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Stuff Mexicans Like #21: La Colita (The Mexican Ponytail)

10 Dec

The Mexican ponytail is a critical component in every Mexican girl’s life from the breast to the grave. It consists of brushing wet hair back, applying a handful of gel (see: “Stuff Mexicans Like #19: El Gel”), pulling the hair as taut as humanly possible, and twisting an elastic hair band around the tail, leaving the female with a death grip on the back of her scull for 10-12 hours each day. This phenemenon can be observed in each and every Mexican school throughout the republic, viewing from the back of the classroom: a sea of dark colitas.

Why the obsession with the tight pigtail in the rear-center of the head? There are a couple schools of thought. One is that the Spanish Catholic Macho influence has left parents with the desire to make their girls seem more masculine. Another is that of control. La Virgencita (See “Stuff Mexicans Like #2: La Virgen de Guadalupe”) is the center of Mexican culture and values. The idea of control, rigidity, and simplicity all jive with the image of a virgen or “niña bien” (good girl). Hair hanging loose all over the place swinging to and fro with the wind, doing just as it pleases is not an acceptable state for Mexican tresses. Nor is a single barrette, a simple loose braid, or 2 casually ribboned pigtails. It is all-or-nothing when it comes to Mexican hairdressing.

The last theory is my own, based on the deep-seated rascism I have felt and witnessed here in Northern Latin America. A Chicana (Mexican-American or pocha: ruined one, as Mexicans lovingly refer to them) friend of mine posted to her personal internet site: “I am Mexican. If you don’t believe me, I can pull back my bangs.”  She was referring to her very low hairline and almost non-existent forehead. This is a typical look for many, if not most, indigenous Mexican people. That being said, with the combination of the low forehead being equated with Indios (an insult in Mexico. See “Stuff Mexicans Like #10: Las Güeras”) and the desire to look more European, (namely white), it makes sense that many Mexican women may want to pull their hair back as far off the forehead as possibly, thus lengthening the start of the hairline, creating a somehwat more European, less Indio look.

Whatever the reason, I am always acutely aware at Mexican children’s birthday parties & social gatherings that my child’s sloppy side braid or loose curls make a stark contrast to other Mexican children’s tight, super gel’d du’s. I wonder if other parents at the party equate the loose hairstyles of me and my child to be congruent with their ideas of loose, uncontrollable Gringas in general.

Just for today, I am ok with that. Happy Hair scrutinizing!

Exhibit A: Little Mexican girl headed to a birthday party

Exhibit B: Little Gringa girl headed to a birthday party

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Stuff Mexicans Like #15: Extreme Baby Bundling

2 Jun
Babies are a gift from Heaven. It is a parent’s job to protect these little bundles of joy. In Mexico, this involves more swaddling than eskimos in Antarctica. Mothers can often be seen in San Miguel de Allende waiting for the bus carrying a gigantic lump of furry blankets. As the sweat drips down Mami’s forehead, she will peek under the four layers of cotton, wool, and polyester swaddling to check on her sleeping, or half-cooked bebé.

The reasons are multiple for this “protección.” Sun, breeze (mal aire), dust, sustos (sudden scares), and jealous looks from others (mal de ojo) can all hacerle daño (cause harm). Aparte, newborn babies cannot yet regulate their own body temperature, thus the pink beanies, thermal blankets, and fuzzy white booties. However in Mexico, babies of all ages are considered to have frio (cold) pretty much at all times without the help of Mami and Abue’s (gramma’s) coverings.

FRIO
Mexicans believe that getting cold inevitably leads to sickness, especially if the frio comes on suddenly. They do not walk around barefoot ever, even in their own clean tiled homes, even on very hot days. This is well-known as the fastest and surest way to get gripe (a cold/flu). It’s also known as one of the most naco (low class; uneducated) and tacky things one can do. My friend’s mother here in SMA shared a story with me about the time she went blind as a child for walking around in wet clothes all day after swimming in the presa (canal). Eventually she went to el DF (Mexico City) for a surgery that left her seeing blurry trees. Presently she squints most of the time. Por andar mojada, she explains (for being out & about wet). I’m not sure if she was trying to inform me or warn me with her cuento, as she has been appalled on more than one occasion by my daughter’s lack of heavy parkas…. in the summer.

CONSEJOS (advice)
I remember when I was pregnant here in San Miguel de Allende, the advice slowly started flowing to me from aquaintances and even strangers. No corras. Don’t run. No comas lo frio cuando hace frio. Don’t eat cold things when it’s cold. Duerme la siesta. Take a nap. Toma más té. Drink more tea. No tomes café. Stop drinking coffee.Toma más leche. Drink more milk. Come frijoles. Eat beans. Toma agua. Drink water. Desayuna. Eat breakfast. No trabajes tanto. Don;t work so much. Necesitas mas Jamaica. You need more hibiscus water. Cuidado manejando. Be careful driving. Ponte un sueter. Put on a sweater. No andes descalzada como India. Don’t go around barefoot like an Indian.Ya no uses chanclas. Stop wearing flip-flops. No subas la escalera. Don’t climb stairs. No levantes nada. Don’t lift anything. And this was just from the men!

When my baby was born, I really got an ear-full! Tápala. Cover her up! Ponla otra cobija. Put another blanket on her! ¿No tiene frio?  Doesn’t she have cold?¿No le das fórmula? You don’t give her formula? Dale un té. Give her a tea. Tápala. Cover her up! Toma cerveza para producir más leche. Drink beer to produce more milk. Toma atole para producir más leche. Drink Atole rice drink to produce more milk. Tápala. Cover her up! ¿No tiene frio? Doesn’t she have cold?¿Se va a enfermar. She’s going to get sick. El aire le hace daño. Wind and cold air will harm her. Tápala. Cover her up! El sol le hace daño. The sun will do her harm. Cobíjala. Blanket her. ¿No tiene una chamarra? Doesn’t she have a coat? Se va a enfermar. She’s going to get sick. ¿No tiene un gorro? Doesn’t she have a hat? Tápa su cabeza. Cover her head. Tápala. Cover her up. Tápala. Cover her up. Tápala…. Cover her up…

“BEBI SHAUGÜERS”
En fin, if you want to get in good with Mexicans, make sure the baby shower gift you bring is a blanket. Always a blanket. Multiple blankets of all sizes, fabrics, textures, colors, and thickness. If you have your own baby and will be in viewing range of Mexicans, keep the child covered up, for crying out loud! As far as blankets go, the Mexican rules are,  “When in doubt, wear it out.” And, “When not in doubt, wear it out.”  If you are caught unawares by a Mexican and your child is not wearing a parka, snow hat, or multiple layers of quiltings, don’t panic! Always keep a spare thermal blanket in your diaper bag and immediately cover the child’s head, shaking your own head, confused, at your temporary recklessness. Mexicans all around will release a collective sigh of relief and you will be “in” again if you can avoid future neglect.

COMENTARIOS

As far as your comments go with other Mexcians, especially in public places, a solid question-suggestion passive-aggressive combo like, No tienes frio?” (You’re not cold?) or “No quieres un sueter?” (You don’t want a sweater?) lets Mexicans know that you know what time it is. You are all on the same page with the frio debate. You will be much more likely to be invited to the next 5 de mayo fiesta.

EXHIBIT A
My baby on a warm day. Absolute negligence.
       
Mexican baby on a hot day. Proud parenting.
      
You be the judge.

Stuff Mexicans Like #5: Manners

18 May
  
Having and using good manners is perhaps the number one value in Mexican society. This manners business ranks higher in importance in Mexican society than logic, honesty, kindness, bravery, intelligence, or hard work. If I lie, cheat, and steal, but always say “buen provecho” when I see someone eating;“qué te vaya bien” when someone leaves; and “con permiso” when joining and/or leaving a group of people, I am on my way toward Mexican cultural fluency. This instantly puts me in good with Mexicans and assures my quick acceptance.
 
Maleducado is one of the worst things things one can be in México lindo. Being grosero is one of the seven dealy sins. Note that maleducado (poorly educated) has little to do with formal studies or education level and everything to do with your manners or lack thereof. I can be extremely bieneducado/a (well-educated) with a third grade education level. If modales (manners) is #2 on list of important assets, conocimiento (knowledge) is #43. Using the right phrase at the right time with the right people is imperative to your acceptance into Mexican culture/society. If it sounds dripping sweet with honey when your neighbor or dentist invite you in for a visit, consider yourself fortunate. This is the highest complement one can receive. Return the favor! Make “para servirle” part of your regular Spanish vocabulary if you haven’t already. “Estás en tu casa” should be your standard response when your Mexican guest asks if you mind loaning them your bathroom or regalandole a glass of aguita. To start slowly, just start using diminuitives as frequently as possible. ¿No quieres salir por un cafecito? Me regalas un vaso de aguita? ¡Provechito! Etc.
 
Pinches Gringos Groseros
A final warning: it is easy to offend by accident or omission as a non-Mexican. Women should greet other women with a kiss on the left cheek and a hand shake/head nod for men. Men should greet women with a kiss on the left cheek only if the woman intitiates it or she is a good friend of yours. This is also true when you are leaving a group of people. It is customary to kiss every single person in the room or casa before you leave and to say “con permiso” as you walk out in case you missed anyone. Your response to someone’s “Con permiso” (with permission)should be, “propio” (you have your own permission). Be careful with your assertive, direct ways as an English-speaking foreigner in a Spanish-speaking country! This is grosero in the worst kind of way! Think oblique; always kind; sweet; and semi passive-aggressive. This is your new attitude as an extranjero, pero bien educado!