Six Months In Mexico/Chapter 32
leaving the fibers attached, and the natives use them as a needle, already threaded. Paper is made from the pulp of the leaves, and twine and thread from their fibers. The twine is woven into rugs, mats, sacks, ropes, harness, even to the bits, and dainty little purses, which tourists buy up like precious articles.
The wonderful productive powers of this plant do not end here. The expensive cochineal bug, used for coloring purposes and for paint, counts this maguey its foster-mother. On its wide leaves does it live externally and internally until the gatherer comes and plucks it off, probably to color some dainty maid's gown in the far distant land or tint some sky of an artist's dream.
Yet maguey thinks it has not done enough for mortals, and it accomplishes one more thing for which the Mexicans would treasure its memory but Americans would gladly excuse it. Clinging to the shadiest side, in a childlike confidence, is a long green worm, similar to the unkillable cabbage worm of the States. Peons in a gentle manner, so as not to crush or hurt, pluck these tender young things, and, putting them in a vessel, bring the fruits of their work to town. Nothing can be compared to the way and haste in which people buy them. Fried in butter, a little brown milk gravy around, and they are set on the table as the greatest delicacy of all Mexican dishes. It is needless to add that the natives eat them with wonderful relish, and are quick to say “We know what these dainty things are, but you folks eat oysters!"
Among the most interesting things in Mexico are the customs followed by the people, which are quaint, and, in many cases, pretty and pleasing. Mexican politeness, while not always sincere, is vastly more agreeable than the courtesy current among Americans. Their pleasing manners seem to be inborn, yet the Mexican of Spanish descent cannot excel the Indian in courtesy, who, though ignorant, unable to read or write, could teach politeness to a Chesterfield. The moment they are addressed their hat is in hand. If they wish to pass they first beg your permission. Even a child when learning to talk is the perfection of courtesy. If you ask one its name it will tell you, and immediately add, “I am your servant” or “Your servant to command.” This grows with them, and when past childhood they are as near perfection in this line as it is possible to be.
When woman meets woman then doesn’t come “the tug of war,"but instead the "hug and kissing;" the kissing is never on the lips, but while one kisses a friend on the right cheek, she is being kissed on the left, and then they change off and kiss the other side. Both sides must be kissed; this is repeated according to the familiarity existing between them, but never on the lips, although with an introduction the lips are touched. The hug—well, it is given in the same place as it is in other countries, and in a right tight and wholly earnest manner. From the first moment they are expected to address each other only by their Christian names, the family name never being used.
The parlor furniture is arranged the same all over Mexico; the sofa is placed against the wall and the chairs form a circle around it; the visitor is given the sofa, which is the “seat of honor," and the family sit in the circle, the eldest nearest the sofa; the visitor expects to be asked to play the piano, which she does in fine style, and then the hostess must play after her or commit a breach of courtesy, which social crime she also commits if she neglects to ask the guest to play; visitors always stay half a day, and before leaving she is treated to a dish of fine dulce, a sweet dessert, cigarettes and wine; then mantillas are put on, blessings, good wishes, kisses and embraces are exchanged, each says “My house is yours; I am your servant," and depart. All the rules of decorum have been obeyed.
When men are introduced they clasp hands, not the way Americans do, but with thumbs interlocked, and embrace with the left arm; then the left hands are clasped and they embrace with the right arm, patting the back in a hearty manner; the more intimate they become the closer the embrace, and it is not unusual to see men kiss; these embraces are not saved for private or home use, but are as frequent on the streets as hat tipping is here; the hand clasping is both agreeable and hearty. They clasp hands every time they part, if it be only for an hour's duration, and again when they meet, and when careless Americans forget the rule they vote them very rude and ill-bred. Undoubtedly, as a nation, we are.
On the street a woman is not permitted to recognize a man first. She must wait until he lifts his shining silk hat; then she raises her hand until on a level with her face, turns the palm inward, with the fingers pointing toward the face, then holds the first and fourth fingers still, and moves the two center ones in a quick motion; the action is very pretty, and the picture of grace when done by a Mexican senora, but is inclined to deceive the green American, and lead him to believe it is a gesture calling him to her side. When two women walk along together the youngest is always given the inside of the pavement, or if the younger happens to be married, she gets the outside—they are quite strict about this; also, if a gentleman is with a mother and daughters, he must walk with the mother and the girls must walk before them. A woman who professes Christianity will not wear a hat or bonnet to church, but gracefully covers her head with a lace mantilla. No difference how nicely she is clad, she is not considered dressed in good taste unless powdered and painted, to the height reached only by chorus girls. Four years ago, the Americans tell me, the Mexican women promenaded the streets and parks and took drives in ball-dresses, low neck, sleeveless, and with enormous trains; this has almost been stopped, although the finest of dresses, vivid in color, and only suitable for house or reception wear, are yet worn on Sundays.
Everybody wears jewelry, not with good taste, but piled on recklessly. I have seen men with rings on every finger, always excepting the thumb; and the cologne used is something wonderful. You can smell it while they are a square off, and it is discernible when they are out of sight. A man is not considered fashionable unless he parts his hair in the middle, from his forehead to the nape of his neck, and dress it a la pompadour. The handkerchief is always carried folded in a square, and is used alternately to wipe his dainty little low-cut boots and the face. Afterward it is refolded and replaced in the pocket.
Visitors are always expected to call first to see their friends when in town, as it would be a great breach of decorum for a family to call on a visitor before he or she came to their house. If two or more people meet in a room and are not acquainted they must speak, but not shake hands; they can converse until some one comes, when they will accept an introduction and embrace, as if they had just that instant met. When one occupies a bench in the park with a stranger neither must depart without bidding the other farewell, and very often while murmuring adieus they clasp hands and lift hats.
Mexicans in talking employ a number of signs which mean as much to them and are as plainly understood as English words would be to us. They speak their sign language gracefully; indeed, they are a very graceful people, and yet they never study it or give it a thought. When they want a waiter in a restaurant, or a man on streets, they never call or whistle, as we would do, but simply clap the hands several times and the wanted party comes. The system is very convenient, and far more pleasing than the American pan. When wishing to beckon any one, they throw the hand from them in the same manner as Americans do if they want any one to move on. To go away, they hold the fingers together and move them toward the body.
They never say that a man is drunk; it sounds vulgar, and as they will "get that way," they merely place the index finger on the temple and incline the head slightly toward the person meant. They could never be abrupt enough to say any one was crazy or had no brains, so they touch the forehead, between the eyebrows, with the first finger. To speak of money they form a circle of the thumb and forefinger; to ask you to take a drink or tell the servants to bring one, the thumb is turned toward the mouth; to ask you to wait a little while, the first finger is held within a quarter of an inch of the thumb. To hold the palm upward, and slowly move the palm backward and forward says as plain as English “I am going to whip my wife," or "I whip my wife.” If they want you to play a game at cards, they close both fists and hold them tightly together. Touching the thumb rapidly with the four fingers closed means you have much or many of anything, like many friends. Making a scissors sign with the fist and second finger means you are