Get to know a little bit more about Mexican culture

Until a few years I have lived all my life in Mexico, then about one year in USA and now six months in Finland. After these experiences I have the felling that most people don’t really know much about it, some almost nothing.

Today is Mexico’s independence day, so I figured it would be a good idea to write about my country.

I guess the stereotype of Mexican people is that we like tequila, dance a salsa, we are lazy and our best beer is Corona.

Most people get surprised by this one: Corona is far from being the best beer, they just did good marketing. To my understanding it is one of the cheapest and it’s popular in “beach cities” or small towns, but otherwise it’s just another beer, and definitively not the best. My friends would buy Indio, Sol, Tecate Light, XX Lager, Heineken, Casta, anything but Corona.

For a complete list of international ratings you can check FEMSA list, Grupo Modelo list and there’s more

Now, Mexico is drastically different from one place to another. We have deserts, amazing beaches, forests and jungles. Huge cities, towns and indigenous communities. Filthy rich people (like Carlos Slim, the richest person in the world) and very poor. It’s really difficult to say that Mexico is some way, because it really depends a lot.

What is worst. We Mexicans don’t know each other so well. It’s not unusual to leave a Mexican wondering about some fact of the country. There are 31 states, and each state is totally different.

So if you think Mexican drink tequila you should think again. Some Mexicans call themselves “tequilero” (they like it), some are more beer people, and some like other liquors. In my city (Monterrey) we mostly drink beer and tequila just in special occasions or mixed with something else.

The same goes for dancing Salsa. A lot of people from “beach cities” dance it, but it’s not so popular anywhere else. Each zone has its own distinct type of dancing. There’s Cumbia Tejana, Cumbia Norteña, Quebradita, Pacito Duranguense, Banda, etc.

The one that I find most amusing is that we are lazy. In some way that’s true; we like to take shortcuts. We like to think about ourselves as “creative” people that often do things the “wrong” way. Some classic example is to quickly “fix” a car’s broken front light with some plastic and scotch tape, sometimes for the lack of money, but other times it’s for the lack of time. We don’t spend so much time finding the proper solution. That has advantages and drawbacks but that’s how we are.

We usually work more than 8 hours a day, a lot of people work on Saturdays and even Sundays, the concept of extra time is almost inexistent, we don’t get any vacation days on the first year of work, and after that is about 10 days per year.

On the contrary, we are very hard-working people, and specially the people on the north.

Something that most people fail to see is our sense of humour. We make fun about everything all the time, but usually in a way of puns which heavily rely on our own Mexican variant of Spanish.

Language and humor are intensely correlated. For example: a very common word is chingada (fuck/screw), which comes from La Malinche the mistress of Hernan Cortes which is considered a traitor who screwed us. Nowadays most Mexicans don’t know where “chingada” comes from, it probably started as a joke which eventually made into the common language, and now it’s still used as a word that can be used almost anywhere and makes the comment more funny.

There’s also albur. Which I don’t want to try to explain, but it’s some very specific kind of pun joke which is persistent in the whole country and even among different social classes.

We even make fun about the death. We have a special Day of the Dead in which we remember our lost beloved ones and think about them as if they came back this day to live with the living. The tradition says that we should put some altar with offerings; things they liked in life. In some towns they even make parties. Also some people write “calaveras” (skulls), which are mocking epitaphs for friends (living friends), as a story about how the death takes them away, with rhymes and puns, but most importantly something quintessential about the person.

Almost everything is allowed: death, corruption, racism, sexism, wifes, sisters, even Mexican people… but not mothers, that’s really touchy.

It’s not a big surprise that Mexican humor is not very well known: it’s too local, and maybe offensive. But lately there have been a few Mexican comedians that have been able to succeed in USA, and they are quite good: George Lopez, Pablo Francisco and Paul Rodriguez.

Funny enough the Mexican-American comedians almost unknown in Mexico.

The food? There’s no Mexican food outside of Mexico. What is supposed to be “Mexican cousine” is actually Tex-Mex at best. Nachos and Fajitas are purely Tex-Mex; Fajitas are almost unknown in Mexico.

Typical examples of Mexican cuisine include: pozole, tamales, carnitas and mole. If there isn’t any typical drink as horchata, jamaica or tamarindo then it’s probably not Mexican cuisine.

Tortillas must be warm, that’s why they are kept inside “tortilleros” (tortilla warmers), and food is usually served without tortillas so when you are ready to use one you take it out of the tortillero. Typical tortillas are about 15 cm.

Again, the typical food varies drastically from region to region. For a list of more Mexican food check here.

And finally there’s music. Again, a lot of different kinds:

Café Tacuba – Ojalá que llueva Café

El Gran Silencio – Cumbia Lunera (live from Japan)

Celso Piña – Cumbia sobre el Rio

Kinky – Coqueta (with cowbell!)

(I’m listing examples of the ones I like that I think are typical but there are many many more).

Our race and our culture is metiza; a mixture from European and indigenous which is very rich and diverse. Drastically different from one place to another is a living example that different cultures can live together peacefully. It’s far from being a paradise; there are huge problems as corruption, poverty and ignorance, but Mexican people are positive, and although slowly, there’s improvement.


12 thoughts on “Get to know a little bit more about Mexican culture

  1. great dude!!!

    maybe some videos from “untochable” or “the north’s tigers” would explain more about the music diversity. And even more with beer’s best friend the corridos!

    C ya cuz!…. i’ll try to go overseas next year 😉


  2. I think you shoul also put “Chavela Vargas” and “Oscar Chavez” because there are good musians and do cultural music that have a lot of México in them. And I´m from the south of Méxco and we work as hard as the people in the noth.


  3. I just want to say thata “salsa” dance is not from México neither “Cumbias” like the word says it comes from Colombia the only Méxican music is “Las Rancheras”.


  4. Maybe Felipe is talking abot “modern mexican culture”; which has plenty of influences from other cultures; and that makes it a lot more diverse than what you see in mexican movies from the 1940’s and 1950’s.
    The list of artists, musical gendres, foods, drinks, etc. that could be called “mexican” is way to extense fit in a single blog web page.
    The point is that if you are not mexican and you believe you know about mexico based on the stereotypes seen in american movies; then you are as ignorant as mexicans like me, who believe that every american teenage kid takes automatic weapons to school.
    get the point?


  5. Hojaldra: Indeed, Cumbia is not originally from Mexico, and in fact at least in the north we don’t really have plain Cumbia. It’s either Cumbia Tejana, or Cumbia Norteña. “Las Rancheras” sound very weird “Música Ranchera” sounds more familiar but it’s not used for that kind of stuff, at least not directly AFAIK. And definitely is not the only Mexican music 😉

    In fact in Monterrey there’s some kind of fascination for Colombian music, we call that “Cumbia Colombiana”, “Colombias”, “Cumbia Vallenata” or “Vallenato” and more recently people have been listening to “Cumbia Villera”. I’m not sure exactly why. And also I think it’s something that doesn’t happen in the rest of the country.

    One from MTY: Right, it’s impossible to make a reasonable compendium since the list is too vast. Maybe I’ll make another post with the recommendations in the comments.

    I simply wanted to show something for foreign eyes. Most of the world doesn’t even know what is Cumbia!


  6. I would say that this is a good explanation of Northern Mexican Culture viewed from a local guy. I think that Mexico is a result of diversity including the way of elaborating the ideas. This diversity is very hard to understand and in most cases it leads to wrong interpretation of the Mexican Culture itself. The fact is that we are a result of the mixture of native people and hispaniards. This was not spread as much as it could to the north. The north part of Mexico is influenced by the American Culture and I would consider that these people live in their tailored American-dream. I’m not for the statement: ” On the contrary, we are very hard-working people, and specially the people on the north.” I consider the last part a very old vision of the contemporary Mexico. Hard-working people is everywhere across the contry and they have proved to be talented not only inside the contry but around the globe.


  7. It’ s DP theme day— the view from my bedroom— I had spent a good year in this apartment, watching out to a view when it rained, shined, or when someone hanged out some laundry, a chopper flew past with an advertising banner or the barges at bay. Life and time passsed slowly during that year, the year I started this blog, a year I very often looked at this view and thought… so what do I photograph today, which photo to post today, who would leave comments today… etc etc A good year…


  8. Hi I found your blog, but I don’t like your comment – Mexicans from the north work harder.
    That is not the case. Mexicans from the north “work harder” because there is actually transnational companies that have set up shop there due to the proximity to the US. They are given a chance to work. That doesn’t mean people from the south don’t work, there just isn’t jobs. Still people manage to set their own small businesses and survive from it.


  9. +Fernando There’s no objective way to know if people on the north work harder or not, but you can’t deny there’s a tendency to think so. Remember the saying: when people on the south are hungry they just extend their hand from the hammoc and grab a mango 🙂

    I believe it’s perfectly sensible to assume that people from a dessert city will tend to work harder than people living near a lake or something, that’s just survival. And the north is full of inhospitable places where people were born and raised to work hard… they had to. And this legacy doesn’t just disappear with modernity.

    Maybe it’s just appearances, but this phrase is engraved in my mind: Monterrey; gente recia y trabajadora.


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