Culture shock is when you’re confronted with the cultural differences of an unfamiliar way of life. Even though Mexico is a neighboring country to my home, there were still huge differences that take an adjustment, or two. Here are some of the cultural differences that you should know before you go to Mexico.
Don’t Flush the TP!
*TP* aka toilet paper should not be flushed in Mexico. Mexico’s septic system isn’t modern and is ill-equipped to handle extra sewage that would easily clog the drain. Standard practice is to fold used paper, wrap it in more paper, and toss it in the bin (preferably a bin with a lid). As a result, you’ll see trash bins in each individual bathroom stall to handle your business. Thankfully, this practice doesn’t typically emit the smell of waste as long as the trash is taken out regularly.
It should be noted that a weak septic system isn’t unique to Mexico. This is standard practice for a large number of countries around the world.
Stay Away from the tap
Typically, tap water in Mexico is not safe to drink due to bacteria and parasites that can contaminate it en route to the tap. Side note: this is the case in several other countries, including many places within the US….so, don’t do it. To be honest, there’s few things worse than experiencing Montezuma’s Revenge – traveler’s diarrhea- while in a foreign country.
Locals and visitors alike buy garrafones (5ga. water jugs), subscribe to a garrafon delivery service, or have a water filtration system installed for drinkable water in the home. In Mexico, you’ll also find bottled water available to drink in just about all restaurants and hotels with no problem. In the past, travelers use to have to worry about vegetables being washed in water and tap water used for ice, but nowadays, most restaurants use filtered water.
Let’s not forget about using the tap to brush your teeth. Some use bottled water for this purpose. Personally, we haven’t had any issues brushing our teeth with tap water.
There are several foods within the cultural diet of Mexico that caused us to raise a few eyebrows! As taco lovers, we’ve tried the standard players but there are some common taco varieties that gave us pause…such as:
- tacos de cabeza … tender meat from the head of a cow
- tacos de lengua … tongue of a cow
- tacos de sesos … brain of a cow
Whenever we’re in a new place we’ll try anything once! We had chapulines (seasoned, fried grasshoppers) in Mexico City and they weren’t bad at all. Many times you find them on street carts as a common snack or often used as palate cleansers when sipping mezcal.
Additionally, Mexico cooks corn like no one else! Elotes is Mexican street corn and a must-try. The shock factor comes from the amount of flavors and spices piled up or rolled upon an ear or cup of corn. It’s more than your standard salt, pepper and butter. Elotes are slathered in mayonnaise and/or cream cheese, coated in chili powder, cumin, cotija cheese, and adorned with lime juice and cilantro.
Low riding furniture
The furniture in Mexico reminds me of low riding cars – cool and stylish, but closer to the ground than my knees are comfortable with. The average height of a Mexican woman and man is 5’2” and about 5’7” respectively. Naturally, the average furniture reflects the average person. Many of the accommodations we’ve had the pleasure of inhabiting are typically furnished with sofas and seating choices that are just a tad shorter than what we’re used to. This includes the toilets…
The caliber of artillery that the police and federales carry daily came as a shock to us. It is not strange to see police trucks retrofitted with machine guns. Mostly, these police are armed regularly and on high alert when refilling ATM machines. The few times we were approached by police, they were packing…heavy.
Mexican culture moves at a relaxing, calm pace #tranquilo. For visitors, that means patience is truly a virtue. It’s a skill you must acquire before you come, or it might be to the detriment of your sanity. Appointments, meetings, store opening schedules, store closing schedules…it’s a vibe. Just go with the flow.
Refundable deposits are a part of the home rental process, as is almost anywhere. Usually, at the end of your lease you might plan to leave your accommodations in better condition, or at least the same condition upon your departure. From the mouths of several long-term travelers, it’s common practice for the landlord to keep that deposit. This has been a topic of many expat conversations and social media threads – a lesson to live and learn from. Nevertheless, renters have come up with a slight solution: renters skip the last months rent, communicating with the landlord that the deposit can be applied to cover the last month.
The culture shock in Mexico didn’t take us too long to adjust to, in fact, it’s now a normal part of our everyday lives. When visiting family back in the states, I actually had a mini panic attack throwing toilet paper in the commode.
Are any of these cultural nuances shocking to you?
Let us know, or check out our video for a more hilarious rendition of our culture shocks.