Yucatecan idiosycracies: Sí, Sí, Sí means probably not
I love Yucatan and the Yucatecans (the yucatecos). Actually, #amomeridayucatan is my hashtag for all Instagram posts. I have “drunk the well water” so they say here. I have no desire to leave; I don’t even want to do much traveling. I am perfectly content to weather the skin melting bochorno and to enjoy the company of my countless Yucatecan friends who never fail to make me laugh and brighten my day. However, my Merida love affair aside, I do not walk around with rose-colored glasses and sometimes I have an irresistible urge to call the kettle black. I have spent time with people from all walks of life, here in Merida and also in my various travels and adventures through life. Each culture is fascinating and all have their own peculiar—to the outsider—ways of communicating and doing things. One recurring peculiarity here that is noted by any foraneo, from Mexico or abroad, is the Yucateco’s exceedingly nonchalant way of skipping meetings without prior notice or arriving extremely late whether it be social, professional or romantic. The Yucatecan sí, sí, sí sometimes seems to actually mean probably not. If you listen closely, many times you will not get one sí in response to a question, invitation or a suggestion; you will get three all in a row, usually accompanied by holding up the hand and bending the index finger as if it were nodding, which I always thought so strange, but have realized it’s highly contagious. I think I inadvertently nod my index finger at least 5 times a day! Nevertheless, to an inquisitive observer, the questions remain: is there a secret code known only to the Yucatecans? Does one sí actually mean possibly? Two sí’s mean maybe? and three sí’s mean probably not? Listeners beware.
I had this realization while talking with a girlfriend about her latest love interest. I was walking down the street on my way back home from my pilates class. It was hot as a Merida summer day and I was painstakingly trying to take advantage of the sliver of shade hugging the side of the street. She was voice messaging me terribly upset about her male friend, a Yucatecan. She is American and had been completely “humiliated and disrespected” the night before because her date had, by her standards, stood her up, leaving her showered, perfumed, dressed and staring at her phone. Over an hour later, he finally messaged but said that he was tired and maybe they could see each other another day. During this voice message rant, there was a long pause. I arrived home, but before I could even shower, she chimes in again. He had just called and wanted to take her to breakfast at the beach. She swore she wasn’t even going to shower until he arrived and would make him wait in her living room until she was done. The funny thing was that he was completely unaware that he had offended her. I had to laugh out loud. But this encounter got me thinking about how common that situation is, not only in the romantic sphere but in all spheres. Most Yucatecans run on their own clock and other people’s time really is not of the essence.
This cultural difference is one of the hardest to grasp and get accustomed to. The reason is that in the US, Canada, Europe and even other parts of Mexico and Latin America, not showing up for a meeting or arriving very late is exorbitantly offensive. We perceive it is an attack of sorts to one’s integrity. It is a blatant disregard for their time and, therefore, interpreted as a big “flipping of the bird” to the person who happens to be waiting. All the same, I have realized after living here for seven years, that Yucatecans don’t interpret their lack of punctuality or lack of follow through as offensive. Most times they truly aren’t trying to be offensive. They are just busy with something else at the time and don’t call you. It’s that simple. There is no big conspiracy theory or evil laugh behind it. Many times they are totally surprised when you are upset or threaten to cut them out of your life. Their genuine surprise and confusion have led me to believe for better or for worse that this is a Yucatecan idiosyncrasy that we just have to get used to. Outsiders have to just accept the fact that sí really means let’s see.
Disclaimer: There are some very punctual and dependable Yucatecans; I can think of several off the top of my head and give them a big shout out– you know who you are! The above observation is a generalization.