In the minds of most people, Mexico is usually seen as a beach resort destination or a corrupt narco-state run by drug lords. However, the majority of people don’t know the truth about Mexico, its culture, and its people. Their opinion is based on stereotypes and bad press and because of this they’re scared to go to Mexico, but not many people actually know what is Mexico known for.
12 Misconceptions About Mexico
1 – Mexico’s real name is Mexico
Wrong! Mexico’s real name is United States of Mexico. The country is divided into 31 states, plus the Federal District. Each state has its own laws, regulations, and police, similar to the United States of America. When in a different state from the one you live in, your phone is practically always roaming.
2 – The capital of Mexico is Mexico City
The majority of people think that the capital of Mexico is Mexico City. However, that’s only partially true. The actual capital is Distrito Federal (DF) – the Federal District. It can be confusing because the Mexico City metropolitan area lies within DF and parts of the State of Mexico. However, only the inhabitants of DF can say they live in the capital.
3 – Traditional Mexican food is burritos
Everyone seems to love Mexican food, so much so that it was recently classified as an irreplaceable part of the cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. Although, outside of Mexico what people refer to as “Mexican food” is more often than not actually Tex-Mex. For example, in Mexico, nobody actually eats burritos Chipotle-style or filled with rice (I know that in northern Mexico burritos are popular, however, I meant burritos from US fast food chains).
4 – Mexicans always have dark skin
When my friends look through my photos that were taken during my stay in Mexico, I often hear ‘he/she doesn’t look Mexican’. Assuming that all Mexicans have dark skin and black hair is a huge mistake as there are plenty of Mexicans that are as white as Northern Europeans. Not only that, in big cities like Mexico City there exist huge communities of Mexicans with Jewish and European roots.
[I’m not being racist, it’s nothing bad! I’m simply making a statement referring to the fact that plenty of times people were surprised to see that my Mexican friends resembled Europeans – they simply weren’t aware that anyone from Mexico looks like this]
5 – Mexican Spanish is like any other Spanish
As mentioned in my previous article on Mexican slang, Mexican Spanish is unique. For example, in Mexico torta doesn’t mean cake, it means sandwich. Also, sope is not soup, but a so-called ‘Mexican pizza’ (of course it’s not an actual pizza, but it is similar to the concept of a pizza – dough, sauce, and toppings).
6 – Mexico is Unsafe
According to US travel advisory board: ‘Mexico City (also known as the Federal District): No advisory is in effect. See also the discussion in the section on Estado de Mexico for areas within the greater Mexico City metropolitan area.’
I agree completely. The place is actually safer than some of the big cities in America or even Europe. Of course, bad things happen like anywhere else in the world, but in Mexico most homicides happen between the drug gangs, not regular citizens.
7 – Mexico is a Third World Country
The term ‘third world’ was invented during the Cold War as one of three geopolitical divisions of alignment. Countries aligned with the US were considered “first world”, those aligned with the Soviet Union were “ the second world”, and non-aligned countries were “ the third world”. Although the Cold War ended 25 years ago, the term “third world” became synonymous with poverty in colloquial speech while the other two terms disappeared.
If one were to rank countries by GDP per capita, Mexico lies somewhere between Turkey and Brazil. Like any developed state, it offers plenty of modern hotels, houses, and exclusive restaurants. On the other hand, the gap between poor and rich is quite big – while some households have a maid and a driver, most others don’t even have enough to live on.
8 – Mexico is Always Hot
Mexico is a big country, therefore the weather varies. Some zones are indeed perpetually hot, but in some areas it even snows sometimes. Central Mexico has a high altitude and so temperatures vary throughout the year.
9 – Women in Mexico are less privileged than in other Latin American countries
Despite the stereotype that Mexican women are constantly abused, women in Mexico are actually quite privileged. In Mexico City there are women-only buses and special sections for women on the subway. Maybe for some people, this doesn’t seem like much of a privilege, but let me give you the example of Turkey where women in public transport are constantly being abused and nobody is trying to protect them in any way.
The Turkish government hasn’t even considered creating a special women-only section. Also, Mexican men are very caballerosos, meaning that they always open the door for women, pick them up before the date/meeting, and usually pay for everything.
Funnily enough, according to research conducted in Mexico City in 2013, it turns out that many women actually prefer to use the general section of the subway instead of the women-only one because men kindly give them a seat while other women don’t.
10 – Cancun, Puerto Vallarta or Baja California are top Mexican places
Tourists usually only know about two Mexican locations: Cancun and Baja California. However, those places don’t represent the whole country at all if you visit them as a tourist in the so-called ‘zona Hotelera’. Both places are very ‘Americanized’ – everyone speaks English and things are expensive. However, outside of the big resorts, these places are not very nice. Mexicans usually go to different resort towns such as Acapulco, Playa del Carmen, Huatulco, and many others.
11 – Mexicans Don’t Celebrate 5 de Mayo. Independence Day is on 16th of September
Mexico declared independence on September 27th 1821, but the beginning of the independence war was Sept 16th 1810 – the day that’s celebrated as independence day. Cinco de Mayo is not the Mexican Independence Day, it only commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862 when Mexico won against the French army. It’s pretty much only celebrated in Puebla and by Mexican immigrants in the United States.
12 Mexico is in North America
A comment on this post reminded me that I often correct people when it comes to the geographical location of Mexico. People usually think that since Mexico is a part of Latin America it’s located in either South or Central America. But Mexico is actually a part of North America, along with the USA, Canada, and the Caribbean islands.
* I wasn’t just a tourist in Mexico – I’ve lived in Mexico for 3 years (->you can find out what was I doing in About Me). I also published a book on Mexican public policies that you can get here. My opinions might be subjective because obviously, I haven’t managed to visit or live in every single place in Mexico, so bear in mind that maybe things are different in parts of Mexico where I haven’t been. The post is meant to show people that Mexico is worth visiting. *