Part 3: Proverbs, ‘Dichos’ and Mexican Behavior

Life in Mexico is filled with a variety of socially important and colorful customs, and they tell us a lot about the culture. It has been a custom of lower and middle class boys and young men in their 20s, for example, to gather at street corners in evenings, and wait for girls. Some make outright sexual proposals to girls passing by and most follow the ritualized custom of calling out ‘piropos’ or flirtatious comments to girls who appear attractive to them, a tradition said to have originated among Spain’s gypsies in medieval times. The workers on our roof right now are not given to poetry, or even flattering language of the common piropo type, like ‘Dios mio, tanta curva y yo soy sin frenos’ .. ‘My God, so many curves and me without brakes.’ Instead they give a hearty wolf whistle as if it’s all the time they have for. If you hear these piropos just ignore them, not like an American student of mine last year who was unable to ignore them, in whatever form they came to her. ‘What am I going to do?’ She asked, wringing her hands in frustration. ‘They’re probably telling you how pretty you are’ I replied, thinking, ‘get over it.’ I’m told piropos are on the way out .. it’s up to you, ladies, to decide wheter you feel sorry or pleased about that.

Mexicans love to quote proverbs. Many of them serve the status quo and postpone debate on pressing problems. ‘El que no tranza no avanza’, or ‘whoever doesn’t trick or cheat gets nowhere.’ Better ‘trick’ or ‘cheat’ than direct confrontation because many Mexicans still hold the belief that after controversy there is no reconciliation. This attitude is not hard to understand; everything divides people in Mexico – geography, ethnicity, religion, class, money.. And their complicated relationships with colonial and imperial powers in the past have added to their mistrust of others as well as made them resistant to collective action. There’s still that ‘us versus them’ mentality, unfortunately, as seen in this proverb: ‘Amisdad que no se refleja en la nómina no es amistad’, a cynical quote meaning ‘ friendship that is not reflected in the payroll isn’t friendship’. Or ‘con dinero baila el perro, si esta amaestrado’ – ‘properly trained and paid a dog will dance’. In Mexico the family is the locus of trust, solidarity and support; generally family counts, group efforts don’t. In art, for example, individuals stand out, Frida and Rivera, Orozco; even the conquest of America was not the work of Spain but primarily the achievement of individual adventurers. The drug cartels reveal their passion for flaunting power and wealth, and with the obvious risk of capture, doing it all ‘alone.’ Not too surprising, as officials for centuries have interpreted the laws according to ways that would benefit themselves, their families and friends. ‘Personalísimo’, a concept best understood as behavior controlled by a code, rather than laws, logic, fairness or equality. ‘En la boca cerrada, no entran moscas’, ‘flies don’t enter a closed mouth’. We’ve all noticed the absence of competition in the economy and in the political arena.. ‘Es mejor decir aquí corrió, que aquí murió.’ .. ‘It’s better to say he ran here than he died here.’ Even today the most influential corporations in Mexico are controlled by families, limiting the expansion of public ownership and frustrating the average Mexican. ‘Ni modo’, they say, which can be interpreted as ‘why bother, it’s no good to try..’ It’s an expression of resignation. Why don’t Mexicans turn up on time for an appointment, we wonder. Why don’t they get health insurance..? ‘Ojala,’they say, ‘God willing’. ‘Ojala que lo tenga el próximo año.’ God knows what the future will bring, man does not. And time, being the cheapest commodity around, is on their side – anything can be accomplished by waiting.
A discussion of national characteristics of a people has serious limitations and superficialities. Stereotyping is offensive and labeling individuals as well as groups is damaging. What we wish to do is respect our differences. This ‘talk’ has attempted only to highlight some ‘Mexicanisms’, both linguistically and culturally. ‘Ojalá que sea divertido’ .. I hope ( God willing ) it’s at least fun.