Home Expat Blogs Cultural Differences Between North Americans

Cultural Differences Between North Americans

Walls Murals in Mexico
Credit: Harriet Murray

The three countries that make up North America are physically close, but cultural difference between North Americans are based on much different history and culture.

Many cultural differences exist between Mexico and its neighbors to the north. For example:

In Mexico, family is the first priority, children are celebrated and sheltered and family mobility is limited. The country also has a long Roman Catholic tradition and a more fatalistic outlook on life, as in the saying often used: “As God Wills.” In education, emphasis is on memorization and the theoretical with a rigid, broad curriculum.

Mexicans are also broadly nationalistic and proud of their long history and traditions, with more of a world view, perhaps, than the U.S. In Mexico, dress and grooming are status symbols and title and position are more important than money in the eyes of Mexican society.

Finally, the aesthetic side of life is important, even at work in Mexico. Truth is tempered by a need for diplomacy and truth is a relative concept.

Sociologists call the differences between Mexico and the U.S and Canada, “low context” and “high context” differences. Mexico is a “high context” country and the U.S. and Canada are “low context” countries. In low context countries, everything is spelled out between people either verbally or in contracts. In Mexico, a high context country, much more information is derived from the context of the communication and less is spelled out.

In high context countries it is understood that contracts are only the beginning of a relationship, which can change as the parties get to know each other. The parties are expected to help each other “adjust” the contract to their needs until it is completed.

Countries tend in real estate purchases to be either negotiating or non-negotiating.  In the majority of countries around the world, people haggle on everything from groceries to clothing to homes.

Experienced negotiators know that when they first make an offer on a home it is the lowest they will ever be able to go. They can only go in one direction from there: up. This is why they will start embarrassingly low with their initial offer even if they may be willing to pay full price.

Veteran hagglers know they have the most bargaining power just before close of escrow. This is when they will usually ask for one extra concession to show their skill. If the seller was willing to concede a refrigerator or clothes washer or dryer, it’s best not to include it in a purchase. At close of escrow it can be added in the sale in order to close further negotiating.

This article is based upon legal opinions, current practices and my personal experiences in the Puerto Vallarta-Bahia de Banderas areas. I recommend that each potential buyer or seller of Mexican real estate conduct his/her own due diligence and review.


  1. Hi,
    I’ve lived in Oaxaca for 20 years and enjoy reading your articles from time to time. I just want to make one comment about this one. There are actually four countries in North America. People forget about Beliz.

    Don Jungk

  2. Thanks Harriet, but whatever you want to call it the differences between English and Spanish speaking cultures is about being candid or not being candid.. In Mexico people don’t like conflict, so they’ll try to avoid conflict by being polite not telling you what they really think. I find this to be frustrating, but I have lived in Mexico for 9 years now and I have learned to let this roll off my back, because, if I didn’t I’d be mad all the time.
    In English speaking cultures we say what we mean and we mean what we say not, so much in Mexico or in most, if not in all of Latin America. Time is relative in Latin America and this as well is frustrating as hell. I can’t even count how many times Mexican friends of mine have just not shown up at all when we had plans to do something. I’m not talking about being late I’m talking about not showing up at all.. The normal excuse I had other things to do..
    The last thing I’d like to touch on is the saying “Its G-ds will” being a fatalist means you don’t have to take responsibility for your own actions which can harm others its the approach G-d will provide and walking away from your own responsibilities and this is the part of Latin culture that I object to the most. Irresponsibility is built into the culture itself!!!


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