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Guanajuato Living: The Way Life Really Is

I am miffed. I am sitting in my casita (little house) in Guanajuato moaning and groaning about something over which I have no possible control. I feel like swooning to the bed and uttering vile curses, but, as my wife often reminds me, “What good would that do?”

I have written about this aspect of Mexican life before in my books and columns—that which is stinging like a bee in my bonnet right now. I am sitting in front of a computer right now whose internet DSL connection ...

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I am miffed. I am sitting in my casita (little house) in Guanajuato moaning and groaning about something over which I have no possible control. I feel like swooning to the bed and uttering vile curses, but, as my wife often reminds me, “What good would that do?”

I have written about this aspect of Mexican life before in my books and columns—that which is stinging like a bee in my bonnet right now. I am sitting in front of a computer right now whose internet DSL connection is deader than a doorknob. I am sitting in a casita with not one drop of drinking water left to soothe my burning thirst. Dead Internet and not a drop of water is what are tormenting me right now as I hack out these words. “But things happen” you say and you are right. Things happen. The only problem is that when they happen in Mexico they happen here like nowhere else upon the earth (except possibly in the rest of Latin America, Spain, and Italy)!

As I have lamented before, life in Mexico as an American expat is smooth sailing until something bad happens. Until something comes up that requires even a small level of cooperation and a modicum of efficiency, life here is pretty good. The climate is great, the food is fantastic, cost-of-living is low, and we are treated fairly well by our Mexican neighbors. Truly the stereotypical hospitality of Mexicans toward foreigners is well deserved and easy to encounter even as tourist. All goes well until something doesn’t.

Something is bad now.

Inexplicably, when the guys who deliver the bottled drinking water get it into their heads to stop coming around your street, you are at the mercy of God Himself for your water needs. Without committing a cultural insult and actually confronting them, you simply have no explanation for why they will suddenly decide it is your time to die from dehydration.

The way this works is that the companies who bottle the drinking water send their guys in bottled-water laden trucks to cruise the streets yelling a plaintiff cry, “Agua…Agua!” You have to run to the nearest window and scream this back at them. They follow the sound of your screeching until they make eye contact. They ask how many bottles you need and then haul your water into your house.

This process falls apart sometimes. For reasons I cannot begin to understand, they will suddenly stop coming to your house. They will offer you no explanation for trying to kill you by dehydration nor will any of your dying neighbors know why either. You can call the company’s phone number and they will promise vehemently to come running to your aid with life-sustaining water. However, once again a “TMO” (Typical Mexican Operation) takes place when you finally reach someone to order water:

"They will swear upon The Virgin of Guadalupe (the patron saint of Mexico) that water is on its way and, of course, this means that it will never show up. Water will never come."

Currently, we are at 10 phone calls and counting. Our record so far has been calling for 7 days before they showed up with some water.

The internet, when it crashed, took us 25 phone calls before getting someone who could tell us they tested the line and that the trouble was on “their end.” The person gave the usual vain promise to get it fixed…I am not holding my breath! I will have to go to an Internet café to file this story.

Let me share a story that happened to us on the way to watching The Da Vinci Code:

We got to the movie theater thirty minutes before the ticket office was to open. Four o’clock rolled around and no ticket seller materialized. We stood in line, with scores of others, for forty-five minutes until some janitor appeared to reveal that he had finally been able to reach the theater manager’s cell phone. She was at a party and told this poor schmuck that she was having too good of a time to get away, and if someone wanted to, they could come and get the keys to the ticket office and sell tickets. Otherwise, she told him to tell us, we would have to wait for a later showing when and if she returned.

Now, I would love like anything to tell you that this sort of thing is an isolated incident.

It is not.

In fact, I can imagine this happening everywhere in this city and perhaps this country. I can imagine this philosophy of “Qué Será, Será,” or “The sun will come out tomorrow,” dominating everything that has anything to do with anything in this country! I cannot intellectually offer any other explanation for how life functions here. This sort of worldview dominates all aspects of life.

And, it is a different worldview: “Qué Será, Será, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see…Qué Será, Será.”

Lest you think this the rantings of a “crazy Gringo” (a term which Mexicans have called me to my face), let me tell you of a conversation I’ve had with a few Mexicans.

I’ve spoken with educated Mexicans who have had dealings with other countries on an academic or business level. What they’ve told me is that Mexico could afford to adjust this “The future’s not ours to see” worldview to become more efficient in their academic and business dealings.

One friend, a veterinarian, is trying to go to the States to earn a Ph.D. When he called the school from which he graduated here in Mexico to get a transcript, he was told that they didn’t have time to send his transcript to an American university. They told him to try back next year. Can you imagine?

One of my wife’s former ESL students is a Master’s level chemist. In the course of her job, she is often required to call companies in Mexico as well as the rest of the world for supplies. She tells us that when she calls a Mexican company, the representative tells her he will “get back to her.” He never calls. Or, the person tells her any information whether it is correct or not—TMO! However, in dealing with American, German, or Japanese suppliers, she is called back within the hour and with all the information she needs.

In the incident at the movie theater, one of our fellow victims was a young man who obtained his Master’s degree from an American university. When the manager of the movie theater finally showed up, he read her the riot act for making all of us wait. He ended up getting us into the movie for free. He was not willing to accept this Mexican worldview of inefficiency and…well, rudeness.

What else am I to call it? Is that my culture coming through? Perhaps. But, answer my argument and do not attack me personally by calling me a “Crazy Gringo.” This practice is inefficient and rude, is it not?

Most Mexicans, not all, seem to tolerate a level of service not tolerated outside of Latin America.

Americans and Germans could afford to adopt a little of the Mexican worldview of “Whatever will be, will be.” We are too anal-retentive when it comes to time. We could afford to loosen up a bit. And, things over which we truly have no control, we need to say along with our Mexican brothers, “Ni Modo” (I can’t do anything about it)…but only over those things that we really and honestly cannot control.

Calling someone back when you say you will, showing up on time for an appointment or calling to cancel, coming with the water when you say you will, showing up with the keys to the movie theater ticket office, fixing my Internet, etc… are all things which can be controlled.

Can they not?

 

The Plain Truth About Living In Guanajuato

Most of the books on the market dealing with the issue of expatriating to Mexico are fluff. I didn’t realize this until my wife and I got firmly settled into a daily routine here in Guanajuato that there was something those expat books on the market weren’t telling us. In fact, whether you read the books on “How to move to Mexico and live like the Queen of Sheba” or the vast amounts of online articles and websites, they all will pretty much be full of cotton candy and lots of...

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Most of the books on the market dealing with the issue of expatriating to Mexico are fluff. I didn’t realize this until my wife and I got firmly settled into a daily routine here in Guanajuato that there was something those expat books on the market weren’t telling us. In fact, whether you read the books on “How to move to Mexico and live like the Queen of Sheba” or the vast amounts of online articles and websites, they all will pretty much be full of cotton candy and lots of sugar coating.

We came to central Mexico expecting Nirvana. We thought we had arrived in Camelot. If this wasn’t a utopia, it surely had to be the closest thing to it compared to the United States. After all, Mexicans, we observed, seemed happy. They walk around laughing and smiling and seem like they enjoy life and are glad you came along to make their existences just a little bit better. We got a reality check. We got it fast and hard.

The first thing we noticed was that Mexicans, and maybe it is something peculiar to central Mexico, do things in public that would in America get them shot, stabbed, or taken outside into an alley for a sound beating. If you were to move here, you would soon see how that at a store counter, whether it is your turn or not, men and women will elbow you out of the way and shout their orders to the employee behind the counter over you. It is like no one has ever explained to them the concept of taking turns in a line. I mean this most sincerely and seeing this happen daily never ceases to disgust me.

The other day, my wife was standing in line for some tamales. My wife had given the order, paid the man, and the man was serving up our food on little paper plates. A woman simply elbowed my wife in the ribs knocking her away from the counter and began shouting her order at the server. This is not an isolated thing. It happens constantly. There you are, it is your turn, and someone, usually another woman, will act like you aren’t even there or are a piece of trash to be kicked out of the way.

I’ve been yanked off buses so some Mexican can cut in front of me. I’ve been pushed, knocked off the sidewalk, not once but twice, and into the path of an oncoming bus that hit me both times. I wasn’t seriously hurt since I am writing this and not pushing up daisies.

In every aspect of life in Guanajuato that requires lining up or queuing, the “good” people of Guanajuato are totally committed to disordered chaos!

You should try walking down or up stairs. They come up in a massive, throbbing blob of humanity and seem not to know that there can be two lines on a stairwell: one descending and one ascending line of people. They honestly don’t seem to understand this. They go up or down the stairs in one gigantic throng with no sense of anyone else around them. And if you are descending the stairs when the Mexican mob is ascending they either all stop and stare at you or simply knock you down, out of the way, or carry you back up the stairs requiring you to start over.

I was once in a drug store at the cashier when a young man grabbed my right arm and shoved me out of the way. Can you imagine the consequence of this event occurring in the United States? Knives and guns would soon come out and that would be all she wrote.

I cannot explain this to you. We are fluent enough in Spanish to ask and have been told that these are “malcriados”—ill raised. But, here’s the thing: Those who tell us this are from other parts of Mexico where apparently they aren’t so “malcriados.” I do not know if this is true or not.

I am writing this article because of an event that happened just this afternoon. My wife and I were trying to eat in what we would call in the States a deli. My poor wife stood in line waiting while the young woman served all the Mexicans first before waiting on my wife who was clearly there before all the Mexicans were. This has happened before to us.

There is a restaurant here called “Truco 7” where the waiters will wait on all the Mexicans before bothering with the gringo slime—which is how you are made to feel. We won’t go there anymore because of this and I use my writing venue to discourage Americans and Canadians from eating there.

This also happened to my friend, a retired District Attorney, who was told he and his date would have to eat in the kitchen because the gringos were not allowed to eat with the Mexicans. He was told this to his face. The owner didn’t like Americans and this is how they get treated—to the kitchen with you, gringo man. This was at a different establishment that is now defunct.

I’ve written about this before and am moved to cover the topic again because frankly I expected more of the Mexican people.

Some Mexicans tell me this is specific to Guanajuato and the surrounding areas. I just do not know.

Some will say things like, “Well this doesn’t happen all the time.”

Just what does that mean: “All the time?”

How many times is too much? Is one act of anti-American sentiment acceptable whereas two acts aren’t? Are we talking about a matter of proportionality? Should we come up with some sort of scale that we use to determine how many acts of discrimination constitutes too much? You hit ten events and then you get to feel a little pissed but not before then?

I am appalled at any act of discrimination, any time, any amount, and in any fashion. Percentages do not count when it comes to this sort of thing, don’t you think?

So far, I’ve been:

• Pushed off the sidewalk twice and in the path of a bus that hit me both times.
• Yanked off of the first step of a bus twice.
• Pushed out of the way in a drug store once.
• I’ve been passed up by cabs and buses so many times I cannot count. They will stop if a Mexican is with me but rarely when I am alone.
• I’ve been passed up in restaurants while the waiter helped Mexican clients who came into the place long after I did.

And, really this happens so often that I tend to lose track of how many events. I’m thinking about collecting the stories from the other American expats here for a chapter in a new book.

The closest thing I can compare it to that makes any sense is that the people of Guanajuato, especially when on the street walking with them, appear to be functional autistics.

If you’ve ever worked with the population of the disabled you know what I mean.

You are just a thing to knock out of the way, climb over, ignore, or go through like you aren’t even there. I cannot get a grip on this with any other explanation. It as though you do not exist. Invisible.

I have emails from other Mexicans from other less “provincial” parts of Mexico who have reported the same observations about their fellow Mexicans in Guanajuato.

What am I going to do? I don’t know.

But maybe, just maybe, this is part of the adventure.

What I do know is that as a writer I will never present an unrealistic, Pollyanna view of what it’s like to live in Mexico as an American expat.

That much I do know.

 

Want To Rent A House Or Buy A House In Guanajuato But Can't Speak Spanish

In central Mexico, San Miguel de Allende is virtually the only place where you will find English spoken so massively that you will not have to learn how to say two words in this beautiful language. If the rest of central Mexico looks interesting then you are going to have to get bilingual and learn to speak Spanish.

What happened in San Miguel is beginning to happen where my wife and I have lived since 2003. Gentrification is happening at such a high rate of speed that I s...

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In central Mexico, San Miguel de Allende is virtually the only place where you will find English spoken so massively that you will not have to learn how to say two words in this beautiful language. If the rest of central Mexico looks interesting then you are going to have to get bilingual and learn to speak Spanish.

What happened in San Miguel is beginning to happen where my wife and I have lived since 2003. Gentrification is happening at such a high rate of speed that I see Guanajuato turning into an other San Miguel in less than five years. The locals are beginning to sense the handwriting on the wall and are scrambling to hire Mexicans that are bilingual to accommodate the Americans and other English only speakers who are moving into Guanajuato.

This is how it began in San Miguel de Allende. When the word got out that it was cheap to live in beautiful San Miguel de Allende, the Americans swarmed in like locusts. They ran up the prices of everything you can imagine. And soon, the locals became bilingual. They had to in order to offer their services to the Gringo population that now numbers in the tens of thousands. That’s why you can go to San Miguel and live perfectly well (that is if you are Bill Gates rich) and never have a problem with the language.

That’s happening now in Guanajuato.

There are real estate agencies that are scrambling to hire bilinguals. There is also a fellow, with a website, who will, for a price, negotiate anything and everything for you since he is bilingual. If you do not speak a word of Spanish (a tragedy) and want to move to Guanajuato (an even bigger tragedy) then this guy is your man and he will take care of all of your Spanish needs.

I list him for you as a matter of courtesy. I do not know him.

All I know is that he offers this service:

Want to Buy a House in Guanajuato City?

Don’t have any ideas how to approach and deal directly with Mexican People?

Afraid of being "abused" because you are not familiar with Mexican and Guanajuato Business Culture, Laws, Locations, Neighborhoods, and Language?

Don't worry!, we have the solution for you by offering:

REAL ESTATE CONSULTANCY

(We are NOT a Real Estate Agency, We work FOR You) Our Services Include:

• Arrangement of appointments, directly with Owners.

• Visits to the properties.

• Simultaneous Interview Translation (English to Spanish and Spanish to English). You can ask about anything that concerns you.

• Assessment on area or neighborhood growth potential, accessibility, communications and services. • Assistance in value assessment.

• Price Negotiation assistance and advice.

• Information concerning repair and remodel.

• Advise on Security and Safety issues in relation to locations.

• Services for coordinating purchase and the legal process.

Price:

Free initial interview (10 to 15 minutes). $15 US Dollars per hour, a partial hour counts as an hour, cut off on a daily basis. $15 US Dollars per week to local phone calling to coordinate appointments and search properties. Taxi fees when necessary. (From $3 to $6 US Dollars one way trip).

Payments must be made on Fridays.

We accept U.S. Dollars, Euros and Travelers Checks, no personal checks nor credit cards.

Special rates apply for written translation and other services, please ask.

Contact: Hugo Rodriguez. / Phone: 73 22383 (Within Guanajuato City) 011 52 473 73 22383 (From The U.S. & Canada) (+) 52 473 73 22383 (From Other Countries)

English, French and Spanish Spoken.

We accept U.S. Dollars, Euros and Travelers Checks, no personal Checks nor Credit Cards.

I imagine more and more of these services coming up in the weeks and months ahead. I was told recently that the list of gringos waiting for properties is longer than the available supply. It is sad. What will happen is the same identical thing that happened to San Miguel de Allende. The culture will be transformed by most rich monolingual Gringos who cannot, because they want not, to learn Spanish.

The wife and I are looking for a place where Gringos would fear to tread as a new home.

It ought to be very interesting.




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