12 Mexican No-Nos to Avoid

Cultural differences between countries can often be subtle but can also be significant and affect how people interact. 

Despite their close proximity, Mexico and the United States have different cultures that can sometimes lead to misunderstandings and unintended offenses. 

I want to help you not only move to Mexico the right way, but once you’re here, I also want to help you integrate little by little by avoiding cultural faux pas. Therefore, in this blog post, we will explore 10 things considered normal in the United States but rude in Mexico. 

Before we start, I don’t want to insinuate that any country is better than the other for these cultural differences. I simply want to ensure you know which things are rude in Mexico so you can break away from being stereotyped as the gringo who doesn’t have respect for Mexican norms.

Skipping the Greeting 

Starting a conversation or interaction without a formal greeting is normal in the United States. It’s common to start a conversation without ever asking, “Hi, how are you… how is your day…?” in the U.S. and Canada, we tend to get straight to our point. 

However, in Mexico, it is considered rude to skip the greeting. Instead, it is customary to greet someone with a handshake, hug, or kiss on the cheek, depending on the level of familiarity. It’s customary to ask someone how they are doing and then ask the question on your mind or start the conversation. 

Of course, this all depends on the context of the interaction. For example, if you’re at a grocery store, it is normal to ask an employee where the carrots are without making small talk. 

But if you’re talking to a realtor about a place you’d like to see, or you’re talking to someone at the bank about a possible loan, then the small talk at the beginning is key to building a relationship.

Expect approximately ten to fifteen minutes of small talk before getting down to business.

When you make friends with Mexicans, expect them to hug or kiss you on the cheek. And Mexicans also tend to hug you a bit longer than you’re probably used to. So, if you make friends here in Mexico, please try to break your usual physical limits.

Learn How to Move to Mexico and Have a Better Life for Less! Check out our Complete Mexico Relocation Guide.

Using First Names

In the United States, it is common to address people by their first names, regardless of age or social status. However, in Mexico, it is considered disrespectful to address someone by their first name unless they have asked you to call them by their first name. 

It is more appropriate to use formal titles such as “Señor” or “Señora” followed by the person’s last name.

Additionally, if someone is older than you, it is courteous to refer to them as “usted” and not “tu.” 

Don’t worry if you make a mistake with the formal and informal Spanish, though. Don’t let that deter you from learning it. 

When Dustin and I first met, he would always use the informal words with my grandfather or call him Hector (by his first name) while all the other in-laws call him “Señor.” 

And to be honest, I thought it was adorable. Because regardless of the mistake, he was trying to learn Español as best as possible. But eventually, when he heard others talk to my grandfather in the formal form, he understood the differences. 

When in doubt, use the formal “usted.” No one will be offended if you use the formal form with them, even if it was misused. 

Interrupting Others 

North of the border, it’s common for people to interrupt each other during conversations. And I’m not talking about arguments but casual conversations. It’s how people communicate, and that’s ok. People understand each other that way without being offended.

However, in Mexico, interrupting someone is considered rude and disrespectful. Listening attentively and allowing the other person to finish speaking before responding is important. And sometimes Mexicans can be long-winded talkers. But it’s important for you to wait your turn to get your point across. 

If you do need to interrupt, it’s a good idea to start by saying, “sorry for interrupting…” 

Not Saying “Please” and “Thank You” 

In the United States, I find that it’s perfectly normal for people to forget to say “please” and “thank you” in everyday interactions.

For example, when someone brings you your check at a restaurant. It’s normal not to say anything in the U.S., Or when someone delivers your mail, it’s perfectly normal to retrieve it and not say anything. 

However, in Mexico, it is considered rude not to use these polite phrases. Instead, showing gratitude and appreciation for others is important, particularly when asking for a favor or receiving something.

And obviously, this varies from person to person. It’s a generalization of cultural differences. 

Acknowledging People Around You

You can go anywhere in the U.S. and never have to speak to anyone around you or make eye contact. No one would think anything of it.

But in Mexico, don’t be surprised if you go to a sit-down restaurant and have the table next to you tell you, “provecho.” which is equivalent to Bon appetit or have a good meal. This also means that it’s a good idea to say “provecho” to someone next to you if they are eating.

I’ll never forget this one time when Dustin and I came back to Austin from Mexico City to see family and friends. And when we went to brunch, we sat at a communal picnic table. When I sat down, I turned to the couple next to me (two complete strangers) and said, “enjoy” with a smile. They both stared at me like I was a psycho. 😂 They didn’t know what to say and awkwardly stared at each other as if saying, “is this person crazy?”

Because you just don’t talk to strangers in the U.S.

But in Mexico, it’s a common courtesy to acknowledge people’s presence. When you go to a bank and wait in the lobby with others, it wouldn’t be unusual for someone to tell you “Buenos dias” or “Buenas tardes.” Even if you don’t know them.

I know some of these things may seem like common sense. And I don’t want to insult anyone by pointing out the obvious, but you would be surprised how many people are stunned when someone talks to them.

Not Dressing Appropriately 

In the United States, casual attire is often acceptable in many settings, including business meetings, government settings, or formal occasions.

However, it is important in Mexico to dress appropriately for the occasion. This means dressing in formal attire for business meetings or modestly for religious or cultural events. You don’t want to seem “fachoso” which is the term used when someone doesn’t care about their clothes in Mexico.

For example, the groom in this picture went viral because he wore an undershirt to his civil wedding and was called too “fachoso” by the internet.

You don’t have to be a fashionista by any means but do try to wear something nice to a special occasion. Another example of this is being too casual when going out in public.

For example, in the U.S., it is not unusual to see a person wearing pajamas and slippers to a grocery store. In Mexico, you would never see that.

Another cultural difference that isn’t exactly rude but just uncommon is for men to wear shorts and sandals in Mexico. Unless you’re on the beach or in a warm climate, you will see a few locals wearing shorts and sandals.

I personally think you should dress in whatever you feel the most comfortable in and not worry about this. However, this is an easy fix if you want to blend in and not stand out.

Get our Free Email Series About Living and Retiring in Mexico! Learn more.

Not Showing Respect for Elders 

In the United States, there is often a sense of individualism and independence that can sometimes lead to a lack of respect for elders. However, respecting elders and acknowledging their wisdom and experience is important in Mexico. This includes using formal titles and addressing them with respect.

It also includes opening the door for an elder, giving up your seat on a bus, or helping an elder load their luggage on the bus if they seem to be alone. 

Banks or other retailers may even have a special line dedicated to seniors.

In Mexico, sending your beloved grandmother, grandfather, or even great aunt or uncle to a nursing home would be unthinkable. People in Mexico (and Mexicans in the U.S.) move heaven and earth to keep their elderly with them throughout their final days.

Leaving a party without saying goodbye

This is a personal favorite of mine because despite how long Dustin and I have been married, he still gives me a hard time about having to say goodbye to everyone at the party before we can leave. 

And I mean everyone!

You say goodbye to the host and thank them for inviting you to their house. But you also say goodbye to anyone you met with whom you may have talked that night. 

You see, in Mexico, it’s all about relationships. And not saying goodbye at a party is a quick way to ensure you never get invited again. 

But North of The Border, it’s completely normal to leave a wedding or gathering without saying goodbye to your hosts or anyone else you may have met that night. 

And it is equally important to greet everyone when arriving.

Asking For Your Leftovers Back

If you have a small get-together in the U.S., it is completely normal for someone to ask for their leftover bottle of wine, whisky, or whatever snack they may have brought. 

However, in Mexico, this is a no-no. Whatever you bring to a party is for the party. So please don’t ask for your bottle of fine whisky back. Instead, don’t bring anything you wouldn’t mind leaving. 

If it’s a serving plate, a nice dish, or other utensils, it’s fine- but asking for the actual leftovers is seen as impolite. 

Leaving The Table When You’re Done Eating

Wait to leave the table immediately after you are finished eating. This is especially important if someone at the table is still eating. 

And when talking about manners towards elders, it is typical for the woman of the house to be the last person to sit down because they usually serve food and ensure everyone has what they need. 

It’s a common courtesy not to start eating until your host can sit down. 

But this also depends on the context of the situation. For example, if you’re at a wedding, it is common to wait until everyone at your table has been served so you can start eating. But you don’t necessarily have to wait for the bride and groom to sit down- because that could be a while.

Don’t Compare Things to Back Home

Mexicans are proud of their independence and have a strong sense of national identity and pride. Never compare how things are done in Mexico with how they are done in the United States, Canada, or anywhere else. Particularly with cultural differences.

It’s a quick way to start a heated debate.

A Blunt “No”

A swift, blunt NO is considered very rude in Mexico. It’s the most blasphemous word for Mexicans in any language; you have to give negatives with manners and between the lines (a common way is saying ‘gracias,’ thank you, but without the yes, the negative being implied).

I’ll never forget when I went to Palacio del Hierro, a high-end store around Mexico that sells clothes and furniture. And a salesperson approached me, trying to get me to sign up for their latest credit card. 

I waved him off without saying anything, and as he kept trying to tell me about the promotion they were running, I turned around and just said, “No.”

He was stunned, and I was embarrassed. Because I had been so used to spending most of my adult life saying NO directly without offending anyone in the U.S.

But in Mexico, that is a faux pas. 

Sharing Is Caring

It’s common courtesy to ask those around you if they want something of yours. When someone comes to your house, always offer them something to drink.

If you pull out a stick of gum, ask your friends if they’d like one too.

Mexico is a culture of sharing in general. Many meals are family-style, where the plates are served in the middle, and everyone takes a little bit from each dish. Tortillas are served in a single basket that gets passed around for the table to enjoy.

This is especially the case if you are with friends or family. If you’re sharing a meal with someone you don’t know, it’s less common.

However, in Texas, where I grew up a significant part of my adult life, it would be completely normal to go to a friend’s house and never be asked if you were hungry or thirsty. In Mexico, it doesn’t matter if you have a little or you have a lot; you always offer something from your pantry.

Bonus- Learning to Take A Joke

Here is bonus, because this thing that Mexicans do can offend people from north of the border. Mexicans joke about everything; you shouldn’t take particular offense unless you are very sensitive.

This is especially true if you are at an informal event with friends or someone around your age. But in the U.S., having this kind of banter with someone you barely know may be considered rude.

Not in Mexico. 

Mexicans love to give people nicknames and make jokes about things that may be uncomfortable. The term “politically correct” isn’t really a thing in Mexico, especially in an informal setting.

Respecting and Celebrating Cultural Differences

I hope some of these cultural differences between Mexico and the U.S. can help you build better relationships when moving to Mexico.

After all, the point is not only to move to Mexico but to experience it. And that includes making lasting relationships with locals and understanding the cultural norms here. If you found this to be helpful, share it with someone you think might find use in it.

And if you have any more cultural differences to add, please let me know in the comments below.

Learn How to Move to Mexico and Have a Better Life for Less! Check out our Complete Mexico Relocation Guide.

Mariana Lange

Mariana Lima-Lange was born in Mexico and immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child. She spent every summer visiting family throughout Mexico and is very knowledgeable about Mexican culture, lifestyle, and traditions. She is fluent in both Spanish and English.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Jana says

    All the things you said that are rude in Mexico used to be rude in Canada as well. As an older woman I still cannot get used to young people and people who I don’t know well addressing me by my first name. We would never ask for leftovers back (really boorish!) or go to the store in sweat pants. I love the custom of greeting before talking which also used to be the norm in Canada (40 years ago). Mexicans are holding onto values of courteousness which is what I love about the country.

    • Barbara Frampton says

      That was my thoughts exactly.

      • Jeri says

        Yes, and heaven forbid you start eating before grandmother has been seated and served. My family was not hyperfocused on formal table manners (cutting food with fork & serving from pot/pan versus serving dishes for day-to-day meals) but you never left the table while someone was eating & as a child you had to get permission first.

    • Ronald M Douglas says

      Hello Mariana , I have family in Mexico and it’s so true what you are saying in the blog about respect from other people in San Francisco and you ask someone for directions and 50% won’t answer you , in Mexico 90% will help you.

    • Alana says

      I agree. This is the way I raised my children who are only in their 20s now. Although I’ll bet they don’t say good bye to everyone when they leave a party. But as long as they get the host (in Canada) Im happy. Here in Mexico we will make the effort to say good bye to everyone we met. What a great reminder!

    • Naimah says

      I so agree with your comments. Basic common courtesy should always be used.

      Thank you

  2. Gia H says

    A direct response of ‘no’ is also considered rude in Japan. I worked and had an apartment and car there for two years. Thank you so much for providing all these tips! My greatest goal is to speak the language and understand the culture, so I can enjoy it and live as peacefully as possible. That’s why I’m moving there.

  3. DrLSW says

    I have noticed that the joking and lack of concept of “political correctness” sometimes leads to what gringos might consider #metoo no-nos (sexist bantering, minor touching, comments about looks) but somehow this does not seem at all offensive to me here in Mexico (although it totally would in the US). It seems very light-hearted and nonthreatening here in Cabo among the locals (the Americans are another story lol)

    • C. Dolfi says

      Touching people is much more common in Mexiko and does not usually imply any sexual intentions. And comments can be about anything, also not usually being meant in any sexual, racist… way.

      Being a European woman myself (with two mixed-race kids), I think US-Americans often exagerate about racism, sexism, cultural aporopriation,
      political correctness in general…

      • Mariana Lange says

        Exactly! Just because we are friendly does not mean we are flirting

    • Alana says

      Yes! I actually appreciate the way men show appreciation towards women. I have found it gently flirtatious and it has never made me feel uncomfortable.

      • Mariana Lange says

        Yeap! Not sure when saying someone is beautiful meant they automatically became a creep.
        Compliments are still alive in Mexico

  4. Josie L says

    I am born and raised in the United States and have always said please, and thank you. Always when greeting or talking to someone it’s hi, how are you. I have never just launched into a conversation, and my husband and my entire family is the same way, but I realize that we may not be the norm.

    I found that this list is super helpful. I feel americans have taken things so far and that we seem to be offended by everything these days.

    • Margaret Daniel says

      I agree!
      I commented to my husband that these are the manners my mother taught me when growing up in the 1970s.
      Opening a door for anyone older than myself, helping anyone who needs it, and respecting absolutely everyone, etc…is normal for me. It pains me to see the loss of many manners here in the USA!

  5. Josie Logan says

    I am born and raised in the United States and have always said please, and thank you. Always when greeting or talking to someone it’s hi, how are you. I have never just launched into a conversation, and my husband and my entire family is the same way, but I realize that we may not be the norm.

    I found that this list is super helpful. I feel americans have taken things so far and that we seem to be offended by everything these days.

  6. CC says

    Thanks, Mariana, for these important and sometimes amusing hints. As a 65-year-old American woman of Spanish descent, I sometimes feel like I’m lost in my own country when it comes to manners. Specifically, most of my life the following has been true: 1) It’s rude to leave a gathering, particularly a formal one like a wedding, without thanking and saying goodbye to your host(s). 2) When you’re at a party and the host(s) offer to dole out leftovers and you get your own food/drink back, you’re supposed to accept it politely. However, a recent acquaintance of mine was accused of always asking for her ‘potluck’ dish contents back every time she was invited to a party. This was (and perhaps still is) considered ridiculously rude! Thanks once again for your insights.

  7. Lawrence says

    So much of this is what the US once was like when I was child, civility and humor left the US decades ago. Some of the most important reasons my wife and I intend to move to Mexico are here in this article.

    • Happy Migrant says

      💯….living in Mexico definitely reminds me of growing up in small town USA back in the 70s. The wonderful people of Mexico still have manners. Not so in small town USA anymore

  8. Gessy Francoeur says

    Mexican rules remind me of the ones we (had) in Haiti where respect for the elders was always the norm. At my age I am past 65) I am still saying thank you, hold doors open for anyone. Say good morning when I enter a room and give my seat to the elders or anyone I could see needed one. I am very friendly with everyone in Mexico and always try to help them out the most I can. Alleluia for good manners.

  9. Jannew says

    Super helpful post. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience. I’m wondering about walking around while eating—something lots of Americans do, but I don’t see in Mexico. Is it impolite to eat something like a cookie or ice cream while strolling?

    • Mariana Lange says

      It’s not that it’s impolite, it’s that in Mexico we take our time to enjoy our food. So we stop what we are doing and focus on it

      • August says

        I just got back from Playa Del Carmen to pick up my residency card. I was there for 2 months and felt very comfortable except for one night while walking along La Quinta eating pizza slices. I do it all the time in Canada, but couldn’t help feeling like I was insulting someone. Now I have a bit more understanding on the vibes I was picking up. Thank you.

        • Ashley Watson says

          What about when we get thirsty on our way to somewhere and we drink something like water while walking?

          • Mariana Lange says

            That’s not anything you need to worry about while living in Mexico. Drinking water or eating while walking isn’t considered rude

  10. Ariana says

    You know. these cultural differences were NOT my experience of growing up in the US. But then again, i’m 70 years old and was brought up ‘properly’. We were taught manners and i am grateful that Mexican culture still upholds these values.
    We have a LOT to learn from our friends south of the border!

  11. Julie Tripodo says

    All these suggestions USE to be done where I grew up in Los Angeles years ago. But today, everything changed some how and nobody can speak up or say anything about it without being attacked. It’s insanity! Possibly my cultural kindnesses stem from the fact I’m Italian and have very similar teachings. I wish to move to Mexico next year but my daughter says “ Momma you can’t move to Mexico by yourself. What will everyone there think and say about you moving away from your children and grandchildren”? Oh dios mio I can’t win lol. I might have to settle on 6 months in Mexico 😃

    • Mariana Lange says

      Ha! Thanks for sharing. I got a chuckle from your daughter because I am sure many people can relate.
      Maybe 6 months is the best option for you!

  12. Lanny says

    Mariana:

    As always, thank you for this insightful article/blog.

    All of your points are well advised – with a few exceptions – accepted and will be on my agenda to practice… More!

    Curious about the “touching” thing. I am a very aminated person. Use of hands and facial expressions (and lots of story telling as examples of what I saying). I do tend to “gently touch” others when I talk; females and males. Touching on the arm or hand. Would this be considered offensive in MX?

    • Mariana Lange says

      Not generally. Although this is fully subjective. But in Mexico, gently touching a stranger is no big deal. Especially if it goes along that you are an animated person who is touchy feely

  13. Edward Robinson Olvera says

    I’m glad you mentioned about “taking a ‘not so PC’ joke,” which is more common in Mexico.
    One might get a joke directed at you which is actually a dig at your “Americanism.” Sometimes it can be hard to tell if how serious is the intention.
    There are those who are resentful of the US and Americans.
    I noticed this mostly in Mexico City where our family lived off and on some years (I have extended family in Mexico and the U.S.).
    The best thing is to laugh it off, to deflate the aggressive ones.

  14. Meg Price says

    As I was reading this to my husband we both said- that is how we were raised long ago!- but as we are both almost 70 this is no longer the norm in the US ad I love that it is still the way in Mexico.

  15. Bonnie Black says

    I always enjoy your advice. I Loved the groom in his white tee shirt though! LOL. I learned a great new word, fachoso! I love the culture of respect for seniors, too. (Now that I am one.) Looking forward to going back soon. Thanks!

    • Mariana Lange says

      I know- poor guy he got so much grief about his apparel choice.
      Thanks for reading!

  16. David Timothy says

    We can’t forget the custom in México (as well as here in Puerto Rico and throughout the Spanish-speaking world) of saying “provecho” or “buen provecho” to other diners…whether in a restaurant, or in a home setting. This generally translates to English as “enjoy your meal” or to French as “bon appétit.” In a restaurant or public dining situation, it’s said to other diners when you’re entering and others are already eating, or when you’re leaving after finishing your own meal. In a home setting, it’s often said to everyone else around the table.

    • Adele Walker says

      I was raised in an old school Italian American family and was taught these basic rules of curtesy and respect. My husband and I tried to instill them in our three daughters and think we were successful. However, more and more I see graciousness, curtesy and concern for others being diminished in the USA. Along with that, the social environment in the US has now evolved into a skeptical and angry/entitled land of complainers. We are in the process of becoming permanent residence and we can’t wait. Mexico has held on to traditional, family values that show respect and concern for others without taking life to seriously. Enjoying your family, friends and community requires some lightheartedness.

  17. R. Fernandez says

    This just reminds me of why I’m planning on moving back to Mexico to retire early (I was born there). You know that meme that’s going around: I thought I was depressed. Turns out it was just the United States.

    • Mariana Lange says

      Ha! That made me chuckle. thank you for that 🙂

  18. Enrique says

    One thing I often encounter in Mexico is people approaching you and give you some kind of service and you’re supposed to give them a tip, or else they’ll feel offended. For example, if you seem like you’re looking for an address on the street, someone will likely approach you and try to help you find the place, and you’re supposed to tip them at the end. At the airport, in the washroom, someone ushered me to a free toilet, and offered me paper towels after I washed my hands. He didn’t seem happy when I just gave him a “thank you”

    • Mariana Lange says

      No one is expecting a tip if you ask for instructions and they give them to you.
      However, yes a bathroom attendant does expect a tip if they give you towel service.

  19. Jodie Hebert says

    I had to smile while reading this article on the cultural differences and agree with the others (50 years old plus) in that this is what used to be called “good manners” or “good breeding” in the USA. Being raised in South Louisiana, I think most of us still practice good manners, but my husband notices how young people do not greet others or will not even wave at him driving by in the car. He was raised in Charleston, SC and is 65 years old. He always waves at anyone he sees. We would be relieved to be around the more friendly and well-mannered Mexican population.

  20. Rahul Iyer says

    All what you described is very similar to expected behavior in Asia. You have the same thing there

  21. P Diane Schneider says

    Mexicans love malapropisms and spoonerisms. Usually if one is fluent in Spanish it is easily understood but can potentially be confusing, especially if you need to interpret what was said into English. When we are talking about the weather report I have got into the habit of saying “mentirologos” instead of meterologos for obvious reasons. A friend recently said to me “Vamos a salir a la plaza. ?Te gusta la idiota?”

  22. Fabrizio says

    I am Italian/American, all the things you mentioned in this article about what to avoid in Mexico are exactly the same things to avoid doing in Italy.

    • Mariana Lange says

      Yeap! We are very similar in our cultures. Ciao 🙂

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *