(I should mention, incidentally, that there is nothing louder than a group of gringos who, when convened in public, somehow feel the need to show off what a marvelous time they are having, with eruptions of offensively loud cackles. It’s their money, they can spend it however they want to.

— Carlos Fuentes

We Americans really are quite loud. I was reminded of this a few nights ago when having dinner with Iris, my sister and grandparents in an intolerably noisy restaurant. Mexicans, by comparison, are quiet — almost muffled — in their speech.

The difference I believe is this: in so many aspects of life Mexicans refuse to yield. The logo on each piece of Sanborns chocolate is famously two horse carriages facing each other, the memorialization of a week-long standoff between two gentlemen on Madero Street that each refused to back up and let the other pass. This has always seemed to me an apt representation of Mexican pride.

But speech is an exception. Outside of one’s vehicle there is still a clear social order of who should yield to who. There is hardly ever an escalating competition for who gets to speak. So rarely does so much entitlement sit around the same table, and when it does it is articulated with what seems to Americans to be exaggerated formality. In the US, on the other hand, it’s typical that someone will make an offhand remark that triggers an “oh my god, that reminds me of something I have to tell you, which is then interrupted by another “oh my god, oh my god,” each interruption raising the volume of the conversation until everyone is practically screaming at one another.

We walked out of the restaurant to the parking lot and I felt exhausted. I had been yelling for the previous hour just to be heard. I looked forward to the conversations with friends back in Mexico City, just loud enough to be understood.

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