I visited Mexico for the first time two weeks ago (Gaudalajara) and then for the second time (Mexico City) last week. Both were one-night visits. With so little time and so specific a purpose (I was speaking to groups of Mexican executives looking to do business in the U.S.), I didn’t have time to do much tourism — or any. Nevertheless, here are some scattered impressions of my visits to our friends down south:
- The connectedness of the two countries. I guess I didn’t realize how inter-connected Mexico and the U.S. are. Whether it’s switching back and forth between English and Spanish, using dollars and pesos in the same transaction, or spotting license plates from CA and Texas, signs of the U.S. are more prevalent in Mexico than in any other country I’ve been to. This is not surprising given the location, but still interesting to me.
- Is my Spanish better than your English? In a place where a lot of people speak some Spanish, it’s always amusing for marginal Spanish speakers like myself to try to figure out which language is best to use if speed of understanding is the only factor. In one case, I was trying to tell someone to wait for three minutes until I came back from the bathroom — after dinking around with a couple verbs and racking my brain trying to remember how to use the polite form of the "command" version of esperar, my companion just said, Screw it, tell me in English. I did, and mutual understanding obtained.
- Crime in Mexico City. Frankly, while planning my trip, I was a little spooked about the crime situation in Mexico City. When I arrived, I was definitely extra vigilant. The police cars in Mexico City always have their flashing lights on, regardless of whether they’re en route to a crime. Not knowing this beforehand, my first impression was the unusually high level of cop-car activity in the city! In the end, I was not mugged or robbed or kidnapped. But I also was taken good care of by my hosts. I’m not sure I would have trekked into Mexico City on my own, even though from what I saw all seemed safe and calm.
- Mexican food. Like with most ethnic food, Mexican food in Mexico has some differences from Mexican food in the U.S. For one, no burritos.
- Business executives. I was very impressed with all the execs from Mexican companies I met. They are really focused on expanding into international markets and also making Mexico an attractive outsourcing destination or Latin America headquarter possibility for U.S. firms. Mexican migrant labor already plays a fundamental role in the U.S. economy — this actually seems to be a hindrance for white collar firms from Mexico who must battle the unfair perception that all Mexicans are good for are washing dishes and cleaning hotel rooms.
- Tijuana it is not. I haven’t been to Tijuana, the border city a stone’s throw from San Diego, but most Americans have. Several of my Mexican hosts told me, "Mexico is not Tijuana." Just like China is not Shanghai or Beijing, the places most tourists visit exclusively, Mexico is not Tijuana or Cancun.