Learning Spanish and Social Etiquette in Mexico

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san miguel de allende, mexicoby Anne Dimon

It’s Day Four of my three week (nine, three-hour days) course at the Warren Hardy Spanish school in the iconic Spanish colonial town of San Miguel de Allende,  in Central Mexico.

Owner/educator Warren Hardy has treated the class of about 36 people, plus guests, to a lecture on how core values effect social etiquette in Mexico.

He tells the class that social etiquette relates to our learning of Spanish because it opens our eyes to the importance of using the right words and phrases with the right tone, at the correct times.

The lecture, given by Hardy, an American who has lived in this lovely historic town for 25 years and traveled throughout Latin America, is one that anyone and everyone thinking of traveling to Mexico (and wanting to be socially correct) should hear. But since that is relatively impossible unless you are planning to travel to San Miguel de Allende, here are the highlights:

All countries have core values, and these values form the basis of social protocol, shares Hardy.  “Mexicans are different from Canadians and Americans,” he says, and, it goes way beyond “por favor” and “gracias.”

In Canada the core values are:

  • Peace
  • Order and good government
  • Respect for all individuals in society

In the U.S. the core values are:

  • Financial opportunity
  • Time and the control of it
  • Individual freedom

And, in Mexico, he says, “where this tribal nation holds on to the wounds created by history, the way to understand their core values is to understand their history because it is history that defines us all.”

In Mexico the core values are:

  • Respect and personal dignity
  • Trust
  • Family and friends
  • Free time

“Respect is key to the Mexican people and at the centre of their core values,” says Hardy.  He adds that Mexico is a country where you can be happily poor because money and the accumulation of worldly goods is not a core value. “Family and respect,” he says, “is more important than a nice home and things.”

When it comes to social etiquette in Mexico here are five things to note:

When it comes to social etiquette in Mexico here are five things to note:

  1. “Hola” is not a formal greeting.  It’s more like “hi” instead of “good day.”

2. Use “Buenos dias” (good day) until noon, “Buenos tardes” (good afternoon) between noon and 7 p.m. (or until the sun sets) and “Buenos noches” (good evening) any time after that.

3. Mexicans are comfortable being very close. Their personal zone is more “elbow length” then “arm’s length” so you’ll often find groups or clusters.  When you pass Mexicans on one of San Miguel’s narrow and crowded sidewalks or if you encounter a huddled group simply say “con permiso” which means “with your permission, may I enter your space.”  They will immediately part so you can pass. Of course, remember to say, “gracias.”

4. When walking by a table in a restaurant where people are dining be sure to say “buen provecho.”  It’s the Spanish equivalent of “bon appetit.” Mexicans will see this, says Hardy, as a sign of “educado” and good breeding.

5. The Mexican concept of time and honesty is different. They will tell the person what they believe the person wants to hear. To them that’s honesty. When a Mexican tells you he will be somewhere or do something “mañana a la mañana” (tomorrow morning) he may not arrive until the afternoon, the next day or, even, the next week.

“Mexico offers a kind and gentle culture,” says Hardy. Having visited Mexico many times in the last 40 years – I wholeheartedly agree with him.