I will say darn near anything in an Uber or Lyft ride, especially in Mexico.
Since Uber came to Mazatlán, I can count my life as complete. Taking cabs has always been a positive thing in my life as an expat in Mexico, giving me the opportunity to have a 15-20 minute Spanish practice session on practically any topic several times a week. Cab drivers in Mexico are typically friendly and many are well-read.
To have Uber in Mexico lets me take the conversations to a whole new level. Like in the U.S. most of the drivers in Mexico have other jobs, many quite successful in them. Salaries across the board are lower and even educated, successful professionals often work several jobs to maintain an upper-middle class lifestyle.
These jobs are also often disparate, unrelated. A doctor may maintain a working farm, a psychologist work as a secretary, an architect as an artist. Uber conversations are a great way to learn about people's lives and working in Mexico (as well as where to find a battery for your Android).
For people as naturally social as Mexicans, driving around and chatting with people for 20 minutes at a time for actual money probably seems like the easiest work they could ever do.
I try to make my trips exercises in creativity. Sometimes I blurt out something like “I just bought new socks!” Or try out a joke, “How many Juans does it take to screw in a light bulb?...Just Juan!” or bemoan the disappearing habitat of polar bears. It's all up for grabs.
Everything and anything is on the table, including giving the young drivers a laughing ration of grief for depending too much on their GPS systems in a practically ancient Mexican colonial town that they were most likely born in (Mexicans on a whole don’t migrate outside of the cities where they have their networks, but that’s changing with each generation).
Mexican Uber drivers (the vast majority are men) are unusually good-natured about the whole thing, probably owing to characteristically having close relationships with their mothers, which they tend to transfer in their attitude toward any older woman. They seem to almost expect a certain amount of nuttiness.
The one somewhat uncomfortable thing about Uber drivers in Mexico is that they will almost always try to hustle you for off-the-book work, pressing upon you their private phone numbers, something that never happens in the U.S.
I felt a little threatened initially until almost every subsequent driver did the same thing. It feels a little like being a 23-year old in a bar again, "Yes, yes, of course I'll call you."
Although I did keep the number with one female Uber driver who is also a house-keeping supervisor at the Hotel El Cid, it’s Uber’s tracking system that makes ride-services safe. And I wouldn't undercut Uber - I want it to stay around. It has made my life infinitely easier and a good bit more amusing.
Once I had the opportunity to be one very young driver’s first passenger ever. Although he had lived in Mazatlán practically his whole life, he didn’t know where the El Cid Marina was, prompting me to ask if it was his first Uber ride or his first time driving a car.
In spite of my brashness, I’ve never lost my five-star rating (I ask the drivers to check for me from time to time). I’d be a little afraid to read their comments.
In my defense, I’m a ridiculous tipper - the least I can do in exchange for their putting up with my (There’s just no other way to say it)... bullshit.
Another difference with Uber in Mexico is that you have the option to pay and tip in cash, Mexico being a cash-driven country where far fewer people have credit cards. Like the U.S., the fares tend to be a little lower than a cab.
If your Spanish isn’t good, it’s essential to have the exact complete address (which are often more complicated and exotic-sounding in Spanish) of where you’re going and as much information about nearby landmarks as possible. If you don’t speak any Spanish at all, I’d stick with traditional cabbies who have more experience with tourists and sign language.
Thirty cities in Mexico, and many of the popular expat destinations like Mérida and San Miguel de Allende now have Uber.
While the idea of car-sharing hasn't caught on in Mexico to the extent it has in major American cities (I think they are more fond of their cab drivers than we were), it's interesting to note that Mexicans I talk to consider it at least as safe as cabs, maybe safer.
Kerry Baker is the author of the "Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online." Making every day different has really helped me be consistent with learning Spanish. Daily study is essential. These curated tools keep it fresh and interesting. Also check out, "If Only I Had a Place" on renting in Mexico, written specifically for potential expats.