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Cultural Differences, Mexico vs. The States~ ‘No’ is Not The Answer

Cultural Differences, Mexico vs. The States~ 'No' is Not The Answer


There are clearly many cultural differences and nuances between the States and Mexico.

Some of them more subtle than others, some that take their time to settle into, and others that set you back on your heels.

The first time Rosa, our house helper extraordinaire came to our home, I offered her a cup of morning coffee. She readily and happily said yes, even though she didn’t drink one sip of it. I  found it in the corner of the kitchen counter at the end of the day—cold, still full, no sign of lips ever having come near it. 

It was safe to surmise that she didn’t care for it or perhaps more accurately that she never really wanted it in the first place, but saying ‘yes’ to the offer, even with no desire of drinking it, is much more the culturally accepted norm here in Mexico and in great contrast to my experience in the States where the default response is, “oh, no thank you”, so as to not inconvenience the hostess or come across as a PIA. (There are exceptions to this of course.)

Not that a simple acceptance of a cup of coffee would deem one an opportunist, but there indeed seems to be a certain discomfort in the US in receiving a simple offer with a simple, “yes, thank you”…a way of graciously acknowledging the friendly gesture.

Here in Mexico,“sí, muchas gracias” is the norm, for to do or say otherwise might be considered rude and certainly not the cultural norm in a society that revolves around community and friendships

If you are offered a cigarette (as my husband has been on multiple occasions) and are not yourself a smoker, graciously accept it with a big smile, stick it behind your ear, and say that you are saving it for a very special occasion. Saying “oh, no thank you, I don’t smoke” and then going on to state all of the hazards of smoking, might deem you an individual with rudimentary social skills.

How about a party…invited to one and don’t think you can go? Instead of saying ‘no’ with a laundry list of all of the reasons why, just graciously accept the invitation and if you aren’t able to make it, send a last-minute message or even nothing at all. This is not seen as rude or inconsiderate, just a culturally accepted norm. Of course if you are only one of two people invited, a gentle decline is in order, but if you are one of many, not making it regardless of your RSVP status is not considered a social crime. 

Cultural Differences, Mexico vs. The States~ 'No' is Not The Answer

Hosting a party with a starting time of 4:00? Don’t be surprised if your guests start rolling in around 6 or 7 o’clock. It’s cultural.

Invited 25 people to the party? Expect the number to at least double! Make room and more food for all of the cousins, aunts, siblings and best friends that will be joining the celebration! And no, they did not need a formal invite—the more the merrier! This must be where the ‘mi casa es su casa’ comes from.

These are but just a few examples of situations where we have had the opportunity to learn firsthand the importance and cultural significance of saying ‘yes’, of being open to the unexpected, of viewing life through a different lens, of expanding our horizons and improving our craft, sense of humor and flexibility as human beings.

We are transplants, expats, immigrants. We love living in a country where conversations and relationships are like a dance versus a race…where life’s moments are more about the experience versus the bottom line and how fast can you get there…where I can say ‘yes’ to the coffee, show up late to the party, and have it all be okay.

¡Viva México!

Other interesting articles on cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico:

Cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico in the Business World

Seven Cultural Aspects to Know Before Doing Business in Mexico


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About the author: Together with my Retired Firefighter Husband and our now 19-year-old twins who were just 8 when we immigrated to Mexico in 2012, we have created a joyful life of design and freedom South of The Border. Welcome to Los O’Gradys in Mexico! Saludos, Katie 🇲🇽 ☘️

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Robert Mann September 18, 2014, 3:28 pm

    Great read!

  • Katie O'Grady September 18, 2014, 3:38 pm

    Thank you Robert!

    Glad you enjoyed it!



  • Jorge September 30, 2014, 10:11 pm

    I somehow get the impression that you lived in a pueblito or a very small city. Where I live (in D.F.) none of those examples you wrote about is the norm. Mexico is a very large and diverse country. It’s like me saying that all americans say “y’all” and eat criole style food…

    • Katie O'Grady September 30, 2014, 11:02 pm

      Hola Jorge from D.F.,

      We have lived in both a pueblo and a small city and love the richness and diversity of Mexico.

      As stated in my post, these “examples” are derived purely from my own personal experiences. They are not criticisms, just observations based on differences in cultures.



  • Roberto October 1, 2014, 12:59 pm

    I am mexican american and have been living my entire life in Mexico city and I can really say that you have described it very well. It’s a strange place where nothing really happens, time has no real value and men as gender have even less value. Mother figure takes it all (http://matadornetwork.com/es/la-polifacetica-madre-de-mexico/ ). Few things are not taken personal. Crazy place this is.

    On the bright side, they have great food and weather (specially Mexico city) all year round. They will offer you all they have to make you feel “home”. Parties can go on for days as long as there is enough tequila, chilaquiles and /or “pancita” (for mayor hangovers).

    • Katie O'Grady October 1, 2014, 2:26 pm

      Hola Roberto,

      Thank you for participating in this topic,and I appreciate your perspective as a Mexican American having spent his whole life in D.F.

      I grew up bilingual/bicultural in San Diego only a half an hour away from the Mexican border and have always had a heart and deep love and appreciation for Mexico, her people, and the multitude of colors expressed in so many interesting ways.

      I am never bored, no two days are alike, and the graciousness, generosity, and kindness of the people we have met allows us to feel at home.



  • John Ruff May 27, 2018, 4:12 pm

    Excellent read Katie.
    Just love the people.
    Thank You
    Si`, gracias ?

    • Katie O'Grady May 27, 2018, 4:39 pm

      Hi John!

      Thank you for the supportive feedback and for sharing my work!

      Un abrazo,

      Katie 🙂

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