11 Things That Gave Us Culture Shock, Mexico – US

image of a surprised young girl, Moxie

We were traveling around Mexico for 5 months, which in the grand scope of everything, really isn’t a long time. But we still got shocked by some nuggets when we returned to the United States. Here they are:

  1. Free, Drinkable Tap Water

328px-Glass-of-waterWe adored the little taco stands and street eateries we frequented in Mexico. We loved some of the fancier places too – so much good food! But since tap water in Mexico isn’t drinkable, we had to purchase all of our water.

It was weird to sit down in a diner in the US after returning and have our waitress place HUGE glasses of delicious, free water in front of us. Wow.

  1. Freeways

a Mexican "topes" - speedbump - rises dramatically about 6 inches out of the pavement
a Mexican “topes” – speedbump – rises dramatically about 6 inches out of the pavement

There are two ways to travel in Mexico: the free roads that go through all the towns, and the toll-based highways that go around most small towns. The advantage of the latter is that you usually have a smooth road, it is said to be safer, and it’s much, much faster.

The advantage of the former, going through small towns, is that you have chance to try lots of tasty local food, sold on the roadsides, it’s fun to see all the houses and flavors of each state.

But the downside are the topes and roads.

The roads can be in pretty rough condition, but it’s the topes that will KILL your vehicle. Topes are speed bumps, and they are placed everywhere, often without warning, so you can easily hit them at full speed and break your axles. Our own teardrop trailer was ruined from the topes.

Coming back to the US, the freeways stunned us with their smooth beauty, complete lack of topes and it’s all freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Mikey practically cried from the butter-like softness of the roads.

  1. All that English!

One great thing about being in Mexico is – all the Spanish! You’ll really get it revved up. One great thing about the US is hey, all this English! It’s weirdly wonderful to be able to ask someone where the bathrooms are, and understand every, single thing they respond with. If I hear them.

  1. The Diversity

Mexico is a richly diverse country, more so than a lot of us in the United States realize. Mexico abounds with various skin shades and heights. I am white and freckly (of celto-teutonic mutt mixed heritage), Mikey is half Vietnamese and half Ukrainian and looks full Native American. He’s 6’0, I’m 5’7. We both looked Mexican in different areas – him more than I to be sure, but even I could pass, especially in Mexico City.

But as diverse as Mexico is, it doesn’t have the sheer numbers representing diversity that the United States does: it doesn’t have as many people.

We went to a salad joint when we crossed into California, and just about every table there had a family hailing from what looked to be a completely different ethnic group. Families who looked of southern, northern, eastern and western Asian descent. African descent. European descent. Pacific Island descent. Latin American descent. It was stunning.

  1. Wi-Fi everywhere

Mexico is catching up with the Wi-Fi but it’s still a far cry from the US. I know this because after all our stuff got stolen, I was left with one kindle fire. The only place I could connect it in Mexico was the Wi-Fi from hotels. In the US though, all we had to do was park in a parking lot and lo! The choices abounded: Starbucks, McDonald’s, Lowes, Marshalls – seriously, it seems like every major chain offers free Wi-Fi now.

  1. Full RV Parks!

We crossed the border in Santa Teresa. Very nice by the way, and I highly recommend it as a crossing. Super easy, super-fast.

After we crossed, we were surprised by all the RV parks we saw. Park after park after park, you guys! FULL of RV’s, chock full.

We thought of all the empty RV parks we saw in Mexico – empty park after empty park, and well, we know what’s going on now, yes siree.

Canadians reading? Other Americans who are traveling in Mexico and wonder where all the Americans are? Now you know. Everyone is in the Southwest.

  1. Gas prices

The gas prices in Mexico were about $3.30/gallon. Gas prices in New Mexico: $2.00/gallon.

I don’t know how long that will last, but I do know that our eyebrows got stuck in our hairlines over the surprise of that.

  1. Designated FREE rest stops

download (3)In Mexico, when we wanted to stop and rest, it was usually at a Pemex Gas Station with an adjoining Oxxo (- convenience store). It’s nice that you can stay overnight at the Pemex stations, for free.

But here in the US, the rest areas are often really gorgeous – with parks, dog walking trails, free clean bathrooms and vending machines in case you want to buy something.

I’ve watched too many CSI and Criminal Minds episodes to ever not be scared of rest stop bathrooms or rest stops in the dark, but I love being able to let Kianna and the kids safely run around on the grassy spaces.

  1. Toilets that Take Toilet Paper

In Mexico, there are trash cans next to all the toilets for disposing of your used toilet paper. Uh huh. Sexy, right? It’s something to do with smaller toilet pipes that can get clogged.

We got used to putting the toilet paper in a separate receptacle, so it was really weird to come back and not see a trash can next to the toilet for the toilet paper.

  1. All the other toilet stuff

Toilet seat covers!  And – drum roll – toilets that always come with seats!

I admit it – the free, beautifully standard American toilets are one of the things that I love best (and usually take for granted) about this wondrous country.

  1. Travel centers

download (4)Holy Mother, but those are amazing! Completely tricked out with every possible thing that you might possibly need while on the road (- plugin coffee warmers, anyone?). When we walked into them after being on the road in Mexico for 5 months, our jaws hit the floor. They are bastions of American big freeway luxury – with showers, laundry, TV- viewing rooms. In many ways, simply fabulous.


Mexico and the US

We had a great time in Mexico. Traveling, learning, meeting people. It’s so close to the United States and yet it seems so far sometimes, especially culturally speaking. One of the things that brings home the closeness of it though is the similarity of the land. If you look at the land itself – in either Mexico or the US – you really could be in either country.

We hope we can heal some of the divides with our southern neighbor and forge a stronger partnership with them. We can learn a lot about community building, kindness, teaching kids wonderful manners, small scale entreupreurship and divine food creation from Mexico. And perhaps we can teach a couple of things about tasty free water, disability access and awesome toilet systems.


is a deaf blogger, global nomad, tech-junkie, cat-lover, Trekkie, Celto-Teutonic-peasant-handed mom of 3 (one with Down syndrome and one gifted 2E).
She likes her coffee black and hot.
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  • Nice write-up. May I add #12? The availability of pretty much anything you can think of. It’s so easy to find and get stuff in the US compared to much of Mexico. Just being able to explain to the shopkeeper what it is you’re looking for is a huge advantage (of course, I guess that goes along with #3).

    Another thing that we would like to see Mexico learn from the US is STOP LITTERING! Good grief! Beautiful country but geez, the litter! It’s like the US circa 1955.

    • Definitely true. And there is litter. I wonder what we did in the US to change it? Was there some type of campaign about it? There must have been.

  • After reading your comments I think Mexico is not the country for you. We don’t drink the tap water but a 5 gallon bottle delivered to our door is 17 Pesos about $1.30 the people are away more friendly and helpful. A lot more culture. About half the cost for everything versus the States.

    • You are kind of funny. It’s like a country “isn’t for you” if you have culture shock upon returning to your own country and appreciating aspects of where you are from?! I’m sure Mexicans would enjoy free and delicious tap water too, you know.

  • I have friends who just returned from a 2 week exchange trip to Spain and experienced slight culture shock coming home particularly over eating dinner at 6pm rather than 9 and all the English. But some things like bad tour buses were the same in both countries-In Spain, the bus driver forgot them and they were stranded for nearly 2 hours and back in America the tour bus home broke down on the side of the highway at 10pm at night.

  • during my week-long stint in Mexico City last year, the biggest culture shock was the toilet thing. And I very nearly embarrassed myself when I considered telling reception that the toilet kept clogging and I could not understand why. Thankfully a fellow conference goer told me what the bin next to the toilet was actually for before I did that…

  • The number 4 is funny because you americans don’t realize that we are “less” diverse because it has never been against the law to mix race here, and we don’t have black neighborhood, italian neighborhood, white neighborhood, we do have poor and rich neighborhoods, but we are all mixe race, my brother os white and I’m black both mexicans and blood related.

    • We do have rich and poor neighbourhoods, that are amazingly different and display our social and colour hierarchies, and we haven’t had historically as much and as diverse immigration as in the US. I don’t see the point in trying to compete in these areas. It is what it.

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