Quirks de Mexico

In previous posts, I have commented on the passing protocol on Ajijic’s narrow sidewalks. I’ve also described the difference between American and Mexican cultural practices regarding personal space. I wrote about these issues as an observer, not as a judgmental person, as I love and respect the traditions and culture of the people around me here.

This post will focus on several other  differences, quirks, and curiosities I have noticed here that I either find amusing, puzzling, or contrary to what I, as an American, am used to. I am not ridiculing them or complaining about them. I am merely reporting my observations.

The first has to do with sitting arrangements on buses. In the US, if a seat is empty, we slide over to the window. Mexicans, generally do not; they plop in the aisle seat. As the bus fills up, subsequent passengers will have to climb over them to “settle” for the window seat. This is not always easy as the space between rows is not wide; in fact, an anorexic termite would have difficulty negotiating this narrow space. (I know. You are asking why would a termite even be on the bus since buses are not constructed with wood. But the reason is obvious: Termites cannot afford the more expensive wooden modes of transportation.) One might wonder, why the preference for the aisle seats. I’ve been told it has to do, interestingly enough, with race; even in Mexico people discriminate against and penalize darker skin. Therefore, many people, particularly women, will avoid direct sun, hoping to keep their skin as light as possible. Sitting in the aisle seat is a manner in which to avoid the sun. Women also are often seen waiting for the bus in the protective shade across the street from the bus stop, even when it is not particularly hot.

Schools in Ajijic do something we would never consider north of the border. They do it out of necessity. They do it because there are more students than space. Schools are run in two shifts.  This means some students, elementary through the equivalent of high school, attend from 8:00 a.m. or so until 1:00 p.m. or so while others go from around 2:00 until 7:00 p.m. In winter, when it gets dark between 5:00 and 6:00, young students are seen walking home from school in the dark. The younger ones, of course, are escorted by a parent or older sibling. But, necessity or not, this is something we would never see in the US. The use of split shifts also means children are seen on the streets at all times of the day.

While we do have a Walmart here, most stores are small family-run “tiendas.” They often are nothing more than a store front, perhaps the size of a small room. Their stock is limited; foot traffic is sparse. As a result, they frequently do not have sufficient change on hand when a purchase is made, especially early in the day. It is not unusual to buy, say, 75 pesos of merchandise ($4.00 US  Dollars), pay with a 200 peso note  ($11 USD), because that is the smallest available, and have clerks scrounge up change from their personal monies or the store next door, leaving the customer alone in the clerk’s store.  Can you imagine handing a US clerk a $10 or $20 and having a change crisis?

Local men do not wear shorts. I am referring to short pants, not underwear. Regardless of how high the temperature is, men here wear jeans or some other form of long pants. Younger men, however, are adapting to the American style of fashion shorts, cargo shorts, or basketball shorts, but the legs of men over 35-40 are rarely seen. I don’t know how they do it. It is warm here and humid during the “wet” season. I live in short pants; I’ve worn long pants perhaps five times since I arrived here in April 2015. As for shorts of the undergarment nature, I assume Mexican men wear them. But I do not know that for certain. I have not done sufficient exploratory research or a fact-baring investigation or a revealing exposé.

Because the State of Jalisco, in which Ajijic is located, is the only state that begins with the letter “J,” car license plates begin with that letter. The formula is three letters followed by a series of numbers. It is common to see plates with a bold, daring, JEW on them.  Each time I see one of these license plates, my heart jumps, first as a historically persecuted Jew, and, second, as a Woody Allen fan. I flash on the Annie Hall scene in which Allen, as paranoid, neurotic, nebbish Alvie, is in line at a movie theater with Annie Hall/Diane Keaton.  He semi-overhears a conversation nearby. “D’you like Italian food?” (or some other innocuous question) the male voice asks his partner.  Alvie’s ears perk up. “Did you hear that?” he asks Annie. “That guy just called me a Jew!”

Luckily, Mexico doesn’t have a state beginning with the letter “F.” If it did, I fear the word “FAG” would glare at me from countless cars, forcing me to defend my dignity by hitting them with my Kate Spade purse or kicking them with my red Jimmy Choo stiletto heels.  I just love Jimmy Choo. D’you?

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