Margie Hord

Expat by Default

Category: Expats

Understanding Mexican Courtesy or “Buena Educación”


When I was in Spain a few years ago, it shocked me to find a server treating us somewhat rudely, until I remembered a friend once telling us “you almost have to use swear words to get a waiter’s attention in Spain!” What?  Then other contacts have confirmed that Spaniards tend to be very direct and in-your-face, often appearing offensive to courteous Latin Americans.

It has occurred to me that, as Mexican culture is a fusion of Spanish and indigenous influence, perhaps its emphasis on extreme politeness and “doing the right thing” is more related to its indigenous roots after all! It is commonly called “buena educación”, which is a bit more all-encompassing than “good manners”. It has to do with being a decent person, or as Paul Yeatman says, having “good upbringing”. Among other things, he says, “Personal hygiene and courtesy are of primary importance, from the look of the fingernails to table manners to the rituals of politeness”. Continue reading

Adjusting to Life in the US (Again)

Green details on the Statue of Liberty's head and crown

Most of my life has been spent in Latin America, although I did attend boarding school in Massachusetts eons ago, which involved considerable adjustment. Much has changed since then. These impressions are based especially on a recent visit to Southern California, so my observations might not be the same in other areas. If you already live in the US or Canada, most of these “facts of life” may seem obvious, but this is a chance to see your country through the eyes of newcomers. Then again, perhaps some of my readers are adjusting, too!

Diverse group of friends smile and post in a line outside

Ethnic and Racial Diversity

Back in the 70’s, it wasn’t as common to see much ethnic or racial diversity in the US. Of course there were more Afro-Americans and Hispanics in some areas, and in larger cities or international airports one could see more variety.

Now, however, it is a major change for me to see a wide range of racial and ethnic groups represented wherever I go, some even easily differentiated by saris, turbans or burkas. In fact, only 26% of students in the public schools of California identify themselves as “white”.  Wikipedia says: “No single ethnic group forms a majority  of California’s population”.

Interracial families are much more common than in the past, as well. Continue reading

Raising Bilingual Kids as an Expat

Our son was three or so when he entered preschool. After a few days, his “miss”, as they often call female teachers in Mexico, asked, “Do you understand what he says?” Obviously, she didn’t. We had gotten used to his childish language, in which he mixed a bit of English and Spanish. Of course, before long he straightened things out.

When I took a course in bilingualism as part of my M.A. studies, I wondered if it was too late to help my children become as fully bilingual as possible. But looking back, we hadn’t done that badly, even when our actions were not necessarily the result of conscious decisions at all times. Continue reading

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