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The Cancino restaurant in Roma Norte, a popular area among expats in Mexico City. (Photo: Ximena Herand)
Monday, December 11, 2023

Mexico: Key Missteps Expats Make

Sixteen missteps expats make in Mexico.


A newly arrived ChilAngLo (Brit living in CDMX) asked me for the faux pas Mexico City expats most often make. Here are some – feel free to add or challenge.

1. The Fashion Faux Pas: Wearing shorts and demanding margaritas in Mexico City? That’s like asking for a Pimm’s Cup in a Manchester pub. Dress for the altitude, not the attitude – or lack thereof.

2. Gosh, it’s expensive! Complaining that Mexico City is now pricier than New York, London, Dallas etc… Clearly, you haven’t ventured beyond Condesa, Polanco, and Roma Norte. And guess what? Expats like you are one reason why it’s gotten expensive!

3. Complaining about other, newer expats in Mexico ruining it all (“These motherf**ers on their rented bikes with jean shorts doing barbacoa taco tours in Condesa…they all should be taken out back..” : Remember, Hernán Cortés got here way before all of us.

4. Telling people to be quiet: In Mexico, silence is scarier than a mariachi band outside your window at midnight. Embrace the symphony of the streets, or invest in earplugs.

5. Using Mexican Slang: Shouting “no mames” “guey” “no chingues” etc with an English accent is cringeworthy, and you’re almost certainly getting it wrong. Also, telling friends back home Mexico is “the SHIT” might have been cool in the early 2010s. Now, it just shows your age.

6. The Bad Driving Rant: Agonizing over the anarchic driving? In Mexico City, it’s survival of the least afraid. Best to stop stressing.

7. The Punctuality Problem: Turning up fashionably late to business meetings? In Mexico, timekeeping is an art form (and with WAZE mostly easy to manage). Being on time shows respect – save the tardiness for parties, where it’s expected.

8. The Party Protocol: Inviting to lunch at 1pm? Dinner at 7pm? Heading to MN Roy before 2 AM? Don’t. You’re not in Kansas anymore.

9. Whining about Mexicans never saying no? Lean in and do the same. You’ll soon find that avoiding a direct ‘no’ keeps options open and reduces confrontation.

10. Complaining everything takes forever? Things can happen very fast or very slow in Mexico, mostly depending on the incentives. More accurately, times are unpredictable.

11. Over-scheduling: Unpredictability means it’s best to keep days light. Good things often happen if you build some flexibility into your day.

12. Planning more than 2 weeks ahead. It’s almost rude to ask a Mexican for a lunch or meeting a month or more ahead of time, and probably just a waste of time as options will be kept open, regardless.

13. Plan a lunch or dinner on Friday/Saturday but not both.

14. Don’t slam the Uber door: Cars (and the driver) should be treated respectfully.

15. Avoiding Eye Contact: Make sure to keep eye contact with those sharing the same space and reply if greeted by an unthreatening stranger – it’s not a trap.

16. Expecting to be able to pay for everything with your phone or card? Unless you want to wash dishes for your dinner, carry some bills.

Damian Fraser is CEO and founder of Miranda Partners in Mexico. He was Mexico Country Manager of UBS from 2001 to 2018. Previously he ran UBS’s Latin American Equity division and worked as Head of UBS LatAm Equity Research. Prior to banking, Damian was a journalist at The Economist (economics correspondent), and at the Financial Times (Mexico bureau chief).

This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Republished with permission from the author.

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