Mexico, officially known as the United Mexican States, is a country between the U.S. and Central America – popular for its Pacific and Gulf of Mexico beaches. Boasting of a diverse landscape made of mountains, deserts and jungles – ancient ruins such as Teotihuacán and the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá are scattered throughout the country in cities like Tulum and Yucatán, as are Spanish colonial-era towns. With a lot of old culture and art still preserved within, Mexico is also modern with a continuous stream of tourism revenue making it a quirky mix of places to see.
Like every other country in the world – Mexico too comes with its own quirks – good and bad – so here are the 11 things you should know about this country before you visit…
- You shouldn’t drink the water. I imagine everyone is familiar with this rule. In San Luis Potosí, Mexico the majority of locals don’t even drink the water. Stick to bottled water or dispenser water. I do take ice in my drinks and brush my teeth with the water, however, I did have some gnarly cavities when I went to the dentist back home, a direct correlation or a coincidence? Only God knows.
- You can’t flush the toilet paper most places. The majority of Mexican plumbing is old and can’t handle the toilet paper, so always be polite and put it in the trash. Unless you want to be the embarrassing gringo/a that clogged the toilet with your TP.
- Cash rules here in Mexico and you can often expect to pay more with a card. Many grocery stores will actually have two different set prices for items, a card price, and a cash price. It took us a while to figure this out. As a renter here in Mexico we also have to pay are total rent in cash, which can be difficult because we have to plan out our ATM visits a week or two in advance since we have a maximum amount of cash we can take out.
- It is good to always carry coins on you because tips are expected for a lot of things. This means tipping the waiter at least 10%, tipping the bagger at the grocery store, the guy that pumps your gas, the valet (they valet for everything here), and basically anyone who helps you out. Mexicans hustle hard and there are always opportunities to get your car washed at the stop light, get your car guarded while you are in the grocery store, get your groceries packed in your car for you. All of this is done for a few pesos.
- Road rules are not set in stone. Stop signs act as yield signs, vehicles don’t drive in lanes, and I’m not even sure I have ever seen a speed limit on the main road. Also, if you ever plan on driving in Mexico watch out for those potholes. They are everywhere.
- If you are a foreigner prepare to get a lot of attention – especially if you are a female. This is common in most countries where you obviously stick out. So if you are blonde, red-headed, super white, black, or tall expect to get some (often unwanted) extra attention.
- In less touristy areas I would avoid wearing shorts or even tank tops unless you like to be harassed. I couldn’t understand why Mexican women didn’t wear shorts outside in the blazing heat and decided I would make a go of it. After one (modest) short wearing escapade I have switched to pants indefinitely.
- Mexico is more than just tacos and tequila. Mexico has such a rich food history and each state has its own dish specialties. My favorite food here in San Luis Potosí is Chilaquiles Potosinos – a dish local to San Luis. I also can’t post about the food history of Mexico without mentioning my beloved pulque! Which is a fermented sap from the maguey plant that dates back to the Meso-american period. I didn’t even know pulque existed before I moved here!
- Everyone eats meals super late and meals are a multi-hour affair in Mexico. Expect all meals to be around 2-3 hours later than US meal times and last about 2-3 hours. Mexicans like to just sit and talk after a meal, up to an hour later. Also, this means you have to ask for the check (la cuenta por favor!) because the waiter/ess doesn’t want to be rude and bring it when you aren’t ready.
- Always opt for the Uber over a taxi. Taxis are not a safe transportation option in Mexico and definitely not in San Luis. Ubers are the safest option and I currently take one on my daily commute to work and haven’t had any issues. Also, you should always sit in the front seat when riding in an Uber, since it is believed to be safer for both the driver and the passenger.
- Everything takes a bit longer when you are in Mexico and that is okay. It can be a bit of culture shock and a struggle for me as the USA puts such a cultural importance on being punctual. You just have to learn to relax and be more flexible.
About the Author/Photographer: Eemma is a Michigan native living in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. She is currently balancing life as an ELL/ESL teacher, blogger, and doting cat mom. You can read more about her misadventures, encounters with culture, and experiences as an expat at http://www.