villages,and thier reluctance to welcome the representatives of outsideauthority, no matter how well intentioned they might be.The majority of Mexicans continued to live simple lives in smallrural villages, and as one center of culture followed another inpreeminence, the inhabitants of the former culture remained,becoming ultimately the Mexicans of today.Spanish colonial government was never as effective as itsstructure suggested. Distances were long, decisions traveledslowly, and legislation was often unrealistic. Indeed, therearose a standard response to decrees from Spain: "I obey, but Ido not comply." In other words, I recognize the authority of theSpanish crown, but will follow my own best judgement in practice.SourcesHippocrene Companion Guide to Mexico, by Michael Burke, NY 1992.Insight Guides, Mexico, Kal Muller, APA Pubs, Singapore, 1989the Berkeley guides, On the Loose in Mexico 1993, Asc Students;UCBMexico, lonely planet travel survival kit, 1992BBC Mexico Vivo, set in Mexico City, is purported to beundoubtedly the best self-teaching course available. (Book, tapeand videocassette)Mexican Government Tourism Office, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd.,Suite 224, Los Angeles, CA 90067 (213) 203-8191 Page 18 of 18