Mexico Travel Tips: Jill’s Take on Health, Safety and Romance
Traveling to Mexico? Jill Douglas presents her Mexico travel tips about health, romance, women’s rights and safety:
Mexico Travel Tips: Health Information
Feminine Hygienic Products in Mexico: What’s available/what’s legal/where to buy them?
Pads and tampons can be found in any grocery store or pharmacy. However, they tend to sell ridiculously small packages. (Like 15 pads in a package—really? That’s all I’ll need?) So stock up.
Birth Control in Mexico: What’s available/what’s legal/where to buy them?
To the best of my knowledge, just about everything that is available in the US is available here. However, it might be manufactured by a different company or not exactly the same brand that is carried in the US, so do check. If you bring your US prescription to one of the doctors that run the cheap-o pharmacy clinics, they should be able to prescribe the closest available substitute to what you’re used to. Or, go have a chat with a gynecologist in the office.
With medicine in general, injections are prescribed much more often, and that’s the form of birth control my gynecologist recommended for me (as I was breastfeeding at the time). For me, that worked out excellently. Once every other month, I’d get my prescription, and for an extra 20 pesos, the clinic doctor would shoot it into my hip. Didn’t have to worry about it again for another 60 days.
Gynecologists in Mexico: Are there any that you recommend? How, if at all, is a visit different from at home?
While I’d honestly prefer to have a female gynecologist, I was 7 months pregnant when we moved here, and I was in a hurry to find anyone. So my OB/gyn is an old man. But he is absolutely excellent. If you’re in Saltillo, Coahuila, I recommend Dr. Rafael Siordia (414-9585).
In general, doctors in Mexico tend to be a bit paternalistic. They often don’t explain things well. If you were to bring a birth plan to most doctors, they might humor you and listen to it, but they’re not likely to respect it. I’ve heard rumors that things might be changing in that regard, and trained midwives and natural birthing centers are becoming easier to find. But it still takes quite a search.
Breastfeeding in Mexico: What are accepted places for women to breastfeed? Is it accepted to do so in public?
I’ve never had a problem breastfeeding in public. I’ve always covered up, but never noticed any odd looks, and certainly never had any comments. Once I forgot my blanket, and had to feed my son without a blanket in a playground. I felt kind of weird, but no one said anything.
Mexico Travel Tips: Romance
Dating Locals in Mexico: What are the norms and traditions? What should women look out for?
Generally, it seems that Mexican men are brought up to be gentlemen. In my experience, they kick it up a notch, compared to men in the US. They’ll open doors for you, always pay the bill, dress up nice . . . it’s a bit refreshing, really. I’m sure there are plenty of examples where this isn;t the case, but if I had my druthers, I’d stick to the gentleman.
Types of Mexican Men: Describe a few “typical” types of men.
I can’t say I can categorize men into 5 different categories. Just like all people, Mexican men fall somewhere on a spectrum. On one end, you could find the consummate gentleman—charming and thoughtful, articulate and interesting, knows his way around a kitchen, fends for himself, kind to the elderly, etc. Then on the opposite extreme are the slovenly thugs who beat their girlfriends and steal cars. Clearly, most men are somewhere in the middle, and in my experience, I think that the majority tend to congregate on the “gentleman” side of things.
Common faults of those gentlemen?
• Mamma’s boys
• Traditional “men” who refuse to learn their way around a kitchen
• Overprotective of girlfriends/wives (can be cute if they’re slightly overprotective for little things, but is downright sketchy if they try to limit your freedom to get out and wander)
• Alcoholism— It’s hard to say if alcoholism is honestly more common in Mexico, or that Mexicans are simply more open about it.
Don’t be alarmed to find a man in his upper twenties who still lives with his parents. While that trend seems to be changing, it’s very common for both Mexican men and women to live with their parents until they get married. While in the US, we’re expected to leave home at the age of 18, it’s perfectly normal in Mexico to be a fully functional, successful young adult who still lives with his parents well into his twenties.
Is Mexico LGBTQ-friendly?
As a straight woman, this is a hard question for me to answer. In a lot of ways, Mexican society seems a lot more conservative than US culture. I live in a small city, which tends to be more conservative than larger cities. At the same time, I know that there is an active LGBTQ community in this city, Saltillo, and this state was one of the first to legalize gay marriages in Mexico. While things seem more conservative here, the culture also seems to “live and let live” better than we tend to in the US.
Mexico Travel Tips: Women’s Place in Society
Women’s Rights in Mexico: Do women have the same position in society as men? How can you tell?
Mexico has fame for being a very “macho” society, and that fame is well earned. From what I’ve seen, gender equality depends a great deal on one’s socioeconomic level. For those who can afford great education, women have much more equal footing with men than their less affluent counterparts. There are plenty of female representatives in Congress, although not near in equal numbers as men. I’ve met more female engineers in Mexico than I’ve known in the US, and the medical profession appears to be almost equally divided, gender-wise.
Are fundamental attitudes changed? Yes and no. I’m confident that anyone I’ve met and talked with would no doubt publicly say and honestly believe that women deserve the same rights and advantages as men. However, that macho culture is pervasive and domestic violence remains shockingly high. This denotes a mentality that there are still segments of the population that think women should be barefoot, pregnant, and submissive. However, the average traveler is not likely to come across these types, as I don’t think I’ve met anyone like that in the 10 years I’ve lived here.
Local Mexican Women: What are some clear cultural differences between you and them?
Not many, but most have a great deal more patience than I do with men who refuse to set foot in a kitchen. Thank goodness, I found a Mexican man who enjoys cooking.
Women-Specific Environments in Mexico: Are there places where only women are or are not allowed?
The cantina is traditionally a male-only establishment, and I guess there are still some that do not let women in. I wouldn’t know where these are. There are quite a few that do let women in, and a women-welcoming cantina can make for a great evening.
Perception of Foreign Women in Mexico: How do local men/women react to you when you say where you’re from?
Being so very close to the US, most people have either been to the US or have a family member who lives there. The stereotype persists that women from the US have looser sexual morals than Mexican women. It is helpful to be aware of that when meeting strange men.
Mexico Travel Tips: Safety
Transportation in Mexico: Any that are safer/less safe for women to take?
Most Mexican families are one-car families, and generally the men drive. So there are certain times of day when I ride the bus and I feel like I’m joining the sisterhood on the bus.
On crowded buses or subways it sometimes happens that women get groped. Move away or, better yet, get loud and obnoxious and the groper should be scared off.
Mexico City‘s subway has “women and children”-only cars at the front of the train during rush hour. They are slightly less crowded, and I prefer them, as that lessens the chances of groping. However, women (and children) can be as good at pickpocketing as any man, so the “women and children”-only car isn’t an excuse to let your guard down much.
Some big cities also have “Pink Taxis” driven by women, which provide service only to women. As most cities don’t do this, it’s always good to have the phone number of a reputable taxi company, and call them anytime you need a lift. Taxi drivers affiliated with these companies make more money, and therefore have reputations to maintain. Taxis hailed off the street are more anonymous, and are therefore a bit more sketchy. That being said, I have never had a problem with a taxi, hailed on the street, or called through a radio dispatcher. But to stay on the safe side, have a taxi dispatcher’s number handy. They can be found in the yellow pages under “taxis” and most hotels still have Yellow Page Phonebooks (Seccion Amarilla–if not in the room, then at the front desk).
Dangerous area/s in Mexico: Any specifically for women?
Every city has its shady parts. Where I live, in Saltillo, one has to go out of their way to find them.
Mexico City, which I am pretty familiar with, can turn from very nice to very shady in the span of a block or two (and then back again). Know where you’re going. If you don’t, look like you do know where you’re going (and then get somewhere you do know).
Clothing in Mexico: What to wear/what not to wear?
I live three hours from Texas. Upon moving to Saltillo from the Mexico City metro area, I was pleasantly surprised how much people from Saltillo “dress like me!” Here, shorts are commonplace. T-shirts and sandals, too. Women here tend to wear more makeup than your average gringa and “do” their hair with more caution. They also tend to favor nicer shoes, sandals, or heels to tennis shoes. However, if you do go out in a T-shirt, yoga pants and tennis shoes, you won’t be completely out of place in Saltillo.
Elsewhere in Mexico, please don’t leave your bedroom in yoga pants and tennis shoes. OK, if you’re planning a big day of walking, the tennis shoes may be necessary, but realize that you’re likely to be the only person wearing them all day. Once when I went to the pyramids at Teotihuacan, my friends and I were astonished at the number of women who felt that tall heels were proper pyramid climbing shoes.
In most of the country, black pants are a fashion staple and everyday wear. In general, fashion standards are a great deal higher than in the US. One day I was waiting for an airplane in the Mexico City airport. After living here for a couple of years, I was aghast at a fellow traveler, who was clearly wearing her pajamas. I thought to myself, “People get more dressed up to beg on the street than this girl does to fly internationally!”
Photo credit: Eneas de Troya