Mexican Courtship Rituals

I went out with my first girlfriend for a long time. From my freshman year of high school through the summer after my freshman year of college. Long enough that when we (she, wisely) broke it off, I’d gone through adolescence and into young adulthood without ever having been single. There are important things you learn during those years: how to flirt, how to ask someone out, how to tell if there’s interest in the first place. And one that my generation pioneered—how to work smartphones and social media into it.

Whereas our parents pioneered carrying the phone into the next room and shouting at other people to get off the line

Whereas our parents made important strides carrying the phone into the next room and shouting at other people to get off the line

I’d never texted anyone before I started dating her, and because of my limited message plan, hadn’t much texted anyone else until after we broke up. There is a strict texting etiquette at the beginnings of things, and I only got an inkling of it with her. I was a bit of a social failure that first year at university. She was not, and the feeling of slow, torturous knotting in my stomach as I piled text on text trying to check up on her at 2am on a Friday night from my darkened dorm room is the reason why we have a code of communication in the US.

If you’re following the rules to a letter as a guy, you never text twice in a row. Inasmuch as you can, you never text first. You use emoticons rarely or not at all. Generally, you wait until the next day with a number—if she was that excited about you, you’d be with her and not wondering when to fire off a message. Most people don’t call. It’s an intricate dance between young people in the States, often enough both parties wanting to get together and both trying not to give off too much the impression that they do.

Right up until the point we start sending each other pictures of wangs

Right up until the point we start sending each other pictures of our wangs

Saying “I love you” too early has been a trope in popular culture forever, and that reticence is now an integral part of the opening salvos of a relationship. The whole ‘we don’t want to put labels on it’ thing, too, is now less something that douchebags say on sitcoms and more part of the fabric of American dating. As I’ve explained it to Mexican friends: you ask somebody to go out, and if it goes well, you keep going out, and after long enough you kind of fall into the boyfriend/girlfriend thing; no formalization anymore, no giving out jackets and rings and asking folks to go steady.

All this is second nature to young people back home. You don’t worry about it because you just know, go about it automatically. The point is that Mexicans are in a different place. And it’s a problem for us volunteers.

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I got a little liquored and sentimental awhile ago and scribbled all this out on printer paper at two in the morning. It’s more melodramatic than I’d like, but it’s not bad and I don’t mind it as a little giving-thanks, especially since we did our big dinner this past Sunday. I’ll see what I can do to make the pictures lighthearted.

Last Sunday

No reason for it. This is just our Thanksgiving

I’ve written about kids, but I’m not sure I’ve ever written about parents except to denigrate the idea of becoming one. There’s a lot of thought behind that. In the first place, not much is left of the American Dream except the notion that you ought to give better than you got. My folks came of age during the last great gasp of old-time Corporate America. From the golden age of Reagan’s military straight into the arms of General Motors they went, knowing that thirty years from the first day in the plant they’d be taken care of, that the Company’d care for their health, their kids, their retirement. And they did well for themselves. Smart, driven people navigating the world they’d been bred for.

I grew up in the most luxury you can have without being ruined as a human. I never had cause to want. I lived abroad, went to good mostly public schools, met decent people. Any desire on my part was not the result of privation but considered withholding on theirs, careful choices by my parents that kept me grounded. I was never aware of our wealth until late in high school; they’d shielded me from the tacky excess that seems to typify the upper ranks of the middle class now. They worked hard and long, maybe too much so. Much of our early care was given over to nannies and au pairs, but it’s a testament to my folks that I barely remember those caregivers’ names now, while my father reading us One Thousand and One Arabian Nights at bedtime is as fresh as what I ate for breakfast.

The Nights kind of created the bedtime story, if you think about it

The Nights kind of created the bedtime story, if you think about it

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Married with Children

Kids are a hot topic for the volunteers in Jalpan. My erstwhile brother and his wife—Trey and Janessa—are of an age to talk about it—30 and 29—and I’m here to talk with. Given that we’re in Mexico, it’s always a topic at hand. “Why don’t you already have a kid?” is as valid a question as how-do-you-do for any woman of marrying age, and “Why don’t you have a kid with one of ours?” is just as good for any strapping young foreign man.

And it's not just the locals

And it’s not just the locals

Trey and Janessa take what I imagine is the typical line for Americans of their cohort. Children are part of the plan, after careers and travel and messing around until their fun has been had and they’re ready to settle into the waiting-for-retirement grind that seems to brand life after 35 for all of us aspiring young graduates. If you aren’t famous or otherwise important by then you might as well pop a couple out and see if that masks the hole inside of you.

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Wedding Crashers

Well holy hell let’s talk about updates. I’m on the terrace today. I’m actually not sure what you’d call this in English, but in Spanish it’s terrace, so we’ll go with that. I’d be on the roof but it’s not sunny and the two wooden ladders we drunkenly nailed together have a hard enough time when I’m not carrying forty pounds of seat and West German engineering.



A lot’s been happening in the past week (it’d only been a week when I wrote this) or I guess since whenever I posted last. It’s Christmas Day as I’m writing this, by the way, and we’re right in the middle of our first extended cold spell. Also probably the longest-running low-grade hangover I’ve ever had. The folks in Jalpan don’t go insane on any one night over break, but they always go late and they’ve got some kind of endurance.

Let’s start with the wedding. I think I mentioned that my host family here in town is great but not all that into me, and I know it can’t just be my fault because between my folks in Querétaro and the Beyer family, I’m pretty sure I’ve edged at least one natural born child out of the favorite-kid slot. So as a consequence I spend time hanging out with the host family of the married volunteers in site.

These jokers

These jokers

They also  live literally directly below me. The Peace Corps tells us to try to avoid the impression that we’re a unit and to establish our own separate identities, but that boat’s long sailed, looks like. The town knows there’s three of us and that someone’s  married to the other or we’re participating in some kind of godforsaken gringo bigamy but it’ll work itself out.

Anyway, so some friends of their mom, Lupe, were getting married last Saturday, and I’d had a standing invitation from before Lupe’d actually met me. Nowhere in the world is as welcoming as small town Mexico. So I got suited up in the usual campo going-out gear, tight jeans and a plaid shirt, which is a style that worked out pretty well for me on the whole, given that on average everything I’ve worn for the last three years was a plaid flannel. It was only as I was walking up to the church that I thought I might have wanted to, you know, not look like an asshole. But I turned out to be only slightly underdressed and once the reception got started all that mattered was how danceable your clothes were.

Let me be clear. I’d never met the bride or the groom before, and neither had Trey or Janessa, the other volunteers (Fun fact, “Janessa” is almost impossible for someone who hasn’t learned English. Here she’s Yanay, Jeena, and, best of all, Jimmy). But given that Lupe’s a spirited and pushy introducer of friends, she ushered us up at the end of the service to take a picture with our awkwardly wrapped around the happy couple. Or in my case awkwardly retracted and defiantly crossed over my chest for no reason.

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