There are two things that as a little girl I always wanted to do but couldn’t: roll my rrrrr’s and whistle. To be quite honest, both still more or less elude me, although I am getting closer to pronouncing perro correctly and hailing a taxi via a whistle rather than a crazy arm-swinging dance at the side of the road.
A few months ago, I began to realise the importance of whistling in Mexican culture. It is something that I think you can almost miss, but once you notice it, it is everywhere.
To hail a cab, whistle hard and one will seemingly appear from nowhere. To get the attention of the guy selling water below your window, give a quick sharp whistle and he will come to your door. Where perhaps in England, whistling might seem rude, here it is the best way to get someone’s attention. The getting-attention whistle, is called the ranchero whistle and appears to find its roots on the ranches of Northern Mexico. It sounds a little something like this and if you happen to get one of these in the ear, it can be pretty painful.
Another brilliant thing is that loads of families seem to have their own whistle. If your child gets lost in the supermarket, there is no need for the intercom to tell them to come to lost and found, simply whistle and they can follow the trail and be reunited with their family, they just have to know which tune you are listening out for. Here are a couple of family whistles:
Whistles are also used to replace speech. For example, amongst friends there is a “hell yeah” whistle. For example, in response to “Did you get free tickets to that concert?” the person would just whistle
and then asked “How did you manage that?” another whistle is used to basically say “I have my ways”
Taking this to a whole new level, the Chinantec people of Oaxaca, have an entire language based on whistling. Farmers can communicate across the misty mountains simply through the use of different whistles. This fascinating video about them is definitely worth checking out.
Have a listen out in the next few days to see just how many times you hear people whistling, you might be surprised.
Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist. Her work has been featured in BBC Travel, CNN Travel, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR and The Independent among others. Check out her portfolio here. Contact Susannah by email, info [at] mexicoretold [dot] com and join her on Instagram and Twitter.