Speaking English in Mexico – Entitlement 2.0

I’m in line at my local Scotiabank, waiting and watching. At the cashier, a gringo is telling the cashier – in English – that there had been a mistake when he paid his fees for his wife’s residency permit (immigration) and that he needed to correct the name on the receipt as it didn’t match the name on the passport and therefore, the folks at immigration did not allow it .

The cashier listens patiently and informs the gringo in broken English that she would call a manager. The manager comes and explains – in English – that they are unable to change the receipt information,

The gringo nods.

No es problema” he manages to say, and with a garbled “solo es dinero” and “es my fault, mi problema, ok ok ” reaches into his pocket to fork over another wad of bills to pay the immigration fee a second time, in order to get the receipt with his wife’s name spelled correctly and complete.

This exchange got me thinking about how a Mexican who shows up at a bank in the US or Canada would be received under similar circumstances, speaking no English, only Spanish.

I’m not talking about dealing with a latino bank employee – of which there are many in Texas and Florida – although those can often be the biggest assholes. No, I have in mind the sense of entitlement that enables one to walk into a bank in a foreign country and without speaking the language, simply expect people to help you or speak in your language to help you. Would a Mexican even attempt this? I doubt it. Never in a thousand years would the executive from Las Lomas de Chapultepec or the bracero from Oxcutzcab even consider just throwing out the Spanish and expect to be understood, let alone be served. Even the most entitled, rich and aloof white Mexican would speak English.

Español? The cashiers would just stare at him like he is completamente loco.

“I’m sorry sir we don’t speak Spanish” they would say to the Mexican, the ones with Ramirez or Rodriguez on their name tag adding a barely perceptible smirk to the statement.

Why doesn’t the cashier here say “Perdón señor, no hablamos inglés” to the gringo?

Is it the desire to serve? Are Mexicans so much more service-oriented than gringos? Is it an inherent (and erroneous) understanding of the gringos assumed superior social position?

Whatever the reason; if this intrigues you like it did me today and you’re a gringo or gringa, take a moment to observe your privilege and fully appreciate the friendly reception Mexicans provide for recently arrived norteamericanos as compared to the reception the mexicanos get up north.

5 thoughts on “Speaking English in Mexico – Entitlement 2.0

  1. My experience is that Mexicans are some of the friendliest, most people in the world. I call it the espiritu de ayudarte …the spirit of “can I help you”. Anyone who live si Mexico should learn rudimentary Spanish and if possible, work on it for years to become fluent. It not only teaches you a language,it teaches you a mindset, a culture, and it gives you respect – not for being a “superior” gringo or gringa, but for being an intelligent, understanding human being – which is better than being a gringo/a. Also, talk to people on the street, from the people asking to wash your car to people at the bank, to people just walking by you. You see them many times; you drive down the same street many times, they know you (se, not cognosco). You are not a stranger so don’t act like one, even if all you do is wave as you drive by. You can’t be a Mexican, but you can be a neighbor.

  2. Well dang, Patrick, you hit the nail on the head. What is wrong with treating everyone anywhere you go with respect? My experience here in Mexico (while sometimes totally frustrating for me because I don’t understand the language completely) has been totally wonderful. I have never felt stupid or been treated with contempt because I don’t know the language. Thing is, I try. I murder the verb tenses, screw up the masculine-feminine thing with maddening regularity and maybe envoke a giggle from the person to whom I am speaking, but a least I try. I say good morning to all my neighbours every time I see them. I want to be part of my community here and have tried to do so for all the time I have been here. Mexico is now my home and I am happy to have the opportunity to live here.

  3. Hmmm. OK, lots of assumptions here! Try this one: maybe the foreigner asked the teller if she spoke English, she said yes, or maybe, ”a little” and he went into his explanation. That’s where you came into the picture, and picked up the following: She didn’t understand, and called a manager, who explained to the foreigner, who then made an attempt to communicate his understanding (my fault!) in Spanish, and redid the tramite. I don’t see that there’s any lack of respect, or even sense of entitlement (the reality is that many people in Mérida, though certainly not the majority) DO speak or understand English. And, frankly, kudos to the guy who was trying to take care of his immigration stuff himself, rather than hiring someone to do it — now he’s actually learned something about living here! I’m sure there are plenty of ”ugly foreigners” here, of various nationalities, but there are also a lot of people who genuinely are trying adjust to a different language, culture, and system of doing things. It’s not easy, and it’s sometimes pretty comical to watch, but I just don’t see it as ”entitlement”. And, most of us recognize that we’re very lucky to live in a place where (most) people are polite and patient about the struggles. We’re here to entertain! Mis dos centavos, jefe.

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