Mexican life

Tossing coins from the carriage

largess

THERE ARE NO two abutting nations on earth more different than the United States and Mexico.

They are not just economically different, the two nations embrace very different mindsets, which include different priorities.

On happiness scales, and you see such things in the news on occasion, Mexico usually ranks higher than the United States. This does not surprise me at all. I’m happier here too.

Mexicans live differently than Gringos in a million ways, some voluntarily, some not so voluntarily. The average Mexican earns far less than the average American. In spite of this, the overwhelming majority of Mexicans have a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, food in the tummies and cell phones in their pockets.

They’re doing okay, thank you.

Many Mexicans live the way Americans lived a century ago, but without the cell phones, of course. Did Americans in the early 20th century lack food, shelter, clothing, the necessities of life? Most did not. Most Mexicans in 2019 do not either.

The Mexican lifestyle is simply different than that above the Rio Bravo.

Having said that, let me add that Mexico has a significant middle class whose lifestyle is not all that different from the American middle class. This is no Third World nation.

Now to my gripe:

Americans come down here, either visiting or even living here full or part-time, and they see a country of woebegone, downtrodden, “oh, so friendly” people. Their hearts go pity-patty. Oh, these poor, poor people, look how they live. Gringos morph into “help” mode, and this expresses itself by their tossing cash around like drunken sailors.

This makes them feel very good about themselves.

I know how Mexicans react to this, but just to be sure I asked my child bride for an honest reaction, and she responded thusly:

Pensamos que son mensos y no saben el valor del dinero.

“We think they are stupid and don’t know the value of money.”

This often flagrant overpaying manifests itself in various ways. There is the colossal overtipping.  And there is the extreme overpaying for work done.

Why is this a bad thing? After all, Mexicans are “unfortunate” and need all the help we can provide, poor babies. Aside from the inherent paternalism, it tells Mexicans that Gringos are foolish spendthrifts and easily separated from their riches. This results in Gringos being routinely overcharged, and that affects all of us who live here.

My advice: Tip like Mexicans tip, which is normally 10 percent. I go up to 15 percent if the service is above average. If a tradesman does work for you, the price he quotes is what he considers fair even if it seems paltry by the mindset you’ve imported from above the border. Pay him what he asks. If you think the work was superlative in some way, give him a bonus, which should not be a staggering increase of 100 to 500 percent.

Yes, Gringos down here actually do that. They should not. This is a different world with different standards and price structures. Mexicans live by these standards, and so should you. They will take your money with a smile, but they won’t think better of you.

They’ll think you’re menso. El valor del dinero is different than what it is up north. Mexicans get alone fine without your charity. They’re already happier than you.

25 thoughts on “Tossing coins from the carriage

  1. Mandatory reading for all NOBs before crossing the border!! Neither we extranjeros nor the Mexicans need their ayuda menso. I am still learning after 19 years how to live with less of everything. Thank you.

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    1. Peggy: What prompted me to write this was a post on another Gringo blog yesterday. The writer had paid 400 percent more than a workman had requested for a rather simple (for a Mexican) chore. I responded that this common overpaying was not a good thing. Oh, dear! What indignant responses I received from other commenters, all Gringos, of course. I have no soul, said one. I just do not understand, opined another. I should “loosen my grip,” offered another. I missed the point, claimed yet another.

      It was laughable and typical. They all embrace the paternal mindset.

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    1. Ricardo: I don’t think thoughtlessness is the issue. Cultural differences, a paternalistic attitude, a superiority complex. Even so far as thinking of Mexicans as children in need of help. There is nothing good about any of it.

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  2. Oh, but Don Felipe, you’re missing the point. By overpaying, these people are buying themselves a pet Mexican, who’ll look up at them with adoring, brown eyes, ever so grateful for whatever is tossed their way, friends for life who’ll introduce them to the mysteries of Mexican life, like tor-tee-yas and hot tamalas, guiding them past the River Styx, and who’ll teach them the meaning of life. And it’s not just blue-collar workers who’re the beneficiaries of Gringo largesse, because even college graduates can find themselves treated to trips to Disneyland and interviews at graduate schools, because they’ve become the Gringo’s adopted children. That is, until the pet Mexican realizes that the E ticket just isn’t worth the price, whereupon the relationship severs, and all traces of the pet Mexican scrubbed from the Gringo’s Facebook.

    Yes, Felipe, you’re 100% right again.

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  3. Felipe: Correct, some think that they gain respect or indebtedness by overpaying. What they do is make workers think there should be a dual pricing system. Here we say, “if you don’t like our country, go back where you came from.” You should say, ‘If you want to pay that much, go back where you came from.” The cost of living used to be the biggest draw to retirees.

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    1. Kris: My wife tells me that her father used to grumble mightily at the overpaying by Gringos, and that was in the 1970s and 1980s. He’s long dead now. He maintained it often led to workmen only wanting to work for Gringos instead of Mexicans. But it was only one of many gripes he had about Gringos. He wasn’t too fond of us.

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  4. Great synopsis, Felipe. No doubt Mexicans are happier than Americans. They seem to live in the moment more than we do and put up with noise, construction and other imperfections better. NOB we have a lower tolerance for life’s hurdles and tend to grouse incessantly about the smallest of things. One thing I was wondering is why I don’t see more beggars, crackheads, mentally ill and homeless in Mexico? In Vancouver and many other North American cities, the streets are crawling with them. I expect there is less tolerance for that kind of behaviour in Mexico. We really need to get our act together NOB, but the bleeding hearts insist it is a violation of these people’s rights to take them off the streets and put them into rehab/detox, shelters or mental-health facilities. Mexico must be doing something right on this front.

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    1. Brent: You bring up a point that’s long interested me, and that’s the fact that when I lived in Houston I saw far more street people than I ever see hereabouts. And that was almost 20 years ago when I lived in Houston. I suspect it’s even worse now. I suspect the tight families we have here affects that to a great extent. As for street people above the border, it’s important to note that the phenomenon is far more prevalent in cities run by Democrats, not Republicans. It’s particularly become a growing infestation on the West Coast. I imagine that extends up to the West Coast of Canada too.

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  5. Generalizing about a country as diverse as Mexico is tricky, for either you or I. It’s like painting a landscape with an eight-inch roller. Both of us go on impressions, anecdotes and hearsay and not much hard data.

    In my experience, living standards drop precipitously as you head south, to places like Chiapas and Oaxaca where folks in the countryside in many respects live in the 18th century. As a reporter I wandered about a bit in Chiapas and living standards can be abysmal. Not quite Haiti or Honduras, but somewhere in the neighborhood. Hence part of the explanation for the Zapatista hubbub and the strikes etc. in Oaxaca. But I guess people in many wide swaths of the American Deep South are not exactly prosperous either.

    Even within a state like Queretaro, which is booming, in five minutes you can drive from glittering shopping centers full of Mercedes and BMWs, to slums with dirt floors with folks who don’t know what the next day is going to bring. Yep, there’s income inequality in the U.S. too, but boy, it seems more dire here.

    I get annoyed, though, at generalizations about Mexicans being happy and smiling etc. That’s almost sounds like the old stereotype about the happy n***gers pickin’ cotton and singing songs. I think there is a lot of frustration among poor people here that may boil over one of these days. AMLO’s election may have been a prelude to do with that.

    As far as tips, I don’t throw money out of the window of the car, but don’t apologize for being generous. We’ve given a lot money and stuff to Felix during his ten years working for us, and I can’t feel bad about helping a salt-of-the-earth guy, hard worker, who’s barely literate, with three kids, living in a three-room shack with no running water or even an indoor toilet.

    Some Roman philosopher, a Stoic I think, I can’t remember his name (I’m not Steve Cotton), once said “You should not fight a generous impulse” or something like that. It works for me.

    Damn, I think we might agree on some of this.

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    1. Señor Lanier: Certainly, prosperity diminishes on moving farther south in Mexico. No argument there.

      But I stick with my argument that we should pay like Mexicans pay and not toss money around willy-nilly to feel good about ourselves, and that’s a large part of what it’s about. As for your employee, Felix, he’s lucky to have found you and vice versa, I imagine.

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    2. Al, your relationship with Felix has been ongoing for a decade, going beyond the usual employer-employee relationship, and he and his family are more like shirttail poor relatives. You likely were not as lenient, nor as generous, with him in the early months of that relationship, because it takes time and experience to build those bonds. I think Felipe is referring to gringos who act like those lesbians who bring a U-Haul along on the first date.

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  6. Seeing two societies existing side by side, one in prosperity and the other in poverty, one has to wonder why the difference? My mother used to mark it up to the church keeping people bound up in superstition and then exploiting them. Add to that, self-serving politicians with lots of promises and no action. Failure to educate the masses makes the situation worse. Political indoctrination is not education.

    Lack of social mobility keeps people poor. Poverty of spirit is almost as bad as financial poverty. In Chihuahua, the Mennonite and Mormon colonies exist in modern prosperity, but outside the colonies, there is poverty.

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    1. Señor Gill: Poverty is relative. What many above the border see as poverty down here isn’t. It’s just a different lifestyle on a lesser level.

      The Mennonite phenomenon is telling. You are right. They live well, and many of their neighbors do not. What does that say? Exactly.

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  7. Very interesting, including the comments.

    I am notorious for “over-tipping” at restaurants here NOB if the service is good. One reason for this is that waitresses are paid so poorly for a job I could never do (by this, I mean refraining from killing a large majority of their patrons who I have observed to be rude, spoiled, and vain).

    I have never been to Mexico (except for a brief trip across the border from Arizona when I was very young), but I will remember your advice and that of your commenters if I am fortunate to go.

    I have been to Honduras, however, and I would agree with the implications of Alfredo’s comments regarding Honduras and Haiti. The poverty there is incredible. I was always irritated to see my fellow-travelers haggle with street vendors over something that was already cheap. The standard answer was “they expect you to.”

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    1. Ray: I almost always tip 15% here even though my wife has long assured me the standard is 10%. I will go up to 20%, abusing my own advice, if the situation is spectacular in some way, but that’s rare. As for Honduras, from what I have heard, that’s a very different situation from Mexico, a miserable place. I have been in Haiti, twice. Yipes!

      Amusingly, the comments here, and the comments on the other blog I mentioned were 180 degrees off. The other fellow has a different sort of readership, if you know what I mean.

      “They expect you to haggle” is a common way of looking at it, and it’s usually true, I suspect. No matter. I only do that when the seller is not clearly poor. I do not try to screw poor people. Others do. My sister-in-law does, and she uses that standard justification. Sad.

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