We like to go fast in the USA. Instant gratification is the relevant phrase. We drive fast, walk fast, talk fast (except in the South), must have cell phones and texting for fast communication, we even eat fast. We’ve got “fast lanes” on the freeways, “fast food” restaurants with drive-up windows for a “fast getaway”, fast Internet service via broadband, and even at restaurants the waiters will present the bill as soon as the food is served in order to help you get out of there fast so they can quickly get someone new seated at your table. We want everything RIGHT NOW, no waiting, no delay. Time is money!
Whew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it!
One of the most difficult things for gringos to adjust to in Mexico is the whole “time” thing. With some exceptions (like driving), going fast is just not important here. Life is too short to spend it going fast, especially since going slow can be so much more pleasant. And sometimes going fast is just plain rude.
Take the restaurant thing, for example. In Mexico you should not expect a waiter to zip by with the check the minute you’ve been served. It would be considered very rude for the check to be presented before you have asked for it. Even if they are very busy and really need the table, they will wait for you. When you are ready to leave, catch your waiter's eye and ask for the bill. Even then they usually won't hurry-- it would be rude.
Service in restaurants and bars is generally fairly prompt, but not always. I’m fond of recalling one incident in which my husband and I went into a local restaurant bar in La Paz, Baja Sur that had a nice view of the ocean. We ordered Greyhounds (vodka with grapefruit juice) and some appetizers, enjoying the fact that there wasn’t another single customer in the place. Well, the waiter kept plying us with appetizers (“On the house, senor!”) but the drinks never came. We waited and waited and waited, and just as we were starting to get annoyed we spotted a young boy breathlessly rushing into the kitchen area carrying a bag of fresh grapefruits. Our drinks materialized almost immediately thereafter.
They didn’t want to say they couldn’t make the drink, you see, so they sent someone to the market to buy the ingredients. Especially for us. And then gave us free snacks to compensate for the delay. How can you beat that? We subsequently enjoyed a very pleasant couple of hours there, and returned often.
Things often work that way in Mexico, and getting angry or frustrated at the pace is counterproductive to your enjoyment of life. My suggestion is to chill out, go with the flow, don’t get your knickers in a bunch. Are you really in such a big rush to get through life?
Ah, Mexico! Where going slow is an art form. Slow down, man, and enjoy the ride!
Originally published in Mexico Living Magazine Feb. 2010 (now Baja Good Life Club)