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  • Writer's picture Michaela & Ricardo

Cultural (and other) Differences To Living In Lake Chapala

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

After traveling to Mexico for vacation purposes and staying at resort hotels on the beach, it is easy to forget that Mexico is a different country and it has it's own quirks that are seemingly outlandish compared to the U.S or Canada. Now that I have been living in the interior of Mexico, the Real Mexico starts to shine. There are things to get used to here and it's best not to expect everything to be the same as you're used to. So read below my slightly 'tongue in cheek' appraisal of the cultural differences you may encounter while living in Lake Chapala. As the famous quote goes, “Dorothy, you're not in Kansas anymore.”

Driving and the Roads

Motorcycles are prevalent and anyone can drive them. I've seen drivers of motorbikes with dogs strapped to the back of the rider. The dog totally outfitted with flapping scarf tied around its' neck and safety goggles, of course.

Whole families routinely ride on one scooter. I've seen as many as five which includes the baby.

Motorbikes are an excellent mode of carrying anything required to the job site or the home. Lumber, weed eaters, compressors, cement, paint, etc. You name it. It can be carried on a motorcycle.Just the other day I saw one guy driving and the other sitting backwards holding the handles of a full wheelbarrow of cement. This is a great way to move things long distance if you only have a motorbike.

The wildest motorbike drivers are the pizza delivery kids who must honestly think that they have 9 lives.

Enough about bikes, topes (the ubiquitous speed bump of Mexico) can appear absolutely anywhere. These can vary in size from a gentle swell to a gut wrenching stomach in your throat flight where you will actually look behind you to see if you left your axle behind.

Rules? Forget the rules! Red is only a suggestion and passing on the shoulders is considered polite.

This, in a country where probably only 20% of the vehicles have license plates. Likely this is true for drivers licenses as well. Note: Recently I've spoken with a couple of Mexican friends of mine and they confirmed that only 20% of the Mexican drivers have licenses. Mordidas (bribes) are commonly paid and it's cheaper and easier than getting a license.

Your “taxes”, mordidas, are paid on the road. With a very low tax base and low wages, you can almost be ensured that anytime you are pulled over for something that you can pay your “tax” and be on your way.

Following the 20% rule you can guarantee that 20% of the vehicles do not have operating brake lights.

Police and emergency vehicles always have their lights whether dealing with an emergency or not.

Cars and trucks love to drive with their hazard flashers on. More often than not one of the lights are burnt out so the vehicle is perpetually signaling.

Social Graces

You've heard it before but I'll say it again. The word “Yes” can (and often does) mean “No”. Deciding on when a “yes” actually means a “yes” and a “no” a “no” is still a somewhat of a mystery.

“Give me your number and I'll call you back” is one of my favorites as I am sure your number is lost among the thousands of other numbers they record on little slips of paper. Callbacks almost never happen.

“La cuenta por favor.” Get used to saying it as in Mexican culture you will never receive your bill at the restaurant until you ask for it. This is Mexican custom and it's lovely. Funny thing is though, you often wait longer for your bill then for the food that was specially prepared just for you.

Everybody knows everybody as families, friends and communities are very close knit. No matter what you need done, there is someone who knows someone who knows someone who can get the job done for you. Mostly it's a brother or cousin or relation of some kind but sometimes it's just a friend.

Although it is improving, repairmen or scheduled workers will schedule an appointment for work to be done at your home, say Monday at 11, and then shows up Thursday at 3 without any call or notification. This, of course, usually occurs when you are not at home.

If you read that an event starts at 10 in the morning, it most likely won't begin until 11 or later. This is Mexico and time is still flexible.

Just because the opening hours (horario) of a business says it's open 10-6 doesn't mean anything. Businesses including restaurants are open when they are open and closed when they are closed.

Fifteen year old girls often have children early and are considered women after having their, quinceanera, 15th birthday party so that baby you see the girl carrying is probably hers.

Mexicans don’t need silverware. They can eat anything using a tortilla. This is a very handy skill to have and one I'm still perfecting.


In America we are used to returning items to the store for a refund. In Mexico this almost never happens except at Costco and Warranties, too, are usually null and void once the product leaves the store. The best you can hope (fight) for is a credit at the store if they take it back.

One third of the time Walmart will never have change when you checkout and the line will have to be held up until a supervisor can give the cashier change. Alternatively, get used to receiving large handfuls of coins because the cashier has run out of 20's 50's or 100's.

You almost always need to put down a deposit on anything you want done. This deposit, anticipo ,has the opportunity to disappear along with the worker.

You should never try to import your car. The Mexican government will want about 30% of it's value to "nationalize" it and provide you will license plates. If you absolutely have to nationalize your car do it at the border with a registered customs (adujuna) agent. Beware of scams and false pedimentos (import documents).

Always be “on site” when building or renovating your home. Mistakes happen.

20% of the time ATM's will be out of cash. Take special note of holidays and stock up before to pay vital bills such as rent and electric.

These are just a few of the many cultural differences you'll have to get used to when living in Mexico. All things considered, there is no other place in the world I would rather live. The Mexican people are kind and generous of their time and once you understand these variances to our "normal" and develop your "workarounds" it will add to your appreciation of this country. It's just a matter of adapting to a different country and culture.

If you have any questions about this article or just want to chat about life in Mexico, we are here for you. Contact us through this website on message us on our Facebook Page.

Michaela & Ricardo are your FULL SERVICE Real Estate Agents. Along with our Retirement Seminars, our over 20 years of combined experience Lakeside, and our network of area Professionals, we help guide you to from beginning to forever in your Retirement Journey to Lake Chapala, Mexico.

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