As a gringo here in the middle of Mexico, I notice things that I assume mexicanos take for granted. Like:

  • Courtesy in long distance autobúses. They feel more like business-class airplane travel than actual buses and are piloted, that is, driven, by guys in suits, freshly-ironed white shirts, black ties and polished black shoes who usually welcome us on board once everyone is seated, before closing the door between us and the driver’s compartment.
  • Water in most Mexican towns and cities comes in two flavors: treated (via garafones, five-gallon plastic bottles delivered to your door); and untreated, delivered by pipes to your tinaco (water tank on the roof) for showers, toilet flushing, washing up and everything else. (SO much more efficient than expensively treating water for, say, fighting a fire!)

20-liter garafone and 750-liter tinaco. Note neighbors’ tinacos. (Barry Evans)

  • Local buses are loud! Not just the diesel motors, but—often—the speakers are belting out non-stop mariachi (—sounding to this uneducated gringo’s ears like endless variations of “You are My Sunshine,” with trumpets).
  • Cell phone run out of minutes? No problem. Go to your local Oxxo (like 7-11 but more ubiquitous), give them your cell number and 200 pesos (ten bucks). Moments later, you’re set for another month.
  • If I sneeze while waking down a sidewalk, someone will inevitably shout ¡Salud! from across the way. If we’re eating at a restaurant, folks leaving wish us Buen provecho as they pass by.
  • Years ago, we were in the process of buying our 200-year old house, meeting with the several sellers (it was complicated) and the notario, the real-estate lawyer. At some point, I asked, “Whom do you represent? The sellers or the buyers?” Deadpan, he said, “I represent the house.” The deal went through seamlessly.
  • Joven. That’s what shopkeepers and barristas always call me. I love it.
  • Watch your step! Sidewalks have a habit of ending in drop-offs. Serious drop-offs, three feet, six feet, ten feet. No rail, no warning, they just stop and Bam! You are warned.

Sidewalk drop-off, no rail, no warning. (Barry Evans)

  • Topes (not to be confused with totopos = chips) are Mexico’s answer to drivers who ignore maximum speed signs, i.e. everyone. They are serious speed bumps that welcome you into every town and village, often unmarked. Hit them at 30 or 40 mph, and there go your shocks. Topes are one of several reasons to avoid driving at night in the country.
  • We sometimes had a Friday evening beer with our albaniles (workers) after they’d put in a long and hard week remodeling our place. Here, one’s family is the usual conversation icebreaker (as opposed to the weather in Britain, and what you do for a living al norte). “How many primos (first cousins) do you have?” I’d ask. No sé…¿Setenta? ¿Ochenta? (I’m not sure, 70? 80?) Then they’d ask how many I have. “Uno,” I’d reply. Concerned looks all round. Pobrecito (poor little one), they’d murmur.