Living in Mexico gives us a very different perspective than when we were on vacation. Common questions that were once in our heads have been answered and incorporated into our daily lives. When people come to visit, we are a little surprised by some of the questions about Mexico like ” Can I drink the water?” and “Is the ice safe for my drink?” Why would we choose to stay here if there were questionable health risks?
But we understand. We all wonder what the water is like and how people greet each other in places that are foreign to us. We want you to feel comfortable while visiting, so we put together a few questions about Mexico that always seem to come up, plus a few cultural things that are good to know.
WATER IN MEXICO
1. Can I drink the water in Mexico?
This question is extremely outdated. Maybe back in the 60s and 70s there were issues with drinking out of the tap, but water treatment has been greatly improved in the last 20-30 years. That being said, everyone in Mexico still drinks bottled water. If you go to a restaurant and ask for water, you will always be served bottled water. If you go to someone’s house, they will more than likely give you purified water from a 5-gallon jug. Unless you have a really sensitive stomach, there is no need to be worried about brushing your teeth and rinsing your mouth out with tap water.
2. Is the Ice Safe in Mexico?
Yes, the ice is safe. All restaurants have a water filtration system for their ice. Word of mouth is the fastest and most effective way to advertise, good or bad, so imagine if a place served bad ice. They wouldn’t be in business for very long.
3. Can I Eat Fruits and Vegetables Washed in Tap Water?
We haven’t had any problems with washing our fruits and vegetables in tap water. From what I hear, lettuce may be your only concern because it holds a lot of water. If you have a sensitive stomach, make sure it is thoroughly dried or don’t order it. Again, a restaurant will go out of business really quick if someone gets sick from their food.
EATING IN MEXICO
4. Eating Times in Mexico
If you have routine times of when you eat, this may be the hardest part to get used to while you travel through Mexico. A good measure on whether a restaurant is good or not is by how many people are eating inside. But if you go at your normal eating time you probably won’t find many people in the restaurants except Gringos. We’ve seen coffee shops open at 10, but not be ready to serve until 10:30am. Lunch places don’t open until 1pm, but most people come in around 2:30pm when we are leaving. Dinner is also late. They start serving at 6pm, but it won’t get crowded until after 8 or 9pm. Prepare to eat a little later than normal and check the opening times.
5. Which Sauce is Spicier?
We may have been taught as kids that red means hot, but it’s the green salsa that will make you sweat and your eyes water. Red salsas are milder and made with roasted tomatoes and chilis while the green salsas are usually serranos, tomatillos and fresh herbs. There is a possibility that it could be avocado creme, but try a very small amount to be sure. Here’s a tip: No matter how hungry you are and how great the chips look, wait until your drink comes or you may be in pain for quite a while. I love the spiciness of the green salsa, but even I forget how spicy it can be.
6. Can I Trust the Seafood Away from the Beach Areas in Mexico?
The seafood options in Mexico are not limited to just the beach towns. Seafood is delivered daily all over the country. If you want seared tuna or octopus in Puebla or San Miguel, it’s on the menu and you won’t be disappointed. Both La Docena Oyster Bar & Grill restaurants located in Guadalajara and Mexico City are listed in Latin America’s Best 50 Restaurants for their quality seafood. Ceviche and aguachile are a common appetizer in Mexico, no matter where you are.
Other Cultural Questions
7. Why Can’t I Throw the Toilet Paper in the Toilet?
You’ve seen the signs in public restrooms to not throw toilet paper in the toilet. Why is that? Here’s the deal. The sewage pipes are smaller than what we have in America. Plumbing has been upgraded over the last 50 years, but it is still a precaution. It’s mostly an issue in the older parts of town, not so much in newer areas. Maybe once or twice doesn’t make much of a difference, but a public bathroom receiving 200 patrons can compound quickly. Most places have a lid on the trash can so it’s not as gross. I learned my lesson when I lived in the Dominican Republic. The house I was renting with other people had a blockage in the pipes because of too much paper. It took 3 days to clean and replace the plumbing pipes. A little toilet paper can compound and cause some major damage.
8. Greetings in Mexico
Mexicans are very friendly. It’s common for people to say hello to each other as they pass by. You will see this If you are in smaller neighborhoods away from the tourist areas.
Hola! Buenas dias! (Hello! Good morning!)
Hola! Buenas tardes! (Hello! Good afternoon!)
Hola! Buenas noches! (Hello! Good evening!)
If you are sitting in a restaurant eating your food, people passing your table may say Buen Provecho, same as Bon Appetite.
As you leave the restaurant, pay it forward and wish the next table “Buen provecho”. They will appreciate you embracing one of their customs.
9. What is the Fascination with Death for Day of the Dead?
When we first moved to Mexico, we didn’t understand it either. It’s not a fascination with death, it’s a celebration of life. The Day of the Dead is not a time to mourn and wail. It’s a time to remember our family and friends. Mexicans honor their deceased by building altars (usually at the grave or in their house) and decorating them with the person’s picture and favorite things. Families share funny stories of the deceased and have a feast in their honor. Children are given candy skulls to eat and decorate the altars. The Day of the Dead is something you really must experience. It’s a beautiful way to remember those that are no longer with us. To get a better understanding about this holiday, watch the Disney movie Coco.
10. What is Mexican Time?
This is an excellent question. If you expect your tour to leave at 9:30am, it probably won’t. Yet they will get you back in time. If your plane is supposed to leave at 6pm for a smaller Mexican city, you may not know the gate number until 6pm. This happens a lot at the Mexico City airport.
Our advice is to still show up on time but have patience. Typically, a Mexican will show up 30 minutes to an hour late. Our neighborhood parties start at 7pm, but most people don’t show until 8:30pm. Hopefully if you are waiting for a tour or meeting a Mexican friend, you can wait near a café or shops so you have something to do while you wait.
Driving in Mexico is not recommended. Imagine people doing the most ridiculous things while driving, and you will see that (and many other things you didn’t imagine) on Mexican roads. Spend the money on Ubers and taxis, they know the city better than you. While driving we have encountered people backing up on the highway, cutting across 3 lanes to make their exit, driving down the wrong way on a one-way street, and cars making a 7-point U-turn on an entrance ramp.
You constantly have to be focused on the road in front of you, beside you and behind you at all times. It’s not worth the headache, stress or insurance. Plus, parking is just as maddening. Let someone else deal with it. You are on vacation.
12. Fireworks and Church Bells
This is one of my favorites. The Centro is where everything is happening and its absolutely wonderful. The church bells are romantic, the fireworks are festive, all until you want to sleep. But the church bells do not go off at a specific time. They may ring at 3:21am 40 times and again at 3:47am 30 more times, and this can go on all night, every night. Mexico is a Catholic nation and about every day is a Saints Day. We’ve had fireworks and mortars go off from 11pm-3am and start again at 6am.
After a few sleepless nights, we’ve learned a few tricks for reserving hotels or Airbnbs:
- Always check the location of the hotel or Airbnbn on a map. Choose a place 2-3 streets away from a church and plazas.
- Look for places that do not have rooms on the street. The preferred location will have an inner courtyard with the rooms toward the back. We’ve stayed in places with inner courtyards and it seems to muffle the sound.
- Check the reviews for places. If 2-3 people mention that it’s “quiet” then that’s a bonus!
Hopefully you have a better understanding of what to expect when you visit Mexico, we’ve taken some of the guesswork out of the everyday things you may encounter. If other questions pop in your head, let us know. We want you to feel at home while visiting beautiful Mexico!