Alcohol is by no means a bastion of Mexican culture, and making friends rests more on good-spirited conversation than spirits in shot glasses. Though people might prompt you to try something alcoholic, this will usually have more to do with showing off than goading you on: Mexicans love seeing tourists baulk at their powerful tequila and chilli-infused beer.
Yet there are far more exciting ways to make an impression in Mexico; not drinking need not be an issue. From Mariachi dances to fruit juice with cheese and chilli powder, expect scintillating opportunities at every turn…
Whether you’re a drinker or non-drinker, people in Mexico will still share the love. Here, embracing friends, air kissing and expressing a fondness for someone is common, and is not particular to the state of inebriation.
Mexicans love finding out about people and discussing their culture to boot; no social lubricant need facilitate this kind of exchange, and turning down drinks won’t usually incur a challenging response. Be wary of refusing food though, particularly if someone has cooked or recommended it: sampling national cuisine is not a choice, it’s an obligation.
In Mexico, dancing is taken seriously, so whether you’re in a club or trying your hand at the jaribe tapatio – a national dance – you’d do well to shun alcohol anyway – idiocy is not particularly welcomed. That said, Mexicans applaud people who give it a good go, so if you’re asked to dance, say yes, and expect to be led through all manner of skirt-swishing, heel-clacking moves.
For those who favour less frenetic activities, check out a cinema multiplex such as Cinamex or Cinemark, where movie food is a little more varied than popcorn: viewers can order the likes of sushi, burritos, and pizza to munch on during the film.
Not that Mexico isn’t brimming with its own cultural merits: the Casa Azul, once home to artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, is at the epicentre of Mexico City’s seismic art scene, which also comprises the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo, the country’s largest collection of Mexican and international modern art.
Of course, artistic feats don’t have to be confined to a museum, and you’ll find stunning examples of handicrafts, clothes, jewellery and paintings on flea markets. Visit Puebla, about an hour south of Mexico City, for one of the largest outdoor markets Mexico has to offer.
Agua fresca– translated literally as ‘fresh water’ – is arguably Mexico’s most delicious non-alcoholic drink and can be found on street stalls and beach bars across the country. A refreshing combination of ice-cold water, fresh fruit juice and sugar, this simple drink spells the perfect end to a hot, lazy day. Cantaloupe, watermelon and strawberry are among the most common flavours; expect a colourful, pulpy drink with oodles of flavour.
For those more daring souls, the option of trying gaspacho should not be passed over. Visit the town of Morelia, in the central state of Michoacán, and imbibe their version of what in Spain would be a cold soup. A controversial marriage of tropical fruit and mild cheese, served swimming in juices and bronzed with dark chilli, even the locals aren’t sure if this is a drink or a desert, but that doesn’t stop them queuing tirelessly for the stuff. Expect a surprise twist in what would otherwise be a veritable power-house of nutrition: Mexicans love to add salt to sweet things.
For a sodium-free thirst quencher, try Arizona iced green tea with honey; fairly-priced cans abound in Mexico. One of the country’s more aesthetic imports, these drinks stand out in vending machines for their pretty exterior: look for a cherry blossom branch set against a willow-green background.
Testament to their becoming ever more internationalised, Mexico’s bigger cities boast all the potable mainstays you’d expect from a globalised cafe culture: chai tea, iced coffee and skinny lattes are, quite literally, the order of the day.
Don’t bypass the opportunity to try some ’tisanes’ though; delicious herbal infusions made from fresh oregano leaves, these traditional hot drinks are said to be rich in antioxidants.
What’s the most unusual non-alcoholic drink you’ve tried in Mexico? Think you can top agua fresca? Let us know!