How to spot a foreigner in Merida

Beryl Gorbman
The Yucatan Yenta

These are observations. Of course, there are many exceptions. And some of them might be out and out wrong.

Meridianos, male or female, seldom wear shorts. Europeans and Americans wear them all the time. In fact, local women seldom wear even Capri-length pants. Men never wear shorts except at the beach.

Cruise ship tourists receiving massages at Progreso

Foreigners figure they’re going somewhere very hot, so they will wear as little as possible. Many of them go shopping before leaving home to buy what they think of as tropical gear. This means that everything is khaki. there are a lot of tourists wearing breathable, cotton khaki with lots of pockets. No local person would be caught dead wearing these clothes.

Next is athletic shoes. The local men wear them sometimes, but the women never wear them unless they are going to the gym and the rest of their outfit reflects that. They would consider birkenstocks as something from Mars.

Foreigners wear comfortable sneakers everywhere. And birkies.

Mexican women often wear high heels, even when they are doing a lot of walking. You will rarely see a gringa in high heels.

Jeans. Merida men wear them and so do younger women (often with high heels). All gringos seem to own and wear jeans.

Women in Merida wear more form-fitting, sexy clothes than gringas. Their shirts are tight and low. This applies to women of all ages, although it is more unusual for older women. Gringo women wear t-shirts or loose-fitting cotton shirts.

Foreign men, along with their shorts, wear socks and shoes – sometimes casual leather shoes and often sneakers. Sometimes, to my delight, they wear bermuda shorts, dress shoes and black socks. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Mexican man wearing shorts and socks. It isn’t a good look. Foreign men, especially the younger ones, tend to wear huge, often very old-looking t-shirts with their long shorts and comfy socks.

Mexican women generally take more time to make themselves presentable before they leave home. This often includes heavy make-up. Their nails and fingernails are manicured and painted. None of this is true of foreign visitors, who are probably more comfortable, but sloppy by comparison.

Only foreign men, especially younger ones, have too-long, untended, dirty hair. Most of these guys stay in hostels and are painfully thin. If a local man is touseled, he is probably drunk. Otherwise, unless he is a worker going home after a hard day of labor, local men are neat and combed.

Local men carry inexpensive nylon backpacks sometimes for changes of clothes or to carry tools. Local women may carry them, but it is unusual. Foreign tourists, young and old, wear packs of all kinds – big packs, daypacks, fanny packs, and the kind you wear over your…well, you know. (I have a special name for those bizarre items.)

A great proportion of Mexican women wear dresses and skirts, while foreign visitors seldom do.

Ah, last but not least – the hats. All the guidebooks say that when visiting the tropics it’s good to use skin block at the 400 level. They also suggest hats. Consequently, our visitors are easily distinguished by their jaunty headgear, usually straw hats with colorful bands. Some people wear visor hats. Charming.

I should also mention here that there are huge differences among the local dress, depending on what part of town someone lives in, or whether he/she is Maya or white. The wealthier (and whiter) people from the northern more expensive neighborhoods, wear much better clothes because they shop in the US and read Vogue. Adult women are usually in dresses and younger people in jeans, snow-white sneakers, and cute shirts.

But if you go downtown, the clothing gets much tighter, the colors louder, and many people are wearing shower shoes. You will also see older women wearing huipiles at the market or on the streets. When you see an older woman in a huipile in the north, she is almost always a domestic and has been asked to dress that way. Some of the young women wear dresses and skirts, especially those who work in offices.

Women’s bathing suits. Many local women are so modest, that when they go to the beach, they go in the water fully clothed. The younger people wear all kinds of beachwear, often skimpy, as do the tourists. But the tourists avoid exposing themselves to the sun, so don’t stay out long.

Last year I was at a party, sitting next to an obnoxious Mexican woman who looked at me and my friend and said, “I really envy you American girls. You can go out wearing just anything, and you don’t have to put on any make-up at all. Mexican women take a lot of time to select their clothes and make their faces more beautiful.” When she got up to leave, my friend said, “I think we’ve just been dissed.”

It’s also true that after a short while, people who have moved here from the north change their way of dressing. Not much khaki, no straw hats, and in general blend in somewhat with the local population.

Okay, what did I miss?

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
This entry was posted in Merida Expat Life. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to How to spot a foreigner in Merida

  1. Jody says:

    Can I tell you how much I loved this post!? I just did! I will have to think about what you may have missed–although, I must say, it seemed quite complete to me.

  2. Dany Ream says:

    Okay…I’m still laughing…and because I travel all over the world this is TRUE everywhere. In Rome, with the worst streets to walk on, the women are in stilletos with low cut dresses (and god forbid) no bras regardless of their age. The tourists are, of course, clearly visible. I myself NEVER wear shorts in any European city,well maybe Amsterdam, where anything goes. I confess,(head hanging in shame) to wearing comfortable sandals. But after walking across the pond, I think my feet deserve a break!

  3. Jette virdi says:

    Hi guys,
    I’m sorry this has nothing to do with this post but can´t seem to find any other way to contact you…I would like to invite you to come do a piece about us. We are 100% solar powered, recycle all of our water, grow organic veggies (and sell them around Merida), have many other eco friendly bits and pieces and are a hotel. We are 10 minutes from the Cenotes of Cuzama and are the only place in the state that is self sustainable, eco-friendly and NOT a shack…we’d love you to come over, hang out for the day, we’ll make you some lunch so you can see what we do.

  4. Barb says:

    Spot on with your observations. What an amusing read.

    I’m still trying to figure out, though, which packs are worn “over the…you know”.

  5. Kinbote says:

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a gringa prancing around the Centro and even going into churches wearing nothing but a tube top and a pair of Daisy Dukes, often being pulled along by a man who looks like he’s prepared for an African safari.

  6. Louis says:

    Alison Lurie, from whom I once took a course at Cornell, discusses the development of “tourist” attire among Americans in her book, THE LANGUAGE OF CLOTHES. Basically, she argues that it evolved from the aesthetics of Disney World, when Americans felt that it was OK to live out their childhood fantasies by dressing up like children once again. In other words, Americans treat overseas travel as if they were going to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando. It’s a great book — any English language library surely has a copy on hand to check out.

  7. Grant says:

    Good eye, Beryl. I’m going to make any of our friends who come to Merida read this first.

    I have noticed that gringos step into cross walks without looking, assuming that they have the right of way. Several times I’ve seen them almost get creamed by cars. Once there were three guys in a pickup who almost took out a couple of backpackers who stepped out in front of the truck. After slamming on the brakes, you could see the guys’ faces go from shock to laughter, the kind that sometimes overtakes you when you’ve narrowly avoided a calamity. The backpackers were oblivious to the whole event. They never knew what almost hit them.

  8. suk banks says:

    BG, I think different cultures. American are very open & not conscious about what others opinions. Korean cultures, we are very conscious about how dress, what y carry & make up etc also depend on what is your wealth. It is funny but my mom came to visit America she dresses like American but when she is in Korea she took almost hours get dress up. So when my husband & I visit to her, she took my Walter to high in department store & got him suits like Korean man, belt, shoes, and Walter recognized how well Korean men dress well so after couple weeks he dressed like Amani model. Of couse he is my hansome husband so he looks so good. Then we came back to Houston, back to normal American. Me, I tried to dress well whereever I go bc I love fashion & I still am Korean.

  9. Whitney Baez says:

    This was great. My husband and I are making our first trip to Merida in about 4 weeks and everthing I am wearing (mostly capris and light weight blouses) is on your list. Since I am going to be on vacation I want to be comfortable. Alas tight clothing would offend but now I will pack a few skirts and platforms. Thank you!

  10. Lin Dorton says:

    I think about this post as I’m walking around centro. I had a chance to people watch for several hours last week, and although I agree with your post for the most part, I think times have changed a lot even here. Not just younger people are wearing jeans, the older women were wearing them too, nice shirts (only guys seem to wear t-shirts, and most of them with English US slogans or product ads)….and in some cases sandals. Yes, even ‘chanclas’…flip flops. I saw all kinds of people in all kinds of clothes and shoes. Those baggy pants, shorts or 3/4 length, are very popular among young Yucatecans as well as tourists. Dressing like a slob with your butt crack hanging out is becoming popular even here!

    The tourists are definitely easy to spot though, first I spot the ‘birkies’ or tennies with black socks, look up to the shorts and crispy new guayaberas, and lastly notice the look of a lost kitten as it hangs on to a map for dear life.

    I try to follow customs, but I’ll be damned if in 150° heat I’ll be putting on long pants, HEELS, and makeup!!! I’ll be in my khaki multi-pocketed shorts and a Chiapan shirt (many tourists arriving from Chiapas are also dressed this way). Wearing my good flip flops and shades. And maybe even, yes, a baseball cap. I’m used to people not approving of me…..I’m over it.

  11. Quite funny and informative! I loved this post. You have very good observational skills

  12. Jenn C. says:

    This is good to know. I hate dressing like a tourist, but if I’m tramping around Mayan ruins all day, I’m wearing sneakers. Chuck Taylors of course, but still. Good to know that my dresses and sandals will be just fine. What about jewelry? I wear a lot of silver rings on a regular basis and everyone keeps telling me to take them off. I’ve been wearing rings for so long that it feels creepy when they’re off. Should I “go naked” with my jewelry??

    • Jenn C. says:

      Oh, and what about tattoos? I’m not covered head to toe, but I have noticeable and large tattoos. Are there reactions I should not be surprised or offended to encounter? I have had total strangers start touching my tattoos like I’m just an object, so I’d expect anything..

    • BG says:

      I didn’t say anyone would rob you, I just said you’d be recognizable.

  13. thanks for sharing this article. Great post!

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