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Culture and etiquette

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Mexicans are generally very courteous, and in some ways quite formal. It is common, for example, to address people as señor or señora, while being too brusque can give quite a bad impression.

Most Mexicans are also quite religious, and about three-quarters are Roman Catholic; you will often see little altars by the roadside, and many people cross themselves whenever they pass a church. It is wise to avoid open disrespect for religion unless you are sure of your company. While male travellers will find the country very easy-going, women may encounter a few difficulties arising from traditional Latin machismo.

Sexual harassment and discrimination

Machismo is engrained in the Mexican mentality and, although it’s softened to some extent by the gentler mores of indigenous culture, most women will find that a degree of harassment is inevitable.

On the whole, most hassles will be limited to comments (piropos, supposedly compliments) in the street, but situations that might be quite routine at home can seem threatening without a clear understanding of the nuances of Mexican Spanish. Avoid eye contact – wearing sunglasses helps. Any provocation is best ignored – Mexican women are rarely slow with a stream of retaliatory abuse, but it’s a dangerous strategy unless you’re very sure of your ground, and coming from a foreigner, it may be taken as racism.

Public transport can be one of the worst places for harassment, especially groping in crowded situations. On the Mexico City Metro, there are separate women’s carriages and passages during rush hours. Otherwise, if you get a seat, you can hide behind a newspaper.

Problems are aggravated in the big tourist spots, where legendarily “easy” tourists attract droves of would-be gigolos. Away from resorts and big cities, though, and especially in indigenous areas, there is rarely any problem – you may as an outsider be treated as an object of curiosity, and usually, such curiosity can also extend to friendliness and hospitality. On the whole, the further from the US border you get, the easier things will become.

The restrictions imposed on drinking are without a doubt irksome: women can now drink in cantinas, but even in so-called “ladies’ bars”, “unescorted” women may be looked at with suspicion. Even in the roughest places, you are unlikely to be refused service nowadays, but whether or not you would feel comfortable drinking there is a different matter.

Tipping

At expensive restaurants in tourist resorts, waiters and waitresses are used to American tipping levels (15–20 percent), but elsewhere levels are more like those in Europe (10–15 percent). In mid-range and upmarket hotels, you will be expected to tip chambermaids (a few dollars, depending on the standard of the hotel and the length of your stay) and porters (ten pesos or a dollar is fine). It is not usual to tip taxi drivers, but small tips are expected by petrol-station and car-park attendants and the bagboys at supermarkets (all of these will be happy with a few pesos of small change).

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