Do Mexican people need to quit the siesta?

Mexico has been leading this OECD ranking since 2008. Credit: Forbes

Mexico has been leading this OECD ranking since 2008. Credit: Forbes

Stereotypes affect how we perceive the world and its inhabitants. They depend on several factors like geographic location, history and traditions. Every nation in the planet is victim of stereotypes and one of the most prevalent stereotypes about Mexico is the laziness of its citizens.

Some people think that “siestas” (afternoon naps) are common in Mexico. In reality, it’s a rare custom in the country. Spaniards introduced this habit into the daily routine of Mesoamerican civilizations, but most of the Mexican population doesn’t commonly practice it.

But the classic stereotype of a lazy Mexican under the shadow of a cactus with a big hat and a colorful sarape is still commonly used. In the 1800s, during the hottest hours in rural areas, peasants may have carried out this practice to protect themselves from the harsh sun after hours working -- since agriculture work start at sunrise.

The world has changed during the last two centuries and Mexico is not an exception. Since then, thousands of people left the croplands for big cities, trying to find a better life for their families. Because the farmer’s workday goes from dawn to dusk, it isn’t surprising that many Mexicans of rural origin are accustomed to working more than eight hours a day, even though the salaries are low.

According to an OECD report published in 2014, Mexican workers spend the most hours working, with a yearly average of 2,228 hours. In comparison with the 1,371 hours worked in Germany or the 1,664 hours in Australia, it’s surprising that this nation still holds the “lazy” stereotype.

An aspect intimately linked to work is salary. It seems logical that the more you work, the more money you earn. But the 2014 OECD stats are overwhelming. For example, the average annual wage for The United Kingdom was $54,350 (1,677 hours worked). Canadians earn $56,518 yearly and work 1,704 hours.

What about the hardest working countries? In Greece, workers made $24,444, while Koreans received $31,614. Meanwhile, Mexicans made $9,306. Mexican law sets the minimum wage at 73.04 Mexican pesos per day, which is barely $4.

Only the 5.8 percent of the total population in Mexico earns the minimum wage, but that percentage is equal to almost 7 million people, with 53 percent being women.

Incredibly, 17 percent are older than 60 years and 57 percent work in activities related to commerce and services.

Guillermo Vazquez works in the service industry and spends 72 hours per week in a hotel, six days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. “This is the reality for me and it is difficult to find a better option, I just want the best for my family,” said Segura, a father of two children in the state of Veracruz, “Honestly, I like my job, it’s a lot of time but I’m used to it since 11 years ago when I started to work here.” The four extra hours worked daily by Guillermo make the difference for him and his family.

The cost of living in Mexico is cheap in comparison with most of developed nations; but the obsolete, antiquated Federal Work Law hinders the development of this nation, benefitting a few at the expense of many more people willing to put the maximum effort every day in pursuit of a brighter future.

It’s possible that other stereotypes about Mexico are close to the truth, like those referring to the warmth of its people or the love that Mexicans have for their national food. However, none is so distant to reality than calling Mexicans lazy. In Mexico, people have to work incredibly hard and long hours to survive.

Cover credit: Dave Granlund (edited)


Santiago Pinan