Learning About Mexican Culture: Space Needs

October 17, 2012

Learning About Mexican Culture: Space Needs
This article is the second in a series to help you to understand the Mexican Culture a bit better.
I could have called the series, “Why Do they Do THAT!”
That title would suggest however that there’s something wrong with the culture.
This series is to help you to understand the culture and not to judge it good or bad.
Now, I like my culture and think it’s the best in many ways, but I’m learning that my way is not the only way,
nor is it always the best way.
I want to address the “Space Issue” in this article, but no, I’m not going to tell you about a Mexican Space Exploration program. Today I’m going to give you my take on “personal space” in the Mexican Culture.
North Americans seek out the maximum convenient space or distance form the other person.
If with a group of friends or family visiting a park picnic area we would not choose a table immediately adjacent to another family. We would instinctively know to keep a “polite distance” from the other family to give them “their privacy”.
This same scene at a Mexican park would likely be totally opposite. Setting up close to another family would just seem the polite thing to do and would not be viewed as rude or intrusive at all.
So, if you visit one of our beautiful parks here don’t be surprised if a Mexican family sets up their spot right next to your spot.
To them this is quite natural. You see they are group rather than individually oriented. They group up in large
Families of several generations in what we might consider cramped quarters.
You have to learn to get along. They feel uncomfortable if the space between each other is too large.
If you were to leave the park area after the Mexican family arrived they might even be offended, especially if you settled in another part of the park, as if to say that you did not want to be near them.
My suggestion, be polite, enjoy watching the Mexican family interact with each other. Do some constructive”People watching”.
About 12 years ago I was an English as a Second Language teacher in Guadalajara. That’s where I was first Introduced to the “group togetherness and personal space” proclivity of Mexican people.
I was to have 8 students in my first ever teaching class.
I set up two tables in a V pattern where each chair could see me and my white board.
I configured each table with four chairs. Then, I watched as my students began to arrive for their free English Class.
The first student came in and sat down at the table closest to the door and was followed closely by the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th student.  They each sat next to the previous students at the same table.
Student 5 came in, went to the second table, picked up one of the chairs there and moved it to the first table and placed it at one end of the long table.
I just watched. Then the 6th student entered and he too took a chair from the empty table and placed it at the other end of the first table.
So, now there are 6 students at the one table. The last two students arrived and you already have guessed what happened right?
Well if you guessed that they went to the empty table and took a chair and headed for the ‘group’ table you’d be right.
As they placed their chairs on my side of the table which would have meant that they would have had their backs to me and the white board most of the time…  I pulled rank.
They had to use the now empty table so they could see me and the white board. In fact I redistributed the class so that I had 2 groups of 4, but moved the tables so that they touched and were all one group.
So, after the reshuffling everyone was happy. There was just one group, “The Students” and one leader “The Teacher”.
That was about 12 years ago and I’m still friends with four of those students to this day. I even married one of the four. I continue to study the culture from a whole new perspective being the only gringo in a huge Mexican family. All for now.
Siempre tu amigo, Sid
  • Karen

    Great article and good info to know.  I think the Mexican people could teach us a thing or two about togetherness and how to get along.  I also have been a foreign English teacher in Costa Rica and absolutely loved the people.  They are so friendly and polite. 

    I really enjoy your articles.  Karen

  • Heather

    Sid, I’m really appreciating this series of articles. I’ve read the book mentioned in your first post on the subject, but it’s very good to have reminders and examples that relate to living Lakeside. We’re recent transplants here and it will take some time to get used to the cultural differences. In the meantime, we hope we’re not accidentally offensive to those we deal with… your articles will help with that. It might be useful if somebody would sell T-shirts that say (in Spanish) the equivalent of, “Please be patient, I’m still learning!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/SidGrosvenor Sid Grosvenor

     Hi Karen,

    Thanks so much for the nice words. Lake Chapala is not like the USA but everyone speaks Spanish. It’s like Mexico (warm and welcoming), and more of the local people do speak English.

    They let us be us and we should let them be them and each learn from the other’s culture. Thanks again, Tu amigo, Sid

  • http://www.facebook.com/SidGrosvenor Sid Grosvenor

     Hi Heather, You guys are adapting more rapidly than some, because you’re working at it. It stretches the mind and that’s a good thing.

    Each time I read the book I referenced I learn something new and it comes home when I see it in action. Good idea on the T Shirt by the way. You should do it. I’ll help you sell
    them. Tu amigo, Sid

  • Poptarte_22

    I too appreciate these information article about this wonderful culture we have adopted.

    We as N. Americans need to learn some of the ‘family’ and friends customs here.

    I had an interesting and heart warming/touching incident the other day.  While sitting at a local popular cafe, sharing wine with a friend, I spotted a young skinny fellow lugging two huge heavy pottery pots on his thin shoulders by a string.  I commented on the pain it must cause…to earn some money.  He approached us and almost begged us to buy one, which of course we too women could never lug UP the hill home, when a waiter from the place came out and handed him a small loaf of bread!  We remarked at how kind and generous that was, and the reply was….’ someone helped me, looking skyward, and I have a job, its our job to help and take care of others less fortunate’.  I looked to then pass some money to the young man but he had vanished.  Next time…I will do that first and foremost.  As we all are here for each other I believe.  But my faith in humanity and joy for the kindness of this Mexican man to another was reinforced. 
    I appreciate the forum you offer to share our stories, carry on Sid.  

  • Sid Grosvenor

     Hi Poptarte_22

    Thanks for the great story. I think we used to be more like that years ago in the USA
    before there was much in the way of welfare. Thanks also for your kind words for our
    forum. Tu amigo, Sid

  • Palmtrees4u

    Thank you for post this experience. This should be a lesson to the world.  We all have a job to help those less fortunate or anyone in need.  We must all pay it forward.  But for the Grace of God there go I.  I agree, carry on Sid.

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