Dealing With Culture When Moving to Mexico

 


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In an as-yet unpublished manuscript I just finished, I cite the following:

"In a recent YouGov poll, Britons surveyed revealed that,

""…A majority of the Britons described Americans as uncaring, divided by class, awash in violent crime, vulgar, preoccupied with money, ignorant of the outside world, racially divided, uncultured and in the most overwhelming result (90 percent of respondents) dominated by big business. "[1]

But I fear, just as another part of the survey reveals, Americans do not give a rat's rear-end about how their vulgarity affects the rest of the world:

"A massive 83 percent of those questioned said that the United States doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks. "[2]"[3]

The context in which this quote appears in my manuscript is in relation to the clashing of Mexican and American cultures.

When I discovered this quote and read it, what did NOT pop into my mind to do was the flustering-blustering act you would expect most Americans to perform and what you are no doubt contemplating performing yourself right now as you read these words. When I read it I saw it for what it was and tried to evaluate it critically. I reasoned that while this might be an accurate reflection of what most of the rest of the nations of the world think about Americans, it certainly is not a reflection of every American without exception. Though there might be those who participated in the survey who might incorrectly think this a correct description of all Americans, I knew it was not since I am an American and this survey did not describe me.

However, it could very well be an extremely accurate description of Americans as a whole, as a culture, or an accurate view of how we come across to the rest of the world.

When my wife and I moved to Mexico, the single most surprising, and I might say even shocking, thing was to watch how American tourists and the vast majority of American expats act within someone else's culture. Our experience lent a high degree of credibility to this survey's results. It caught my attention immediately because, to be perfectly honest with you, I tend to agree with the survey and its participant's description of my fellow Americans.

Again, thinking critically, I would not say that every single American who comes to Mexico as a tourist or expatriate acts out with the most horrid behavior imaginable. But, enough do so to justify the inclusion of this survey in my manuscript and in this article.

However, the point of this article is not how Americans act and how the rest of the world perceives us. It is about perception in general and how most people, some Mexicans included, do not like to hear about the failure of one's own culture. Instead of thinking and evaluating critically someone surveying one's culture or a cultural analyst making an observation on a cultural affection and then drawing a conclusion, invariably you will hear something along the lines of,

"How dare you make a generalization like that? I am Mexican and I certainly do not think that way. "

I actually had that happen to me in a Yahoo chat room post in which a Mexican took me to task that I would say “most Mexicans regard Americans as uncultured and not very socially evolved. "

The basis for this person's exception was that he or she is Mexican, and because he or she does regard Americans as such and such, therefore it cannot be true.

Don't you just love those finally honed skills in logic and reasoning?

But, hey, Americans will do the very same thing. Rather than thinking through a supposition, premise, observation, or whatever, offense is immediately taken, assumptions are never tested, and incorrect conclusions are drawn.

Culturally speaking, there are things that can and do characterize certain peoples within a specific culture. Some are false stereotypes and some are positive and accurate. Traditionally, Mexicans, because of a dubious relationship with Americans throughout history, tend to regard Americans in a certain light and it is not all favorable. Personally, if two-thirds of my country was STOLEN from me, and done so under the auspices of trumped up charges against my country, I would tend to regard the robber under an unfavorable light. On CNN, I watched the Los Angeles police beat my own people to bloodied pulps for having a peaceful demonstration. This included an attack on the Hispanic Press. These events tend to taint my feelings just a bit about Americans:

"…Americans as uncaring, divided by class, awash in violent crime, vulgar, preoccupied with money, ignorant of the outside world, racially divided, uncultured…"

When someone decides to make observations about anyone's culture, it is not the time to rant and rage but to open dialogue. And, yet, the world seems as though it's becoming less and less capable of recognizing the opportunity to let the market place of ideas run its wonderful course.

I once had a Mexican male respond to an article I published in Banderas News. Rather than engaging me, he went off on a tangent that, frankly, I would have expected from an American. Rather than engage me on the premises of my argument, he went off on a hobbyhorse of, “I know these gringo types. They are monolingual people who come for a vacation in Mexico then go home to America and think they are experts on Mexican culture. " And, that was some of the nice stuff. The truth, of course, is that I am bilingual. I am not a visitor but an expatriate in Mexico and have lived here going on 5 years now. The fellow offered nothing rational, nothing substantial, just ranting and raging.

Something you might find interesting is that the older and better-educated Mexican will talk frankly and very honestly about cultural clashes. They don't seem to be afraid of admitting things within the Mexican culture that need changing. Nor do they judge every American guilty by association of America's cultural bumps in the road. You can sit down with them, eyeball to eyeball, and work out these things out without having a conniption fit.

Americans can be just as bad. In the recent news, there was a boy in one of the southern states of America who shot and killed a gigantic monster hog. His father put up a web site and has posted both the positive and negative emails they have received. If you want to see whether the survey I quoted earlier in this piece has any legitimacy or not, just go to this web site and read the negative posts. [4]

The 11-year-old child is actually threatened with being murdered for hunting, killing, and eating that porker hog: " awash in violent crime. "

Another verification is on the online Yahoo news. They used to provide a “chat discussion forum" in which those who read the news were able to talk about the news by posting comments. This venue became so vile, so ugly, and so “awash in violent crime, " that Yahoo removed this opportunity in which readers would routinely threaten death to just about anyone and for anything.

Lastly, even down here in Mexico, I have been the subject of this accurate stereotypical American behavior. What I earned from my op-ed writing about expat issues as well as observations about the cultural collisions within my community ranged from actual threats of physical harm to one lady who suggested we move to Iraq if we hated living here so much (something that I've never said. I love living here. ). She and her hubby hail from Houston, Texas, which actually explains a great deal.

And, we all know about how the Iraqis, at least some of them, like to chop the heads off of Americans.

It does not take a whole lot to convince me of the survey results:

"…A majority of the Britons described Americans as uncaring, divided by class, awash in violent crime, vulgar, preoccupied with money, ignorant of the outside world, racially divided, uncultured and in the most overwhelming result (90 percent of respondents) dominated by big business. " A massive 83 percent of those questioned said that the United States doesn't care what the rest of the world thinks. ""

[1] Common Dreams New Center; Britons Tire of Cruel, Vulgar US: Poll; Published on Monday, July 3, 2006 by Agence France Presse; http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0703-01.htm

[2] Ibid

[3] Notes From South of the Border Survival Tips To Maximize Expat Success in Central Mexico; Doug Bower; Galley copy is available at http://stores.lulu.com/mexicanliving

[4] http://www.monsterpig.com/

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