Billy and I had just finished some of the best tacos we have ever eaten and stopped in a nearby café to have an after-lunch cup of coffee. It’s an enjoyable way to have our lunch digest a bit and spend an hour watching people and traffic pass by.
Sweet innocence of being age 7
Across the main road in Tulum, we saw a young girl of about 7 who had to cross the busy street divided by a meridian separating the two way traffic. She made it across the first street on her own just fine. On the second street she was watching traffic just as she had been instructed by her mother, no doubt, when a police car drove up in her direction. The car stopped, gave a quick toot of the horn and waved the young girl across the road.
Apparently, this was a normal event as the little girl didn’t think a thing about this action and skipped happily across the street.
Billy and I were again reminded of the cultural differences between our home country of the United States and the country where we spend a good deal of our time, Mexico. We have seen this same polite interaction between police and the common folk in our home town of Chapala as well. Often, there are police guarding an official’s house, and as we walk past them going to and from the marketplace, they will say “Good morning. How are you today, Ma’am?” or perhaps we’ll discuss the weather and how hot or cool it is. Gentlemanly of them to be sure. Billy will make it a point to tell them “Thank you for keeping us safe” and they, too, exchange pleasantries.
As we are remembering these experiences, we see a street cart vendor pull up right where the young girl had just crossed the street. He has stopped to sell some fruit to a Grandmother and her granddaughter who are resting on a curb in the shade. Moments later a couple of policemen, a man and a woman, also stop by and purchase some fruit from this same vendor. It was an easy, everyday transaction. Billy and I again begin talking about how the police didn’t say “May I see your vending license? Do you have a running water source? Is your health certificate up-to-date? May I see some identification? You know you can’t park here, this is a no parking zone. Would you please move off the curb?”
None of that happened at all. Rather, the two officers of the law each purchased a bag of fruit with the customary salsa on top and went their merry way.
A different approach pays off
To serve and protect is their motto. To interact with the locals in a kind and courteous manner is to their benefit. Making sure life goes on as normal and no out-of-the-ordinary shenanigans go on is the policeman or woman’s job. And in these cases, they neither had to assert their authority nor beg for respect. Both were assumed during an everyday transaction that seemed to strengthen both sides of the exchange.
The young girl will grow up knowing she can depend on police as protection and will have a healthy regard for them built on years of experiences such as the one today. The Grandmother and granddaughter observe the respect for them as the police waited their turn to purchase the same fruit from the vendor as they. And the vendor did his job and the police interacted with him in a courteous manner instead of a destructive or frightening one.
In general, the Latin culture is more accessible than our everyday society back home. When we walk down the street in Mexico we constantly say “Buenos Dias” (good morning) to passersby and receive the same courtesy in return. We both have had the experience of trying to exchange pleasantries on the sidewalks at home in the States and there will be no response. Generally, there is a aloofness or a look of surprise that a stranger would speak to them. Standing in line at the grocery store people are preoccupied. They are on their cell phones, stare into space, look at their watches or their list of things to do. It is less of an occurrence that this light banter is returned and there are these invisible but present “lines of demarcation” that separate people – strangers simply don’t speak to one another in cities. Or at least, it happens less often.
When I go to the States, it normally takes me several weeks to adjust to this social distance and it feels a bit stilted to me. Each time I visit I forget, and each time I am reminded by the non-response I receive.
I guess I’m a Mayberry type of person, where Andy Griffith and Barney Fife watched over the town. While you might think it’s a daydream and not reality at all, I’m happy that these sorts of towns still exist in Mexico and that I have access to them through my travels. I tell you that it’s not some imaginary place “over the rainbow” or described in a fairy tale. Rather it’s everyday life but in a simpler, more human version of the one we left “back home.”
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