Mexico: A Lovely Rose With Thorns!
Love it or hate it: Mexico is very seductiveClick thumbnail to view full-size
"Manana" also means "Never."
Mexico Lindo (Beautiful) But it Ain’t All Roses!
Let me begin by saying I am deeply and utterly in love with Mexico and her peoples. But that is not to say the country hasn’t driven me bonkers on many occasions. It says a lot for the place that people return, time and time again, despite being frustrated by what are really nothing more than cultural differences.
Take time for instance. The Mexicans sense of time passing is different to that of North Americans and most Europeans. The Mexican says that if he is enjoying what he is doing at any given moment, it has just lasted longer that he thought, that’s all, so why should he quit just because he made an appointment to see you 3 hours ago? And he means this…sincerely. This is why plumbers, electricians, gardeners, a hot date, you name it, are universally late, sometimes by just an hour or so, but often by as much as a week - or never. Saying manana here doesn’t just mean tomorrow, it may well mean never. Mexicans don’t get upset by this, maybe because they weren’t at home waiting anyway! If you visit Mexico a lot, or live and work here, you will need to change your anal rules of punctuality, or be driven into mindless fury every waking day. Strangely, the things you wanted doing get done somehow, and, anyway, most weren’t of life threatening importance, were they?
There follows in today’s article, a few of the things that have annoyed me over the years, as well as many visitors to this enchanted land, “South of the Border.” We shall call them “Gringo Gripes.”
Gringo Gripe 1: Do as I say, not as I do.
Mexicans are consumed with patriotism and nationalistic zeal, saying, “Mexico, no hay dos.” Mexico, there’s not two like her. Warbling like canaries, mariachis tell of “Mexico Lindo,” see title, and sing of lovely parts of their Republic, yet throw trash around beaches, roads and public areas, even into their neighbour’s yards with a casual insouciance. But they have a logical answer for that, too. “Senor,” they tell you. “We are a poor country with little work, when we throw the trash on the streets, someone is given a job with wages to clean it up!” And they mean it, believe me, and it makes sense from their perspective.
Gringo Gripe 2: The Driver-Monsters.
The Mexican is one of the most civilized and unfailingly polite of all races until, like most Latin’s, he gets behind the wheel of a car. Then it is open season on dogs, cats, pedestrians…I often think Zebra and other crossings in Mexico should be labelled with the Skull and Crossed Bones, because you venture onto one at your peril; drivers have right of way by droit du seigneur here…isn’t that a right to have sex…? Yes, it is, when you venture onto a crossing here you are likely to get fucked!
Back on the road: A Mexican will lean on the horn just when the lights turn green: he will also do so as you were intending to stop on the amber, causing foreign drivers to scoot fearfully through the red light to avoid being rear-ended. Look sideways at this crazed macho and you will be treated to, “Shave and a hair cut, two bits,” on the klaxon. Here it means, “Chinga tu madre, cabron;” to do with you, the goat, having carnal relations with your mother. Best avoided at all costs by Gringos unless you are prepared to put ‘em up.
Gringo Gripe 3: The Taxi Thieves.
Taking a taxi, especially in Mexico City, where the drivers are friendly, chatty and informative can be a joyous experience. Often drivers speak passable English that they learned as a wetback working in Chicago. But there are too many bad apples in the bag for the trip to be fun every time. They are all supposed to have taxi meters, but they breakdown (you are told) as double the correct fare is conned from you. The only cure is experience and knowing what the trip should cost, give or take, for a particular journey. You firmly say as you enter the cab, “50 pesos, verdad?” it’s 50 pesos, is that right?” If he demurs, get out and get another taxi.
On the whole, the taxistas (drivers) are honest and you will soon learn the ropes. Careful at night, too, but this isn’t a “Nanny” column.
Gringo Gripe 4: The Western Union Rip-Off.
This swinish company practically has the monopoly on wiring money round the world and really takes advantage of it. They charge hefty commissions at both ends and are used to “legally” cheating poor Mexicans sending money back to Mexico from the US who have no other place to turn; If you do use them, make sure you have the money sent to a Mexican post office, not a private chain, like Elektra, it’s quicker, and much more politely handled.
Gringo Gripe 5: The Coffee Rip-Off
All Mexico’s resorts overcharge on an indifferent cup of coffee: and they rarely give refills without you pay twice. Brits are not so upset by this as it’s the same at home, although better quality. The other annoyance is no one wants to give you free water anywhere (against the law in most countries to refuse travellers a free drink).
Gringo Gripe 6: The Poor Animals.
Driving apart, if there is any one facet of the Mexican’s character that revolts me, it is their indifference, often verging on cruelty, where the treatment of animals is concerned. Visitors are reduced to tears at the sight of mangy, half-staved dogs roaming the streets everywhere. (strangely, you don’t see many homeless cats, maybe the dawgs eat ‘em?) The problem here is exacerbated by the low cost of pups and the fact they are often for sale in markets, or by wandering vendors. They stay cute until they get big and start to cost a lot to feed, and little Juan now wants a rabbit…you know, it’s the same to a greater or lesser degree all over the world. In Mexico, unfortunately, there’s no money and a lot of apathy to animal shelters and re-adoption, so the dog-catcher scoops them up now and again and they are put to death. (often by suffocation, sorry).
Then, or course, there’s bull fighting and cock fighting, but that’s not likely to change by you nagging anyone about it, it will, however, get you disliked…not worth it.
Gringo Gripe 7: The Deaf are Better Off.
Mexicans are either half deaf, or have a very high irritation threshold. They must have, as the TV and stereo is cranked up to glass-shattering levels everywhere you go. At any excuse, they will set up huge speakers at a handy street corner, with a Ranchero voice chanting “Aye, aye, aye, aye” to the oompa from trombones and trumpets. Or cars in places like the Malecon La Paz (Baja), with those bass boom box car radios turned up to the max. And no one really likes the Gringo asking them to turn things down or desist. “Hey, mano, vete a Peoria! (Hey, homey, go home!)
Gringo Gripe 8: Fighting With Cars Over the Sidewalk (Pavement).
People would love to be able to walk in safety around Mexico’s lovely rural towns, like Cuernavaca and Taxco, etc. Not to mention Mexico City’s leafy colonias. Anticipating this, the public works department, who despise pedestrians, have left or arranged all sorts of dangerous obstacles for those on foot to overcome. Such as trees and tree roots, loose cobbles, odd pieces of wire and rebar left pointing skyward, missing paving stones, open storm drains; overpasses that leave no walk areas, causing pedestrian-bugs to scuttle into passing traffic to reach the other side; and all the rest. But the worst obstacle of all are illegally parked automobiles which turn the sidewalks into a genuine obstacle course as you navigate around them, into the traffic, or wriggle past by squeezing between car bumper and a stone wall decorated with the odd scorpion, “Ooo, Sybil, I felt a prick“ Go on, then, but don‘t expect me to say it!.
Gringo Gripe 9: Aggressive Salesmen/Women
You finally drift off on the soft sand, your hung-over head in the cooling shade of a palapa, your bikini-clad bod in the hot Acapulco sol: WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT!!! You feel tiny feet running all the way down your flinching back. You twist your aching head around in fury to see a smiling little brown dwarf from Chiapas running a puppet up and down your sunburned spine. “I geev heem real cheep, meester!” it says. “LEAVE ME ALONE” you wail as you see two more vendors homing in on you, sensing blood. One is a poor wretch in rags dragging two snot-faced kids with her. All three have grubby hands held out to the “reech“ Gringa. “Sorry,” you plead, “I gave my last change to the two hundred similar who came by in the last hour!” “Freak you,” she snarls in Nahuatl as she shuffles off after her next victim.
The hotels and city hall, as well as the tourist department, have tried to get these offensive sales morons banned, but, back they come and it’s an impossible task in the everyman’s land, where the better-off meet the have-nothings.
These are just a few things which have nuisance value to foreign visitors. There are others: the cheap hotels are barbarous; you can’t drink the water in many places; yes, there are scorpions; sometimes the food makes you ill; and so on. But the good things must outweigh the bad, or why do we keep coming back??