No matter how confident you are, it’s never comfortable to have all eyes turn to you (and not in a good way) for some social rule you didn’t even know you were breaking. The truth is, if you’re tall and light complexioned, you’re probably going to stand out in Mexico or the rest of Latin America, but there are ways to tone down your “foreignness” and reduce stares and frustrations. I’ve compiled an unofficial list of the most common mistakes and social faux-pas I’ve seen Americans and Canadians make abroad; hopefully these tips will help you feel a bit more at home in Latin America.
1. Unless you’re bird-watching deep in the rainforest, there’s really no need for khaki shorts, fannie packs or 48-pocket, mosquito repellent shirts. Keep in mind that most city-dwelling Latin Americans dress well and such attire, although comfortable, screams Gringo – clueless Gringo, more specifically. Urban men rarely wear shorts, even in 90 degree weather, and urban women strive to look fashionable at all times. You can get away with a more casual look in small towns, but the “safari” look will always draw attention to you no matter where you are.2. If you’re a young woman traveling alone, you’re better off dressing conservatively. Overall, Latin America remains a macho continent, and a woman in skimpy clothes may be perceived as “asking for it.” You’ll get catcalls and whistles no matter what, but I’ve found that the more clothes you’re wearing, the classier the catcalls. I’ve also learned that no matter how crude the come-ons, firing back at your admirer will only provide encouragement.
3. Don’t arrive early for a lunch or business meeting unless you’re specifically told to be there on “American time.” Otherwise, you’ll be waiting forever. You can count on your counterpart to be at least half an hour late. Feel free to arrive at least an hour late to parties and other social gatherings. If you arrive on time, you’ll find your host still cooking, not dressed and unsure what to do with you.
4. If you run into someone who doesn’t speak or understand English, talking louder won’t help. Hand gestures and an open mind usually do the trick.
5. The greeting kiss: To kiss or not to kiss is somewhat of an acquired art, and can cause a bit of awkwardness at first. As a general rule, female friends greet each other with an air kiss on the right cheek – even women who don’t know each other sometimes greet with a kiss. Male and female friends also tend to greet each other this way, depending on how well acquainted they are. For men, the greeting is almost always a handshake and manly pat on the back. It may take a while to get the hang of when a kiss is necessary and when a handshake will do. My advice? Better to seem like a reserved gringo than overly forward until you get the gist of it
By Jisel Perilla
Contributing writer to Latinworld.com
Comments by Trans Caribbean Trust Real Estate staff: This is a nice guide to some social customs here in the Mexican Caribbean, and the rest of the Latin world, for that matter. As readers of our site will know, we sell beach front and ocean-view lots here in the Yucatan Peninsula. Our customers are from all over the world, but mostly the US, Canada, the UK and Europe. As future expats and Caribbean residents, we all want to fit in with our new neighbors. The only thing I don’t like about the article is that it seems to say that being a ‘gringo’ is viewed as equivalent with ‘bad’ here. I find that most folk here accept me as an equal member of their society unless I give them a reason not to do so. Of course, there are always a few who are prejudiced, just like back in the good ole USA. At any rate, it is always good to know the social customs outlined here, just like it is good to know the language. It is not necessary to speak Spanish to get by here in the Yucatan Peninsula, but is sure helps. In fact, people here are more accommodating of those who don’t speak the language than people are back in the US. As an expat living here on your Caribbean beach property, many of your neighbors will be other English speaking residents, but it won’t hurt to start learning Spanish.