10 Differences Between Mexico City and the USA

Mexico – USA border source

I recently traveled to my hometown, Mexico City where I have not lived in since 2008 and the more time passes, the more I feel like a tourist when I go visit, not because I feel out of place but because I am starting to see things with different eyes, in a good way. The same landscapes and scenes that I used to see every day for many years of my life, have taken new meaning and they are more interesting; I am more “wowed” by them. Also, the city is always changing and every time I go there are new buildings, new restaurants, new museums…

I’ve been in the US for almost 6 years now and this last trip, I noticed several differences between Mexico City and the US. Here they are:

1. In Mexico City, you can’t get complimentary water or free refills.

Unlike in the US, where you can order water for free pretty much anywhere as well as get free soda and iced tea refills, this is not possible in Mexico because the water there is not potable. At least you can order fresh lemonade (limonada) or orangeade (naranjada) at pretty much any restaurant which is usually my choice of drink and I wish I could get it in the US.

Cute straws at
Cute straws at “La Lorena” Restaurant, Mexico City

2. In Mexico City, there are “waiters” at the food courts in malls.

You still order at your choice of fast food place but then instead of waiting for your food right there, you can go sit down and your food will be brought to you, they’ll even bring hand sanitizer to you in case you are too lazy to go wash your hands at a restroom.

3. In Mexico City, fresh fruit and aguas frescas stands in the street are very commonly found.

Fresh fruit and aguas frescas stand in Mexico City source

Aguas frescas are non-alcoholic drinks made with fresh fruit blended with sugar and water to make a very refreshing drink. The most common ones are tamarind, hibiscus, and horchata, but you can find many other flavors like cantaloupe, guava, mango, orange, papaya, watermelon and more.

Fresh fruit with chili powder and lime. source

This is one of the things I miss a lot from Mexico and wish so bad that they had them more commonly in the US too. The aguas frescas exist in many Mexican restaurants, but much less available.

4. In Mexico City, all stop lights become red flashing lights after midnight.

You can proceed after you’ve checked both sides for incoming cars. I like this system because when there is low or no traffic at night, it would be annoying to wait for stop lights.

5. In Mexico City, people don’t rush to get out of the movie theater.

People don’t rush in general compared to the US where everyone seems to be always in a hurry. If you are a foreigner in Mexico, you will probably lose a bit of your patience when walking along pedestrian streets because Mexicans are slow walkers and wander a lot. They may also abruptly stop if they see something that interests them.

I have to play catch up all the time with my American husband.

I recently went to the movie theater in Mexico City, and when the movie was over most people didn’t get up. As the credits were rolling most people were still on their seats. Even my mom and I (both Mexican) wondered what the hell they were waiting for as we were trapped in the middle of a row and the credits were not interesting.

1280px-cinepolis_sendero_ecatepec

6. In Mexico City, people go out really late.

Mexicans like to drink and socialize on weekends and during the weekdays too sometimes, and they like going out late. Examples: my friend and I went out for dinner from 8:30pm to 12am and my mom had to meet her date at the pub at 9:45pm.

It is very normal to end an evening of socializing several hours after midnight. My curfew in my early years of High School was 3am. But keep in mind that I had a very liberal mom and the least strict out of my group of friends, only because I was an awesome daughter and she could trust me; she was awesome too and believed in giving us (siblings) freedom.

7. In Mexico City, lunch is the biggest meal of the day.

Whereas in the US breakfast is way too early, lunch is around 1pm, and dinner around 6pm; in Mexico, breakfast is whenever you wake up, lunch is around 3:30pm and dinner is around 8pm. Lunch is the heaviest meal of the day and dinner is light.

It may be because I grew up in Mexico City, but I like the Mexican food schedule way better.

tacos mexico

8. In Mexico City, people love the sobremesa

In English, there isn’t even a word for it but sobremesa means the time spent after a meal sitting around talking and socializing with the other people sharing the meal with you; time to digest and savor both food and friendship. This can happen at a restaurant where sobremesas last longer, or even at home.

Waiters don’t have the check ready for you after you are done eating as they do in the US because they never know how much longer the customers are going to stay and there are often additional drinks and desserts ordered during the sobremesa. These can last for hours.

The word literally means: on the table. Sobre means “on or above”, and mesa means “table”.

In the US, when you ask for your check, the waiter will literally take it out of his pocket right there on the spot ready for you. Sometimes I wonder to myself: “what if I wanted dessert?”

On that note, I guess it is more common for Mexicans to order dessert at restaurants than it is for Americans. We have a stronger sweet tooth.

budapest hungary mexican food
Some of the best Mexican food I’ve had outside of Mexico.

9. In Mexico City, women wear heels a lot.

They wear them to the movies, to the mall, to work, and even to the supermarket. They can go all day in those heels. Mexican women like to look good. I guess it is more of a Hispanic thing in general. You know how Sofia Vergara dresses in Modern Family? That is not a fake character, it is a very common sight in Mexico City and many other Hispanic cities.

In the US, I simply don’t see women running errands in heels.

10. In Mexico City, people are more colorful.

mexico city
Colorful Mexico

People tend to wear way more colorful clothes and have more colorful buildings than in the US.

In the US, I find myself wearing a lot of neutral colors: gray, black, beige, and blue. When I go visit Mexico, I feel more inspired to wear brighter colors including pink, yellow and orange. I definitely enjoy color but I don’t really want to stand out in the US as I dislike drawing attention to myself, but otherwise I would like to be more adventurous with my clothing, I sure was as a kid.

Note: These differences are generalizations and there are always exceptions. Also, I realize I am comparing one city to a whole country, but I have been to and lived in many different states in the US and I find these differences to apply to most of these places.

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8 thoughts on “10 Differences Between Mexico City and the USA

  1. Hi Mani, your idea about comparison are unique. I like your article, well i visit Mexico once but I was not shown that Mexico – Usa Border, that 1st image is beautiful.. Keep it up .. wish you best of luck ..

  2. Awwww….I loved this post! I love, love, love Mexico City, but sadly have not been there in a very long time. Really enjoyed reading this! (PS…In Italy women wear heels a lot too…..which works just fine for me…because so do I! I am a shorty 🙂

    1. 😀 I am a shorty too! But I don’t wear heels as much. Maybe because I live in the US, and in between, lived in India. If I end up in Mexico, or another “romantic” country, I’ll probably get into the heel wearing more hehe.

  3. Hi Mani, I love your comparisons between the US and Mexican lifestyles. We’ve been traveling around your area of Mexico for the past month and really appreciate the points you make. I think one of our favorite traditions is the sobremesa – it reminds us of the customs we encountered while living in Khartoum, Sudan. It looks like you and Josh are leading a fantastic life. Wishing you all the best, Terri

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