Cultural Differences

2008 December 31
by Levi Weintraub

Stay in a place with a significantly different culture long enough and you start to sound like Andy Rooney. Not like “people are carrying too many things and reading books at work” Andy Rooney, but still, questioning things about people’s behavior you normally take for granted. For example, in Mexico it’s not unusual to see people harvesting the grass on the highway median, assumedly to bring back to their cattle. If you tried that in the US, you’d probably be arrested. In America, if you want to go out and party on the town for cheap, you drink at home or at a dive before going to whatever fancy place you may have in mind. In Mexico, you can drink wherever you damn well please, so you simply pull up to your club of choice (which in the tourist towns we’ve been going through are easily as impressive as their American counterparts), open the trunk of your car to reveal your cooler full of beer, and hang out in the parking lot getting lit before you go in. Why not? In a restaurant south of Mazatl├ín, a municipal policeman stopped by, asked he if could sit down, and proceeded to talk to us about our trip, about how he used to ride a motorcycle, about how he stopped riding because Mexican drivers don’t respect motorcycles, about how his daughter wants one so he’s screwed. Nothing against cops back home, but I can’t remember the last time one stopped to just talk to me when not on some sort of official business.

But there are also the things about how we do things that you miss. Our friend the police officer said Mexican drivers don’t respect motorcycles, but they don’t seem to respect anything. They fly across double-yellow lines passing the vehicle in front of them who’s already doing more than twice the posted speed limit (which is truly meaningless in Mexico) in blind corners risking the lives of everyone on the road. I was nearly ran off the road in Tepic doing 100km/hr in a 40km/hr zone by someone going at least 30mi/hr more than me on a 2-lane city highway. In Alamos, while riding with the kids who picked me up off El Mirador, I asked where to put an empty beer and they scoffed at me. Why you throw it into the street of course! We routinely pass garbage cans on the side of the road that are empty, but surrounded by garbage. Garbage that makes it to what passes for a dump is often burned (by the side of the highway so we get to ride through the smoke no less). Grass that isn’t harvested by the locals for their cattle is burned.

Nonetheless, in far more situations than I can recall, I’ve had an opportunity to use the Mexican culture as a mirror for our own, and been surprised to find the alternatives for what we think is normal. Does a Mechanic really need a building with walls? Why can’t I buy a beer at the store and drink it on the way home? What use were easy-to-read road signs anyways.

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