Conduct and Customs
New Mexico is a part of the United States, but it can sometimes feel quite foreign, particularly in the high mountain Spanish villages and in the Indian pueblos. Basic courtesy still rules—starting with limiting your cell-phone use in public, which is looked on with a bit of derision in both the cities and the small towns. Also, women should dress somewhat modestly for visiting the older Catholic churches—at least put a layer over a tank top.
New Mexico is not a wealthy state, and the gap between rich and poor can be very wide. People don’t generally appreciate conspicuous displays of wealth, and it’s doubly rude to flash cash, fancy gadgets, and jewelry in tiny villages and pueblos. (On the flip side, well-off tourists who dress in tattered jeans and beat-up shoes are also a bit confounding; locals tend to dress as well as they can.) Be thoughtful when taking photos, particularly of people’s homes—always ask permission, and consider that some of the more “scenic” elements of New Mexico are also the products of poverty, which some people may not be proud of your capturing on film.
You can help the local economy by favoring New Mexican–owned businesses, rather than chain operations. Also try to buy directly from artisans wherever possible. In these situations, don’t get too bent on bargaining—the item you’re buying represents not just raw materials and hours of work, but a person’s particular talent, skill, and heritage; insisting on an extra-low price belittles not just the item but the artisan as well.
Pueblo and Reservation Etiquette
Visiting pueblos calls for particular behavior. Remember that you are not at a tourist attraction—you are walking around someone’s neighborhood, so peeking in windows and wandering off the suggested route isn’t polite. If you want to take photos, you’ll need a camera permit, for an additional fee; always ask permission before taking photos of people, and ask parents, rather than children, for their consent. Most pueblos ban alcohol as well—if not all the time, then certainly on feast days.
Some pueblos are more welcoming than others—San Ildefonso, for instance, is open year-round, whereas Jemez is completely closed, except for some feast days. It doesn’t pay, then, to go in the off times in order to have a less “touristy” experience, because the more private pueblos will not be at all welcoming to strangers poking around among their homes. The most rewarding time to visit is on a big feast day. You won’t be the only tourist there, but you have a better chance of being invited into a local’s home. Some Pueblo Indians find loud voices, direct eye contact, and firm handshakes off-putting and, by the same token, may not express themselves in the forthright way a lot of other Americans are used to. Similarly, a subdued reaction doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of enthusiasm.
© Zora O'Neill from Moon Santa Fe, Taos & Albuquerque, 2nd edition