It’s all semantics: Wouldn’t you rather “win” money than earn it?


It’s all in how you say it. It’s been two years here and I’m still fascinated by the differences language here…how the words used speak volumes about the culture.

Specifically that in English you “earn” money, as opposed to Spanish, in which you “win” money, translated as ganar dinero

This opens up an entire book of worms on how Mexicans view money. In many ways, money is viewed not as something earned in this country, but as something is something given, by whomever, God, luck, family, good connections, etc. It’s a lottery and one day your number will be called. Almost as if hard work isn’t valued, or at least in a different way than my gringo counterparts do.

Yet the system cannot be compared to that of it’s American neighbors. Hard labor does not yield the opportunities that it does in the United States. There isn’t much room for advancement within the social classes.

In turn, Mexicans resort to a common practice, best summed up with the phrase, “El que no tranza, no avanza,” meaning that if you don’t swindle, you won’t get ahead. Sadly, even if you worked hard for all the money that you have earned in Mexico, the consensus is that in some way, shape or form, you had help. Daddy asked for a favor, a friend got you that job, you look the part, you cheated someone, etc. The point being, it was not of your own doing and there is no way it could be.

Yet, in the same way that Mexicans feel money is given, they spend it as if it was, as well. Never have I seen more extravagant parties or purely ridiculous spending, as if money is of no importance. And of course, if it is merely won, why should it be? Money then comes and goes in a vicious cycle, to have, to have not, to be spent, but never to be saved.

I still laugh to myself at a man I saw in the metro a few days back, raggedy clothes and all, carrying a freshly purchased chocolate fountain in hand. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said to myself. “Where are his priorities?”

But then again, I get it. I’m a fan of parties, too. And an even bigger one of chocolate.

photo from

2 thoughts on “It’s all semantics: Wouldn’t you rather “win” money than earn it?

  1. Very interesting insight into the cultural aspects of money and it’s (lack of) importance. I’ve always felt Mexicans were much better at living in this moment then they were at planning for some future point in time. This is yet another example of that. I think there are benefits to both, but I happen to love that part of the culture (minus the corruption component that comes from thinking you have to”swindle” to get what you want or that you did to get what you have.

    • Wendi, I totally agree with you…I love that they live in the moment…it’s one of the things that I admire most about the culture…unfortunately the big city and Mexico’s proximity to the US complicates the mentality a bit.

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