29 Jun Mexican Manners 2
CASUAL vs FORMAL
Mexicans generally are more formal than folks from the United States and Canada, in most senses. This applies to general manners, dress, and speaking.
While normal in many places in the greater North America, wearing sweats or other casual wear anywhere but to the gym or beach isn’t done by adults. There are many exceptions to this rule, but overall in the workplace, school, or social settings Mexico is one notch above in dress formality. It’s never out of place to dress up a bit more than you might at “home” or otherwise, as it’s considered a sign of respect for those around you. Wearing dress shoes, ironed slacks and shirts for men, a nice blouse and skirt or pants for women, will open social doors that may otherwise remain shut if your appearance is too casual. Consider putting a bit more effort into your appearance if your goal is to integrate into Mexican society.
Manners will always require some sort of greeting before getting “down to business”, whether as simple as purchasing a beverage at the corner store, attending a class, or closing on a business deal. Greet the person with at least a Buenos días, Buenas tardes, or Buenas noches according to the time of day (switching to tardes after 12 pm and to noches after dark). You can then optionally add any comment about the weather, ask after their family (always do this if you happen to know them), or any other small talk before stating your purpose. People from the U.S. and Canada are often considered too direct and uncaring by Latin Americans when they simply state what they came for without a simple greeting.
¿Tú o Usted?
To tú or not to tú, that is the question. Also known as “tutear”, using the familiar “tú” instead of the formal “usted” to address those around you is a question expats in Mexico have about their relationships and language. Because this distinction is not made in English, non-native speakers of Spanish are often unfamiliar with the difference. In a nutshell, here in Mexico it is a matter of respect/age and intimacy/distance.
Tú: those who are younger than you, are in an equal or lower position in the social hierarchy (domestic employees, gardeners, unskilled labor), or are very close friends or family.
Usted (also abbreviated as ud.): those who are older than you, bureaucratic employees (getting your driver license, registering your child for school, other paperwork), or are in a higher position in the social hierarchy (community leaders, etc.). In some countries, but not Mexico, usted is used with close family members to show respect.
Deciding which to use is a small matter compared to actually using it because the verb conjugation is completely different. The tú form is one conjugation, and the usted form is the same as the third person (he/she) conjugation. For example: ¿tú bailas? vs ¿usted baila?
Studying the usted form is most likely the best way to go: it’s best to err on the side of formality versus appearing disrespectful. A general rule of thumb for social situations: if the person you are conversing with is using “tú” to you, it’s safe to assume that using “tú” back is fine.