A Quick Update

In 2010, we moved back to the small town in Colorado that I never stopped missing while we lived in Mexico. Now I sometimes miss Mexico, but I wouldn't travel as freely as we did when we were there, camping out in remote areas and so forth.

Mexico today is in a period of change, and in many ways it is more dangerous now. That said, I have plenty of American friends who still live there very happily, just taking a few more precautions than they did in the past.

Just to say!

Rosana

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Guidebooks don’t discuss the single biggest thing that will make your trip a memorable success… meeting people!

The joy of connecting, even when it is brief, can make all the difference in how you feel. I noticed that as I wrote this report, I was smiling most of the way through it, remembering so many good times!

So here is a list of ways to meet people, with examples from our experiences….. Even if you are shy (and I can be at times), you’ll find something you can do!

Drawing of young Mexican couple.
Meeting people is at the heart of a trip.

1. Express appreciation

It has to be genuine, but that usually isn’t hard – even a happy comment on the weather will get you started.

The first time I noticed the power of appreciation on this Mexican trip was when I went up to the entry desk at El Tajín, the great ruins in the state of Veracruz. It was our second day there, and two men were working at the desk. One of them recognized me from the day before. I told them, in my far-from-perfect Spanish, that I had never seen museum employees who were so interested in their work. That got their attention, as people who go the extra mile get taken for granted all too often. They told me that they were Totonacs, descendants of the people who had created the magnificent ruins. They were so deeply connected with the history that my whole visit there took on a deeper meaning. We talked quite a while longer, and it was one of the most satisfying conversations of the whole trip.

Mexican clay face
Totonac clay face

After that, I made a point of finding times to express appreciation. (Actually, looking for things to appreciate is a longtime habit of mine, especially when I am a bit down and want to raise my spirits, but expressing it is a different matter.) One time, Kelly and I stopped in a bakery in Xalapa to get some fresh bread and pastries. The bright-eyed elderly man running the place seemed interesting, so I said simply, “We like your city.” He grinned and, tongue in cheek, announced himself the founder of Xalapa. We had a nice, brief conversation.

Here and there in Mexico, the Pemex gas stations are entirely women-run. I always commented on that, how I was glad to see it. Once a woman asked if we had all-women gas stations in the U.S., and when I said I had never seen one, she was pleased that Mexico had something the U.S. didn’t.. Another time, my comment seemed to inflate the war of the sexes (which is alive and well in Mexico anyway). A very dramatic and pretty young woman amused us and her co-workers with a hilarious monologue – with gestures – about how useless men were, except for one thing. She assured Kelly that he was of course the exception!

One last example: when we were at the waterfall in Xico, I was just watching people while Kelly had gone off someplace. For about five minutes, I watched a man playing with a young dog. It made me miss my dogs. After the fellow sat down, I went over and told him how much I enjoyed watching him and the dog. Again, this led to one of the most delightful encounters of the trip.

2. Ask questions

People generally love it when you are interested in something that they can tell you about. When we arrived in Bernal, having only read a brief, disparaging remark about energies there, I wanted to find out more about them. When I noticed a rock shop, I knew that would be the place to ask – leading to the friendship with Ana and Juvenal that I described in the chapter on Bernal, as well as to more understanding of the energies. I continued to ask around town, and once received quite a long lecture on ecology from a shopkeeper!

Asking for help is a variation on this theme. When we were looking for a hotel in Xalapa that had space for our motorhome, we went from one hotel to another. Usually, the people were very kind in suggesting other places we could try. And eventually, much later that day, asking led us to a delightful spot in the small town of Xico nearby.

Often, if you ask for directions in Mexico, people will take you part way, or even all the way. One thing to know about asking directions is that the Mexican desire to be of assistance sometimes means they will give you inaccurate directions. When we were in Ciudad Victoria, our friend John Lowman drove Kelly across the city to find a dentist whose address they had written down. When they returned hours later, they were shaking their heads at how many helpful people had mis-directed them!

These two methods – expressing appreciation and asking questions – are probably the main ones. Do them alone and you’ll have a lot of good connections!

3. Smile

Mexicans make more eye contact with strangers than we do. Sometimes just a passing smile with someone is a very satisfying encounter. I remember:

  • a smile I exchanged with a woman in a grocery store as I removed a large stuffed animal that a child had placed in my cart.
  • a baby who kept watching me and grinning.
  • the deeper sense of connection that I shared through a smile with a woman who was pushing an old man in a wheelchair at El Chorrito, a pilgrimage center.

4. Help someone

Sugar cane harvest
Offer to help and you might learn a new skill!

I learned this one from Carl Franz in the marvelous book The People’s Guide to Mexico. He would take on farm work or other activities, thereby learning new skills and making new friends.

My attempts were more modest. When we were stopped for gas at a Pemex in Poza Rica, there were the usual teenage boys who cleaned our windshield with their rags for a small tip. One of them asked how to count in English. He already knew a little, so we went over the numbers from one to twenty while the gas pumped. When it was time to go, his buddy asked how to say adios in English so I told him and we drove away with a cheerful chorus of “Goo-buy!” ringing in our ears. I especially enjoyed this encounter because the kids looked like tough guys when we drove in.

5. Buy something

This makes a natural opening for asking a question or expressing appreciation. As we bought a kilo of peanuts from a market vendor, I asked how things were in Mexico now. He had strong opinions on the subject, and it was interesting to hear his views on how the politicians are stealing from the people.

6. Learn something of the language and customs

The more of a language you know, the more you can converse – that’s a no-brainer. But I think people often don’t realize that when you know nothing of a language to start with, every word you learn can make a big difference. If you know the numbers, the greetings, and some basic questions, you are in much better shape than if you don’t. Also, a number of times, Mexicans who spoke English, whether a little or a lot, enjoyed using their English with us.

One Mexican custom that I just noticed on this trip is the habit of greeting people when you enter a shop or restaurant. I liked how it gives a human touch before you get down to business. You say goodbye or thanks when you leave too.

[Next…ten more ways… ]

Some images ©www.clipart.com and used with permission.

6 Responses to “Sixteen Ways to Meet People When You are Traveling”

  • Carmen Miramontes Baeza says:

    I truly believe in sharing what we know,we really do learn something new everyday,it may be by just saying “HI” I was once in Tijuana,Baja California.It was the 70’s,there was a lady buying Pan Dulce(sweet bread)at the Panaderia(Mexican Bakery.She just looked so so familiar,it turned out she was a lady that would visit my mom in LOS ANGELES,CALIFORNIA. back in “1962” the year I was born.I had always seen her in our family albums. My mom lost contact with her when she lost her address book! and it was because of me saying “hi,I know you” I was able to get them back in contact.You are right by just starting a conversation with someone,ANYONE! WE share part of our lives with them. QUE NO? ITS A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL”. Sincerely, Mrs. CarmenMiramontesBaeza

  • Damian says:

    hi my name is Damian. I read coments like this one before, maybe you can visit veracruz one day, I'm living in the state of puebla, in the city of teziutlan. there are many friendly people here too. ok take care and thanks for the coment about my country

  • Travelleray says:

    Another awesome way to meet people while traveling- http://www.mingletrips.com/
    It has a super simple signup process, has very fun people and is absolutely free! I love it :)

  • Rosana says:

    Readers, be aware that the person making the comment may have a business relationship with that site. I am letting the comment through in case it is pertinent but I know nothing of the site.

  • Erica Stacey says:

    there’s actually a really good social network called http://mysocialpassport.com for when you’re planning a trip, or when you want to meet travelers in a place you are going to

  • Rosana Hart says:

    Thanks, it does look good!

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