snapshots of mexico, literal and figurative

When ‘Yes’ Means ‘No
February 17, 2009, 9:00 am
Filed under: Photo, Update | Tags: , , ,

Mexicans are among the friendliest people in the world. Even in the busy metropolis of Mexico City it’s very common to have a complete stranger tell you “buen provecho” (the local equivalent of bon appetit) at a restaurant, help you with doors, or just greet you on the street. Basically, they want to be liked.

However, there is a downside to the Mexican desire to be seen as helpful and friendly, at least for us non-Mexicans unfamiliar with this custom. While Mexican will gladly tell you ‘yes’ when they are willing and able to help, they will rarely tell you ‘no’ when they are not. One example of this habit often occurs when asking for directions. It is almost certain that you will get detailed directions to your destination. Unfortunately, these directions are often completely fictitious and only serve to further confuse your path. In order to appear helpful, a Mexican would rather make up false directions to your destination than simply tell you they don’t know how to get there.

While providing false information to a stranger is one thing, dealing with friends or business associates is another. Instead of making up information on the spot, a Mexican will instead try to avoid having to provide any information at all.

How to say “no” in Mexican:

Step 1: Say yes.

Step 2: Avoid person who initially asked the question at all costs.

Step 3: If contact is unavoidable, assure the person that their request will be met “ahorita”.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 as necessary until the other party gives up.

Where am I going with this? My project, of course. While I like to think of my project as moving along well, I am plagued by the Mexican “no”. There is undoubtedly a number of patients who I have and will interview who try to tell me what they think I want to hear. While frustrating, this is expected in survey research and not an overly grave concern.

The larger problem is instead the “Mexican No” I’m getting from the doctors who I’m looking to for help. I have called a doctor at the state health department of Michoacan nine times since I was initially put in touch with him last Monday, each day, and at different times. I have not been able to get him on the phone once yet, as he has always “just stepped out”. I left my phone number with a secretary Friday morning, but I have a hard time believing I’ll hear from him without making at least a few more calls. If this process has to be repeated with the four other state health departments I hope to meet with, I may go crazy.

Otherwise, the year continues to fly by. I’m starting to get to the point where I have brief moments of panic when I realize how much medical knowledge I’ve forgotten and that I’ll be back in the hospital in a few month’s time. For the most part, though, I’m content to just relax and enjoy Mexico City.

Fun Mexican Word: Maguey – Unlike several of Mexico’s other pre-Columbian agricultural products (corn, chiles, squash) that have become part of so many of the world’s cuisines, the versatile maguey is rarely grown outside of Mexico. Numerous species of maguey are heavily used in landscaping, and the plant’s fibers have long been used for in cloth-making. However, the most important products made from various maguey are all alcoholic—the frothy, fermented pulque; harsh, smoky mescal; and, above all, tequila, Mexico’s gift to the world of booze.

Picture: Eagle carving at the Monument to the Revolution. This fascinating dome was initiated during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, and was originally intended to be the new meeting chambers for the Senate. However, Diaz was forced from power before the building’s completion. Its shell was later repurposed into a monument celebrating the event.

La Aguila

La Aguila

Something I miss (aside from all of you, of course): Ethiopian food. Most food cravings can be at least partially satisfied one way or another in Mexico City. Within a short walk I can find Argentine, Chinese, Polish, Brazilian, and Japanese restaurants, and of course various Mexican options (plus American fast food, if for some inexplicable reason I feel like Subway or a Big Mac). Numerous other options are found throughout the city. While I have one lead on a possible “Indian/Ethiopian/Ghanian restaurant”—quite a combo—I think I’m probably just going to have to wait until I’m back in Chicago to fill this particular craving.

Something I like about DF: Cantinas, the traditional Mexican drinking hole. Have a few beers, get dinner free! Add dominos, live music, and a soccer game on TV and you are bound to have a good time.




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