The Secret Language of Mexicans

1 Jun

I’m not sure how to go about this post because it’s a topic that I still don’t understand after six years in Mexico.

During my time in this fascinating yet incredibly frustrating country, I’ve noticed that Mexicans have their own subtle ways of communicating that straight-shooting Americans like myself will never comprehend.

On Monday I woke up not feeling well, so I sent my boss a text message asking for the day off. He answered me with the following message:ย  “Don’t you have your interview today?” (some survey thingy our department is doing)

I texted back “No, not until tomorrow.”

I then sat around for a few minutes waiting for my boss to text me back with an answer. “Why doesn’t he say anything?” I said to Jorge.

Jorge responded with a casual, “He already gave you permission not to go in today.”

Me: “No he didn’t. He asked about my interview, and I said I didn’t have one until tomorrow.”

Jorge: “That means yes.”

Me: WHAT?!?! How does a question mean “yes”??? In the US, it doesn’t mean “yes” until someone says “yes”.

My boss never texted back and asked me how I was doing at work the next day, so I guess it did mean “yes”.


When I was in college here, this happened to me a lot with my classmates. There were several occasions when I might make a comment to a teacher, only to have my classmates later tell me, “Don’t you remember we agreed not to say that to the teacher?” Turns out there had been insinuations and clever nuances in previous conversations that I wasn’t even aware existed. I appeared to have broken some sort of code.


On weekends we go out a lot with my in-laws. Frequently we’ll get into the car to go somewhere, like Jorge’s aunt’s house, for example. We’ll then head in the direction of a supermarket. Conversations go like this:

Me: Where are we going?

Jorge: Walmart.

Me: I thought we were going to your aunt’s house?

Jorge: Yeah, but my dad said we have to stop by Walmart first to pick up some snacks.

Me: When did he say that?

Jorge: Right before we left.

Me: But WHEN did he say that? I was with you both the whole time!


I used to think it was a language barrier. Maybe my limited Spanish was preventing me from picking up certain sentences. Now that I speak fluent Spanish, I see that’s not the case. Mexicans have a way of saying something without directly saying it. I wish I could go into further detail, but I still have NO IDEA how it works.

Ok fellow expat bloggers in Mexico, tell me you know what I’m talking about!! What is this secret language and how does it work?

24 Responses to “The Secret Language of Mexicans”

  1. Perpetually Engaged June 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

    Ha! I’ll have to ask my friend about it. I work with a lot of Hispanics but haven’t ever noticed that. Maybe it’s because we’re all struggling to communicate in the first place.

    My Husband loved your post about telling time in Mexico. That used to be one of the frusterating things about visiting but now we just make sure to go to dinner before we’re hungry ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. DM June 1, 2011 at 3:25 pm #

    I have to admit that I have no clue on how to help you, but it made for an enjoyable read. Jellybean, little miss literal, would have an awful time in Mexico, LOL.

  3. lisa n javi June 1, 2011 at 3:40 pm #

    I can definetly understand what you are saying. There are times that I have spent the whole day with Javi and family and never heard about our plans for the evening. Well around dinner time he would tell me oh go get dressed we are eating with my abuelos tonite. ME: What? when did we decide this I have been sitting here with everyone all day. I know I dont understand everything in spanish but surely I would have picked this up. I dont get it either!

  4. Laurencancun June 1, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    I totally get it amiga and I can’t expand…. LOL!! I know that’s not a ton of help, but rest assured it happens to me allll the time!!!!

    I hope you are feeling a bit better though ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Fumiko June 1, 2011 at 3:58 pm #

    Ahh my dear Paula Jane (“Paula” for Paula Abdul of recent “American Idol” fame and “Jane” for Jane Bennet of “Pride and Prejudice”, both names to describe the sweet and innocent nature of our dear author),

    With 15 years in this country, I can safely say that EVERYTHING is mentioned. Whether we pick up on it or not is a wholly different affair.

    Case in point: I went with a group of friends to Puebla one year during Easter Week. After discerning that “papel amate” was not made in Amatitlan (a conclusion, though logical, bore no jurisdiction over reality), product of a fruitless search/adventure that took us nowhere, we drove a number of hours to Oaxaca and I remember getting in the car without a clue as to where we were heading. The road was rocky and still not paved. People walked alongside the car with livestock and I felt as if we were on safari through the savannah. I started seeing signs that said “Hierve El Agua” (Boil The Water). I was under the impression, after having seen a number of this same sign over and over that there was some sort of cholera problem that was doing the local community in.
    It turns out that this was our particular destination. “Hierve El Agua” is the name of a little town with a mineral hot spring.

    How I was the only person out of seven in the car who did not know we were all heading to this town was beyond me but I don’t suppose telepathy was involved.

    I would be quite jealous.

  6. (FL) Girl with a New Life June 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    Aw. When you figure it out you will have to report back and let us know.

  7. Ashlie June 1, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Interesting blog post Laura! I agree with you that it is sometimes difficult to interpret the subtle nuances of Mexicans and that Canadians and Americans are much more straightforward

  8. Christina June 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    I’ve been with my Mexican boyfriend for over 6 years and am fluent in Spanish. I completely understand what you’re explaining and I miss stuff all the time! My boyfriend has tried to explain to me that they speak in ‘double’ – meaning they say one thing but there can also be another meaning behind what they’re saying. It’s definitely frustrating! It drives me nuts because I’m constantly seeking a ‘REAL’ answer or explanation, lol.

  9. Ang June 1, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    yikes! sounds frustrating! Please let us know if you ever speak fluent… whatever we’re calling this secret language!

  10. Krysten June 1, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    That is so weird, I have no idea what to tell you!

  11. Poetesswug June 1, 2011 at 9:24 pm #

    I have news for you..Southerners have the same kind of language. And, being a Southerner, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself slightly irritated that my husband didn’t pick up on things in the same way I did after conversations! Little did I know…he didn’t even ‘hear’ the conversation!! LOL

  12. KfromMichigan June 1, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    Great post .. but I think this happens with other nationalities too .. My hubby sometimes does the same and it bugs me! (he is Serbian)

  13. T. June 1, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    LOL – maybe that’s why me and my Honey always have communication problems! ; )

  14. Julie M. June 2, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    Hmmm. Yea, I have no idea. Heck, that happens to me with my own family sometimes! Awesome read Laura!

  15. Tori June 2, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    Well if MExicans speak in doubles, like another poster points out, I will NEVER learn Spanish. I can’t even pick up straight conversations, let alone silent ones.

  16. MurdocksMama June 2, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Oh my gosh…that would drive me CRAZYA!!! Good thing you have Jorge! ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Kathryn June 3, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    So they not only speak a different language but they also speak a different language! Ha! That would confuse the hell out of me- I’m not good with ambiguity!

  18. Leah June 3, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    I encounter this ALL THE TIME! Imo, the context of Mexican subtlety is due to the practice of not ever wanting to appear vulnerable. Asking for something straight out makes them feel this way. My husband is no exception.

    Instead of just asking to stop at Wal-Mart, he’ll say casually that someone else asked him to bring snacks to a meeting later on that evening. Everyone understands that means he doesn’t yet have the snacks and we’ll need to stop at Wal-Mart.

    He would never say outright that he’s responsible for the snacks, doesn’t have them, and could we please stop at the store. That would make him appear somehow dependent upon a situation that he’s responsible for – and that’s SCARY! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  19. Ceri June 3, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    Oh dear, I may have a problem with this when I arrive in Mexico. I have a fabulously stubborn way of sensing hints and insuations but refusing to do anything until someone has the guts to come right out and ask me/tell me something. Eek. Hehe. ๐Ÿ˜›

  20. Rosie June 3, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    Oh my, this post made me laugh out loud. This happens to me ALL OF THE TIME! I thought that maybe my Spanish wasn’t so great in social situations (which is a total contrast to when it’s just me and my hubby in conversation). I guess that when you’re in a social context, there are nuances that don’t occur in one-on-one conversation with someone you’re in a close relationship with. I would frequently find myself in a car with my husband and his friends/family/whoever and have NO idea where we were going. I’m there the whole time, listening to an entire conversation, and at no point is it ever mentioned that we are going anywhere. If you figure this one out, please tell us!

  21. mexicomystic June 8, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Not only do you have to learn the language but you have to learn the culture, psychology and history… even then you might not get it. Quite often I don’t, even after 40 years.
    Spanish is a flowery romantic language and it will take two paragraphs to say something that an American can say in three words. But then I’m told that I’m a gringo grosero, rude and cold. It’s like saying goodbye at a party , you have to get started an hour earlier, you can’t just wave and say, “Bye yรกll”.

  22. Soulnova June 8, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    Think about this like this. A mother cooking and says “Oh my, there’s no milk left!” which would mean for anyone else in the house at that time “I need you to go get some milk, NOW!”.

    It’s simply implication.

    “I don’t have money for that snack” – “would you lend me 5 bucks?”
    “Aren’t you cold on that skirt?” – “That skirt is too short!”

    That just happened to us with Carrie. We were yesterday eating and saying we would go to the movies later, but then I realized Ale hadn’t seen the movie and she told me she had other plans for the day. So I said, “We don’t have anything to do on Saturday”. I thought it was implied for everyone that we were going to the cinema on Saturday but seems like Carrie did’t catch up that part and was looking at the show times for today. xD

    Fumiko’s example of Hierve el Agua the most accurate translation would be “(the)Water Boils”. That’s just how many town are named on rural zones. Think of them like names on Lord of the Rings… “Bag End”, “Brockenborings”, “Overhill”, etc.

  23. GRRRL TRAVELER June 16, 2011 at 5:44 am #

    I think Asia is similar. They do a very passive-agressive “understanding” kind of thing. Like in Korea, if there’s something negative or the response is NO, people won’t always speak it to you directly…they’ll make a statement around it or imply things. You’re supposed to make your assumption from there. My co-teacher would drive me crazy cause she’d never give me a direct answer for important stuff. Sometimes I looked for clues to read, other times, I’d just give up and keep nagging her an answer.

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