Here is one. The Mexican people have no change. Not the truly Mexican restaurants. Not the cab drivers. Not the butcher, the baker, or the candlestick maker. I do not know who is hording all those 200-peso and 100-peso notes and all those ten-peso pieces, but they are certainly not in circulation in any real numbers. One of the first words in Spanish that I learned is cambio, which is “change.” One of the first real sentences was, “I do not have anything smaller.”
The upshot of this situation is that you often face the strange situation of having to walk out of a store unable to purchase the item you wanted because you have too much money in your pocket, or more precisely, the money you have in your pocket is in denominations that are too big. This irritates gringos.
What is too big? Not much. A 500-peso note is worth roughly 36.75 American dollars. You will have trouble spending that 500-peso note in a day-to-day Mexican commercial establishment. Forget about credit cards. This is a cash economy in the real street. And therein lies the big upside. If you cannot spend the money, you perforce become thrifty almost against your will.
Now you may ask, “Why don't you simply go into a bank and change that 500-peso note?” Come on. I am not going into a bank and deal with a bank teller and ask him or her to change a bill worth 36.75 American dollars. Maybe I should, but I am not gonna. For one thing, I would spend it then.
Next, you will find that nearly all Mexican businesses have an horario posted outside by the front door. (Why the Spanish-speaking peoples even bother with an “h” is beyond me. It never makes a sound.) This is a sign setting out the hours when that business opens and closes. One soon learns that the horario is a statement of opinion not of fact.
The Spanish phrase I find myself encountering and now using myself more than any other is mas o menos, “more or less.” The implicit footnote on all horario is mas o menos. That horario is often off by up to an hour, sometimes two. Sometimes the business closes abruptly at some whimsical hour. Sometimes it does not open at all.
Now what is the upside of that? The upside is that you either calm down and go with the flow or you go crazy. And if you get the hang of calming down and going with the flow, it becomes a very serene, laid back lifestyle. With just a little practice, mas o menos becomes a way of life that feels soft and comfy like an old shoe.
Nobody is going to do anything bad to you if you are late for your 3:00 p.m. thing because you could not get something else done at 1:00 p.m. In fact it does not even cross their minds to think the less of you. The beautifully simple reason is that EVERYBODY lives in the world of mas o menos along with you. You may just have to take my word on that one.
I recently read a blog-like internet posting on a local site maintained by and devoted to local gringos. An American expatriate was ranting about a movie theater that did not open on time in the evening. Someone also waiting outside the theater knew the proprietor—I have no idea how--it's a small town--and had telephoned her. The proprietor, it turned out, was at a party that was too good to leave.
This gringo was steamed. He closed his little posting with his opinion that what México needs is a business plan, the country and everybody in it. I was stunned that he could so thoroughly miss the whole point of this deal down here. If he is so enamored with business plans, he should return to the United States where you get business plans run up your ass every day of the week, every hour of the day. Even the churches in the United States of America have business plans.
I am adding an addendum. That is what you do with addenda, isn't it? Add them?
At times here it may appear as if I am making unfavorable comparisons with the United States of America, that I am disparaging the United States of America. I wish to declare once and for all that I love the United States of American from the bottom of my heart and am acutely aware of how much I owe to the United States of America. It is just that loving the United State of America as deeply as I do is like being deeply in love with a beautiful woman who fucks around on you. Sometimes it is utterly embarrassing and humiliating. But to give her up is out of the question.