Wednesday, January 16, 2008

On pets, formality, and spiciness

As I spend my days teaching English, reading like mad, and walking to and from class, I now feel prepared to answer some of the questions Angie posted on the blog. Thanks Anj!

Do people have pets?

To answer your question, Anj, yeah. They have dogs that they walk on Sundays. Sundays are a very jolly day around here. One of the main streets opens up for pedestrian use only, and people come out in droves with their families. A lot of them bring their dogs too. Funny thing is, I don´t think I´ve seen any cats the whole time I´ve been in Mexico. Pets don´t seem to be a big deal. It seems like people have other things on their mind, like earning a paycheck and relaxing.

How formal is it? (dress)

Very informal. I live downtown in the second largest city in the country, and so if there is anywhere people would get dressed up, it´s here. A lot of people wear jeans to work, but I also see businessmen and women dressed up in basic business suits. These more serious types are pretty well put together. The women pretty much always wear pointy toed stilletos and the men gel their hair.

In general styles are more intense, and this especially applies to the mainstream. Men sport haircuts with pointy sideburns. Sometimes the back of the haircut even comes to a point, like the hairdresser wanted to give him a rat tail but then stopped short. Hairstyle creativity abounds. I keep seeing this style wear the men make the middle of their hair stick up with gel, kind of like a fin on the top of their head. Downtown, I see lot of women with blonde highlights that don´t exactly look natural with their dark hair.

The women are all about bright colors and patterns: polka dots, leopard print, stripes, flowers. You see it on old ladies, middle aged women, kids, whoever. To appreciate this wealth of aesthetic expression is to appreciate Mexican culture, rich in vibrance and emotion. They love their sequins, beads, and little stitchings of English words. They love their glitter too. I met this girl at a bar whose face looked like it was straight out of the Jetson´s. She had pink eyeshadow, applied in a smooth, thick layer up to her eyebrows. On top of the eyeshadow was a layer of glitter. The blonde highlights in her hair were as pronounced as the blue stripes on her sweater.

Downtown, I see a lot of tacky stuff. There are a lot of questionable styles, either that have gone out of style or are in style now. You´ll see your occcasional pair of pleated jeans. Then there are the twenty-something women who wear really tight jeans. They also wear leggings paired with skin tight shirts. Tight clothes are way in for women, regardless of body type.

Zappaterias (shoe stores) are everyone. These people are obsessed with shoes. Even the men wear interesting varieties, like leather shoes with square toes. The women, of course, are the ones who really go crazy. These days, a ton of women are wearing high heeled boots, usually with stilleto heels and pointed toes. They are also sporting flats in every pattern and material imaginable. The fancier ones have teeny heels which you can´t see, but add that reassuring ¨I´m coming¨ click when you walk.

How formal is it? (speaking)

It´s pretty informal with speaking as well. If you look at the literal translation of the things they say, they are a lot more direct, and less polite, than we are in the U.S. Some might argue that it´s just a different way of saying the same thing, but I think that the intricacies of their literal word choices say something about the culture. For instance, there´s no beating around the bush if you want to get through a crowd. You simply say permiso, which is more of a demand than the typical American request, ¨excuse me.¨

Aside from word choice, they tend to treat you in a familiar way right off the bat. If I seem worried about something, the office ladies at my school are quick to say ¨no te preocupas--¨don´t worry. If I apologize for not knowing a word or ask a dumb question, people in stores and other places are quick to offer reassurance. Being late is not a problem. Most are quick to greet with an easy smile, regardless of how well they know you. There is a sense that we are all in this life thing together. On Sundays, everyone relaxes together. You look on the buses, and there is a collective sense of happiness as people ride along together. Everyone is out in couples, in groups of friends, and most of all with family. Friends chat away openly as they ride buses. If they´re not chatting, they at least seem content. This same sense of a collective experience applies on weekdays, at the end of the day, when everyone is tired and stressed together. You look around and eyes are half open. No one talks, but no one acts out in hostility except for the babies. There always seems to be a crying baby on the 5:00 buses.

They´re pretty frank, regardless of how well they know you. They don´t hesitate to push their way through crowds. On the street, people make eye contact and greet eachother for the most part. People don´t hold back when it comes to greeting or speaking frankly with friends and family. It seems people band together a lot. As much as possible, people try to go places with other people. They make an effort to spend time with friends, even if it´s midday on a weekday.

Do you feel your body becoming do you choose to wear red, green, and yellow more often? Do you think you could become Mexican if you lived there for thirty years?

I have to say, I don´t really feel too affected by Mexican style personally. I´m still me, still wearing my jeans and my corduroy jacket, still stearing clear of their fake patent leather shoes. But at the same time, I am really becoming profoundly affected by how serious they take every opportunity presented to them, from the big to the small. At the salsa club down the street, people do not take the fun atmosphere for granted. If you are dancing with someone, you are paying attention to them.

Opportunity, opportunity, opportunity. It´s not to be taken lightly in life...and people here seem to realize this, at least in the moment the opportunity arrives. It´s making me think.

More on this in future posts...

Pretty much, everything you ever wanted to know about Guadalajara can be taken care of right here, courtesy of me.

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