Respect Makes the World Go Around

by Joseph Toone

Anyone acquainted with Mexico for more than a quarter hour has witness the central role of courtesy. Respect is paramount in all social situations. It is a generally practiced courtesy to greet one another. And even a simple “Good morning” should include the receiver’s occupation, like “Good morning, officer,” to show your respect for their position.

Ninety percent of the time I find this custom soothing and admirable. However sometimes it does get on my nerves. For instance, I have a neighbor who, without asking, frequently avails himself of the property of others. When caught in these thieveries he stands in the middle of the street screaming at the top of his lungs that he is not being treated with respect. I’ve no patience for that maneuver. When he tries it on me I simply state that he deserves no respect for, for example, trying to steal my ladder while I went inside for a moment to use the bathroom. So baffled by my response, he normally gambols off in a state of high agitation.

However, one Saturday morning I realized that I must expand my respect quotient.

Each Saturday morning for the last five years I’ve had a picnic breakfast with my “napkin-selling sweetie.” I met her my first time in the Jardin and we’ve been swapping food and tales ever since. Currently her “spot” is the steps leading up to a grade school, which is, of course, closed on weekends.

Sitting with her on the steps, enjoying tamales and cinnamon buns, I could hear someone sweeping behind the nearby door. Knowing that sweeping is usually followed by mopping, and anticipating an outflow of water I fly up in a crisis. With northern efficiency I pluck up both our picnic supplies and the napkins she is selling. Unfortunately my abuelita (little grandmother) is baffled by my behavior. She has not ejected herself from the step before the first wave of dirty water comes and dampens her dupa.

Never before have I seen her so upset. She pounded on the door, as much as she can pound at her stage of life. When the cleaner inside ignored her thumping protests she went to the shop next door. Here the young salesperson apologized for her distress and told my yet fuming sweetie that the boss was next door.

She went next door and began pounding on it. Keep in mind that with her infirmities from being hit by a car last fall she moves at a glacial pace and even so I am completely at a loss to understand where this situation is leading.

The as yet totally uninvolved boss of the shop next door to the school opens the door, itself next door to the shop. Like someone whose spouse has lost self-control in public, or whose toddler is in a meltdown, I catch the eye of the woman opening the door. I hope she can read my mind, or at least the unspoken apology on my face and that she will not let loose a verbal torrent on the woman. She catches my eye and understands.

In my culture, my napkin-selling grandmother has no reason to be angry. She doesn’t own the school building and the staff has every right to clean the floors on a Saturday morning with no responsibility to see if anyone is sitting on the stoop.

This owner of the shop next door to the school is certainly entirely blameless in every regard. She is also extremely courteous. She very respectfully explains how in general there was a lot of traffic that week. And so her own floors also require a weekend cleaning. However, my sweetie is very welcome to sit on her stoop, in complete security. For although she, too, is cleaning the floor, she has an inside drain and won’t push the water out under door.

My lady friend is mollified by this response, but can’t quite manipulate her body down to this stoop, because it is lower than what she is use to. However, just then, a young painter, working yet again next door brings over a sealed bucket of paint for her to use as a more comfortable, accessible perch. I am stunned.

Recapping, three people (not counting me) of different age and gender have gone out of their way to make my napkin-seller comfortable on the stoop of a building where we can continue our picnic and she her napkin sales. Neither of us own the building, or pay rent or provide a commission on her five dollar handmade napkins. Yet she was treated with the respect normally reserved for a visiting dignitary.

I’ll never forget such courtesy and grace afforded an elderly woman. And I hope you remember how vital respect is in Mexico.

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Joseph Toone is Amazon's bestselling author of the San Miguel de Allende Secrets series of books and TripAdvisor's best rated historical walking tour guide. For more information contact toone.joseph@yahoo.com or visit History and Culture Walking Tours or JosephTooneTours.com, also on FaceBook.

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