When I was living in Mexico City, I was lucky enough to get a pretty good job working as a locally employed staff in the U.S. Embassy’s HR office. Although my actual duties were rather administrative and dull, I immensely enjoyed my time there. Not only did I get to learn about the inner workings of an embassy, but I also got a direct exposure to the working culture of Mexico. Some of which really took me by surprise and were completely different to the work environment I had experienced before.
So if you are about embark on a life in Mexico or thinking about working there- here are a few factors which really threw me off guard in the beginning:
1. Nickname: Everyone has a pet name. Like in most countries, nicknames are usually derivatives of people’s actual names, however nicknames describing the physical attributes of the person is not uncommon either. For example there is El Gordo (the fatty), El Flaco ( the skinny), El Chino (the Asian), El Negro (the black) to name but a few. If you are white your nickname in Mexico will inevitably be Guera or Guero – which roughly translated means Blondie (even if you have black or brunette hair). Not exceptionally PC but it is not considered rude either! My nickname in the office was Guerita (little blondie!)
However, if you don’t like a nickname – put your foot down immediately! When C first arrived in Mexico, one of his Mexican colleagues called him El Pollito (the little chick!) as you can imagine that did not go down very well with C (who incidentally does have a baby face!)
2. Names of endearment: While talking to other females colleagues, I was often referred to as Mi Reina (my queen), Linda (pretty) and Hermosa (beautiful). Although this took me by surprise I came to accept it and even grow to like it with the colleagues I worked closely with and considered friends. However, it would really bother me, when someone from another office would call me up and start calling my ‘Honey’ and ‘Darling’ in English, it sounded wrong and for me it just was not acceptable.
3. Touching: Taking the names of endearment to another level, this is not uncommon between female colleagues. As a show of affection from some of my co-workers I regularly got shoulder massages and my hair stroked! It may be because I’m a stuffy Brit at times, but I HATE being touched by people I don’t know! I should have nipped this in the bud the first time it happened, but I think I was so shocked that I just let it continue…and after almost 2 years, I never had the heart to tell them how uncomfortable it made me feel!
4. Dress Code: Men will always be smart and formal. They will always wear a suit, tie and polished shoes. The women on the other hand tend to dress like they are on their way to a cheap night club! Don’t be surprised if your female colleagues (especially the younger ones) come to work in knee length leather boots, tight mini skirt and a plunging neckline! Apparently this is acceptable work attire in Mexico!
5. Lunch Plans: If you invite your Mexican colleagues for lunch, be prepared that you will be dining with your entire office. As my colleague once told me, Mexicans don’t like to leave people out!
6. Invitations: If you invite your colleagues to a personal event, they will all say yes, but only 5% will ever show up. Saying yes and not turning up to an event is considered less rude than saying an out-right “no”. This is something that I will never understand and a topic I have had many discussions about with my ex-colleagues.
7. Punctuality and Time: HA HA – this does not exist! Time is a very flexible term in Mexico. Do not be surprised if you schedule a meeting for 9am and nobody shows up until at least 9.30. Although infuriating, as a non-Mexican I don’t think we will ever fully grasp the subtleties of Mexican time. So my suggestion is, always be on time for a meeting (especially if it is someone who is more senior than you who has organised it) and make sure you do not organise back to back meetings…as you will inevitably be late for your next appointment.
8. Greetings: Expect a kiss on the cheek and a greeting by every one of your colleagues in the mornings, and the same at the end of the day of work. Unlike the rest of the world (UK and US I am looking at you), Mexicans will greet everyone when they enter a room, whether that is in a lift or in a Dr’s waiting room, they will also excuse themselves when they leave! Mexicans have impeccable manners.
9. This may just be my experience, but my Mexican work colleagues were the most personable, friendly and generous people that I have ever had the pleasure of working with.
As mentioned previously, I was not in love with my work at the embassy, but it really was the interaction and support from my fellow Mexican colleagues which made me look forward to going to work each day. With their kindness and affection, I got to see a side of Mexico I would not have done otherwise, and I learnt in depth a few Mexican cultures and traditions that was completely foreign to me before I moved there, such as Day of the Dead or how to make tamales!
So if you are starting a job in Mexico in the near future – keep the above tips in mind, but also be open to whatever is thrown your way! Not only will your transition into your new work environment be smooth sailing, but you will create memories and experiences that will last you a lifetime!