A Local’s Guide to Social Etiquette in Mexico

When traveling to a new country, it’s important to know what to expect – and how to behave. Being socially aware will improve your chances of having meaningful interactions with the locals. Mexico native Jennifer Fernández Solano shares her tips.


Photo © Creative Commons via flickr / Alejandro

How to Dress

Mexico is a big country with varying social customs. Don’t assume that you can get away with shorts throughout the country – while skimpy clothing is fine for the beach, Mexicans dress conservatively in cities. Pack a pair of jeans or trousers to avoid stares or catcalls (which unfortunately still happen). It’s always a good idea to try to blend in with the locals.

If you’re planning on going to fine dining restaurants, wear dressy clothes and proper shoes. The same goes for swanky cocktail bars and especially events like your friend’s wedding or New Year’s Eve party. Mexicans love dressing up for the occasion.

Social Interactions

Mexicans kiss once on the cheek when greeting each other socially, even if it’s the first time they’re meeting someone. Take your cue from the person you’re meeting and don’t be surprised if the person leans in a little to give you a quick hug after the kiss, that’s just the Mexican way!

If someone is a little late, don’t freak out. It’s true that Mexicans have a relaxed view of time, so up to 15 minutes late is still considered “on time.”

As far as tipping goes, 12 or 15% is appropriate. 10% is now the passive-aggressive way of saying that something wasn’t quite right.

Topics Best Avoided

Try to avoid referring to the United States as “America” anywhere in Latin America. For Latin Americans, the whole continent is “America,” not just one country. (And we’re taught it’s just one continent, we don’t divide it into North and South America.)

Even if you find everything really cheap compared to what things cost back home, don’t comment on it. Chances are the person you’re mentioning it to earns in Mexican pesos – so they’re not finding it cheap and may feel like you’re rubbing your money in their face.

Finally, don’t assume your Mexican friend or acquaintance has connections with the illegal drug trade. Mexico might be going through a dark period in its history, but assuming everyone in the country knows a “narco” is offensive, to say the least.

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