James: Sometimes when you can’t communicate, your only choice is to laugh

Before I arrived in Mexico, as part of the 2020 PMSLA Global Business trip to Tec de Monterrey, multiple people told me English was widely spoken in Mexican cities. I never questioned this. Yet within hours of landing in Mexico City, it became clear that I should have.

At one of our first dinners we ordered some tacos (because you know… its Mexico) and when those tacos arrived the waiter told us they were pollo (chicken) as we had ordered. There was absolutely no pollo in these tacos…just shrimp. Of course there was no way we could tell the waiter that this was not what we ordered given the extremely limited levels of Spanish possessed by the people at that table. So we just laughed and ate the tacos. The shrimp turned out to be delicious and we went back the next night and actually tried to order them.

A few days later, I was ordering something from a fast food place and the Spanish was going well. The waiter had seemed to know what I wanted, but then he said something that I did not understand. I didn’t know how to relay this to him. So we both just stood there for about 20 seconds, in absolute silence, before he eventually said “So…are you going to pay for this meal?” All of his colleagues burst into tears, and so did everyone I was having dinner with. The only thing I could do at that point was laugh at my own awkwardness.

These types of encounters should not discourage anyone from taking part in the PMSLA program. Struggling to communicate can take you out of your comfort zone, but that’s one of the reasons to go overseas on this type of trip. I have taken a lot from my first two weeks in Mexico, but above all I have learnt that Mexican people are incredibly nice, welcoming and willing to help people work through this language barrier. For anyone that has chance experience another culture as part of the PMSLA program, I could not recommend it more.

James McIntosh

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