Years ago, when I was an ESL instructor in Mexico, I had a student, Javier, who was late to class at least half the time. After a few days of him arriving about 10 minutes late to class, I let him know I was unhappy and expected him to arrive on time from then on. He sighed, clearly frustrated with me, and said, "Listen. My father is a business man and I don't always get to spend time with him later in the day. Many times, breakfast is the only time that I can visit with him. My father is more important to me than this class. I'm sorry if that is not to your liking. I always apply myself to your class and to my studies. (That's true, he did.) But I am not going to give up time with my father."
Wow. There was a dose of perspective. Not only on Mexican culture, but life in general.
Currently I am enjoying a book called "On Mexican Time" by Tony Cohan. In his book he shares many accounts of wonderful insight into his life in Mexico. One story he tells is about an American female retiree who lives alone and whose maid, a young woman of little means from a nearby little rancho town, feels sorry for the older woman because she spends her days alone. The maid invites the woman to a birthday party for one of her seven children which was going to be held at the communal ranch where she lived. The woman declined many times, until she realized the young lady would never stop inviting her until she agreed to go. She accepted, and took a taxi out to the little ranch.
"......There must have been sixty people, all relatives or friends of some sort - old people, nursing infants, ranch hands in boots and hats. They were poor, but there were tamales to eat, and pork and tortillas all cooked outdoors, and corn drink, and beer. Everyone seemed so comfortable together. A little band played the sweetest music.......Adults held the infants who never cried, not a peep. The old people spoke among each other, and younger ones sat with them and listened. There was so much warm, simple love. It was the best time I've had in years. There's something....criminal about that, don't you think?........Where have we gone wrong? Alone in our houses with televisions and newspapers and books, crowing the whole time about how much freedom we have..........We've gone off track somewhere, don't you think?"
If you take a ride in a crowded combi (an old VW van used for public transportation), you will witness manners that you didn't even know still existed. You sneeze, and EVERYBODY says "Salud" (our equivalent of "bless you"). A woman boards with a baby in tow, and someone automatically reaches out to hold the baby. Men and young boys stand and offer their seats to females who board and have nowhere to sit. Oh, and if you want to stop at the corner instead of the marked combi stop, you simply call out, "En la proxima esquina, por favor" and the driver is happy to oblige, and no passengers show signs of irritaion.
Everyday at around 2 PM the streets grow suddenly quiet and many (or most) stores close their doors. It's siesta time. Everyone goes home and eats lunch and visits and relaxes with their family. The streets and stores come to life again around 4 o'clock (OR SO!).
Schedules are not in stone. Courtesy is not overlooked. Family takes priority. People take time..........for people.
What else IS there??