Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guanajuato, Mexico -- Working the Culture #1

Probably the single most difficult thing we had to deal with culturally was that since we actually lived within the Mexican culture, and not in a Gringolandian bubble, we were constantly exposed to the affectation that yes meant no, no meant maybe, and sometimes you didn't know what either one meant when interacting with Mexicans.

It can even get more complex.

There are those Mexican to whom yes really does mean yes. There are those to whom yes mean both yes and no. Then, if that wasn't enough to get your knickers all twisted into a knot, the yes/no conundrum can have different degrees or no or yes.

Mexicans tend not to be a confrontational people. Nor are they contrary folks. Getting "no" for an answer to a direct question is seen as rude, contentious, disagreeable, and Mexicans do not want to be seen in that light. They truly tend to be polite to a fault.

To avoid giving the appearance of being offensive they often will say "yes" when they mean "no."

This can be a source of all manner of frustration for the gringo.

Once the wife and I were looking for a landmark to meet a woman who was going to show us a rental house. We got to the barrio and that was the only thing we knew how to find. We proceeded to ask each passerby if he or she knew where this "fountain" (our rendezvous point) was located. Of course, in accordance with this cultural no/yes affectation, they all "knew" where it was and yet no one gave us the correct information.

They didn't want to be rude or offend so they made up something.

If you sit in the Jardin in Guanajuato you will sooner or later experience a parade of blanket and jewelry salesmen asking you repeatedly if you want to buy their stuff. No matter how often you tell them "no" they will keep coming by until you get sick enough of them that you want to run away.

If you tell them "no", why do they keep coming around with the same stuff? Why do they keep coming back and back until becoming a pest?

Because, "no" means to the vendors that you want a lower price on the object they are selling. So, they keep coming back and back and back. Rather than telling them "no", tell them "gracias." Gracias means you appreciate them calling your attention to their items but that you are not interested. I often wag my head while saying gracias.

Another issue is in the Supermarkets. If the store is a chain with branches all over Mexico they will put out a central advertisement for the chain name that may list items not actually available within the local branch in which you are standing. In other words, one ad for the entire list of stores all over the country.

If you walk into your local branch and ask for an item listed in the advertisement the employee will affirm that they have it. But, search as you may, the item will not be found. The employee will answer when you inquire, "Yes we have the two-for-one toothbrushes and yet nowhere in the store will the item exist."

It isn't as though they are stupid as you will be tempted to think of them. They do not want to be rude. They will know the store chain carries it, somewhere, but just not in the local branch. They do not want to be rude so they tell you they have the item ... They do have it just not there.

It will do no good to confront them on the issue.

"You just told me that you had such-and-such and it isn't here."

They cannot tell you "no."

A variation of this is that they will tell you it is coming in tomorrow's shipment. Then when you show up the next day the truck, the store manager will tell you sadly in and mournful tones of sorrow, crashed and burned up everything including the toothbrushes.

Mexicans will resort to rationalizations to avoid making you feel unpleasant and getting into a confrontation.

Don't challenge it. You cannot change the culture.


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