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The Slight Bathroom Confusion for the New Expat in Latin America

Published June 11, 2022 in Mexico - 0 Comments

There's a very slight confusion that some gringo expats can come across when living down here in Latin America.

Especially if they are native English speakers.

Even if you speak Spanish well and have been here for a long time, it's possible you could somehow fall for it once in a blue moon if you aren't thinking clearly and are rushing into the bathroom.

Going back almost a decade to when I was new to Latin America, the first time I remember noticing this was when I was at some bar in Guatemala with another American named Adam.

I've written about him I think a few times on my blog. He was a pretty cool dude overall. Here's one similar story about him in this article here.

And, on that day, we were just sitting down having a few beers and he had to take a piss.

Now, keep in mind, he was new to Latin America and was in Guatemala to learn Spanish because his work involved dealing with lots of Latinos in the US and they paid for part or all of his trip to Guatemala to improve his Spanish.

At any rate, he has to go to the bathroom and immediately walks into the woman's bathroom.

Not intentionally though.

The second he walked in was the second he took a step back because he saw a bathroom full of women assumingly.

Immediately, some noise could be heard from the bathroom and I turned my head around to see Adam at the woman's bathroom with one foot in and one foot out.

And he's looking up to see the letter "M."

The other bathroom had the letter "H" but he didn't look at it I guess.

Just saw the one with the "M" and maybe he assumed it meant "Man" because he was thinking in English?

Or whatever the confusion was.

....Too much beer?

That too!

At any rate, Adam seemed confused.

And one of the women inside the bathroom was now visible and saying something to him.

I didn't understand her at the time as my Spanish was shit. Adam didn't either.

Then the bartender notices this and tries politely instructing Adam that the male bathroom is the other one.

Or at least I assume he was because I didn't understand what he said very well either in Spanish.

But the story ends there.

Adam didn't understand the dude very well either but walked a few steps back, pointed at the other bathroom and gave his best broken Spanish to the bartender.

Something that was probably like "this one?" or whatever he said.

He walked into the right bathroom. Finished his business. Back for another beer and chat.

I remember saying something to him about it but forgot what it was I said.

He ended up saying something like "yeah, I mistook the M for men."

And that was that.

Back to beer!

A Bathroom at UNAM Campus

A decade later and I'm still living in Latin America.

I know Spanish a lot better now and understand that "M" means mujeres.

.....Or I think it does. I never asked anyone.

But I know it's for women obviously.

The "H" is for men or "hombres."

At any rate, it wouldn't surprise me if even expats who have been here long enough notice this small detail also.

I'm sure not everyone does but maybe a few out there can relate.

Just the other day, I was walking around a museum on UNAM campus in Mexico City and needed to take a piss.

While I wasn't confused and knew which bathroom to use, I did see the lettering "M" and "H" and, to be honest, my English native brain did initially think "men" for "M."

But, before I even chose a bathroom door, I knew which one to go into.

Enough time here and it's not confusing anymore.

But I've known other expats -- like a friend of mine named Blayde -- who has fallen for this confusion despite years in Mexico and who knows Spanish.

It's again nothing more than your brain thinking in your native language (English) and you see the "M" and think "men" because you naturally think in English more often than Spanish.

Though I do sometimes catch myself thinking (and dreaming) in Spanish also but obviously not as much given it isn't my native language.

So the native language sometimes can confuse us when you see something like that "M."

At that day in UNAM, the confusion only lasted for a second and it reminded me of the topic.

Took a photo of the dreaded "M" and the "H" here.

But that's all.

It's a very, very minor detail to life in Latin America as a native English-speaking expat.

And, maybe for native speakers of other languages, perhaps a greater lesson here is that they also might have their own nuances where certain bilingual moments might cause confusion.

For myself, another example would be the word "sopa" where, if you are still new to the Spanish language, you might see that to mean "soap" when it actually means "soup."

So it is what it is.

Got anything to add?

Drop a comment below in the comment section.

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Thanks for reading.

Best regards,


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