Dos and Don’ts

Lunch Etiquette: Don’t show up too early for lunch. Arrive after 1 p.m. and before 3 p.m., when restaurants really fill up. Expensive restaurants like reservations, so it’s preferable if you have one. At lunch, try comidas corridas (set lunches).

Basic Knowledge: Do make an effort to be informed on some basics of Mexican geography (for example that it is North and not Central or South America) and history (that there were Aztecs here, as well as many other groups, but not Incas).

Taxis: Don’t hail taxis from the street unless you know your way around.

Mañana Culture: While it’s considered impolite to joke about the laid-back mañana culture, the general disregard for punctuality is a given. Take something to read. You may be invited to a party at 8 p.m., for example, because your hosts know no one will arrive until 10 p.m. or much later.

Breathe Easy: Do be prepared for the smog and altitude—7,349 feet (2,240 meters) above sea level—and pace yourself accordingly.

Water: Don’t drink the tap water.

Speaking Spanish: Do try and speak some Spanish, however rudimentary. You will gain Brownie points for trying and might be reassured by a surprise response in fluent English.

Gringos: Don’t ruffle your feathers if you are called a gringo. There’s no other word for an American. Most foreign residents here have appropriated the term, and call themselves gringos.

Phrase Book

DF: Stands for Distrito Federal and is shorthand for Mexico City. Otherwise the city is simply called México and not la Ciudad de Mexico. Pronounced day-EFF-ay.

Mi casa es tu casa: The staple phrase of local hospitality, “my house is yours.” Often perplexingly abbreviated to tu casa, as in, “We will see you for lunch in your house,” which means you are invited to lunch at their house. Pronounced mee cassa ess too cassa.

Lana: Money. As in, “No tengo lana.” Pronounced noh tengoh lah-nah.

Güero: Literally “whitey” and used in the second person as a form of address, “Qué quiere comprar, güero?” (What do you want to buy, paleface?), unlike gringo, which is usually third person. Pronounced weh-roh.

Por favorcito, en un momentito: Other regions poke fun at the extensive use of the diminutive in this part of Mexico. This linguistic habit is said to derive from Pre-Hispanic days, but does reach oxymoronic proportions, as in grandecito (a little bit big). Pronounced por fah-vor-see-toh; en oon moh-men-too-toh.

Neza: The abbreviated name everyone uses for Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, the huge second Mexico City populated originally by migrants from the countryside. Pronounced nessa.

Vocho: The green VW bug taxi, one of the symbols of the capital, which is now being phased out. Pronounced boh-choh.

Guey: Teenage slang to mean something like dude, but considered a little combative. Pronounced way.

Puente: Literally bridge. Used to mean a holiday that has made the weekend spill over to include Monday or Friday. Pronounced pwen-teh.

Lomas: Posh residential neighborhood beyond Polanco where bodyguards and maids scurry about in uniforms, Pronounced loh-mass.

Una chela: A beer. Pronounced cheh-la.

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