Guanajuato Living: The Way Life Really Is


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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?



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