Sunday, July 6, 2008

Do Unto Others...

Years ago I watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which Giles, Buffy's Watcher-Mentor in the never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the Vampire slaying life, was trying to comfort her in a moment of emotional conflict when someone she trusted and believed "good" turned out to be bad.

"How can you tell," Buffy asked, "who the good guys are and who are the evil ones?"

Giles, in his very British accent, asked if she wanted to hear the truth or a lie. Her choice was, "lie." He proceeded to tell her that all the good guys always wore white hats and did only what was good and virtuous. The baddies wore black and did the evil in the world and that's how you can tell.

Liar…was her reply.

This has been a sort of guiding principle in my writing about Expats in Mexico issues over the past five years.

I have chosen not to tell potential expatriates who move to Mexico that all the Mexicans, without exception, wear white hats and go about doing only good. I have refused to create an impression that Mexicans are waiting for you, the potential expat, to come down here to buy their property, which they will sell to you with full disclosure (they won't). I will not tell you that all Mexicans are full of benevolence and are "eager to please" the gullible American (they aren't).

This is a common phrase in expat literature one finds online as well as in some books: Eager to Please. I have read this phrase too many times in too many different publications for it to be a coincidence.

Doesn't this sound like someone describing the difference between a recalcitrant dog breed compared with an obedient, more easily trainable one?

Sheila Croucher, author and professor of political science at Miami University in Ohio, wrote:

"It may matter little to U.S. employers or friends and relatives in the United States that so many Americans now reside in San Miguel, but how does their presence affect Mexican residents? Sitting on a bench in the Jardin, one American woman who had been living in San Miguel for eleven years assured me, ' They love us here.' ("They Love Us Here": American Migrants in Mexico; By Sheila Croucher)

But, do they?

During our first year of living in Guanajuato, we began to notice that bus drivers and cab drivers refused to stop for us when we attempted to hail them on the street. If a Mexican was standing near us and was also waiting for a bus, the driver would stop. If we were on a street corner waiting to hail a cab and a Mexican suddenly appeared, the cab driver would stop for the Mexican, though we were there first. The driver, I suppose, assumed we arrived after the Mexican. This also goes for trying to cross the street. Rarely will a driver yield to you when you are trying to walk across a street unless a Mexican is also standing there waiting to cross.

In 2004, we got to know a Gringo, a retired attorney from the States, who was denied seating in a choice section of a restaurant because that section was for Mexicans only. He was relegated to a table near the kitchen rather than in the balcony where there was plenty of available seating. This friend spoke excellent Spanish and asked the waiter why he couldn't sit in the other section. He was told that the owner hated Americans and this was the reason for the bias in seating arrangements.

There is another restaurant in town where the waiters will wait on all the Mexicans first before taking your order. At first we thought this was just our misinterpretation of the wait staff's actions. We began asking other Gringo expats who eat at this restaurant about their experiences. We found two couples who now boycott the place because of this practice of waiting on all the Mexicans before waiting on foreigners.

My wife does all the shopping for us. In too many instances to count, Mexican women have shoved her out of the way at a counter while she was trying to conduct her business with the proprietor. Often, she has already placed her order when a Mexican woman actually lays hands on her and yanks her back away from the counter. There has been at least one incident when she had a bruise on her arm from being yanked away from a counter. When the clerk has filled my wife's order, she has to snake her way back to the counter while the Mexican women sneer at her and make comments they assume she can't understand (my wife speaks Spanish, so she does understand them).

Another thing my wife encounters is being laughed at when ordering something. Though my wife is pronouncing what she needs clearly and articulately, the Mexican employee(s) will pretend they don't understand her. They will try playing her along for as long as they can.

This happened to another Gringa friend. She was trying to order a taco or quesadilla, but the owner just kept saying that she couldn't understand my friend. Though her accent isn't the greatest in the Spanish-speaking world, she is understandable. My wife, too, has trouble with a good accent but is understandable. She has many Mexican friends with whom she speaks Spanish and has no trouble. So, why do the Mexicans do this?

Passive Aggression. They would rather have the sick satisfaction of razzing a Gringo than make a sale. They won't be forthright with their feelings and confront you. But they will play this passive-aggressive game of pretending they don't understand you.

January 2008: It was reported to me by a very reliable source that a group of Americans and one New Zealander who were attending one of the local Spanish schools decided to go to a local disco (Mexico still has discos) for a good time on a Friday night. They were told that their Gringo Kind was not welcomed there and were denied entry.

Just try getting into a cab. One American woman, here for a year of study, hailed a cab, opened the back door to enter, when a middle-aged Mexican woman suddenly materialized and took a seat. The Gringa asked her to get out or move over to share the cab but the "lady" was unyielding.

Another thing you will encounter is for the cabbie to refuse you service. Another gringo couple we know got into a cab only to have the cab driver tell them that he didn't want to take them to their destination and to please get out. At the time we heard this story we had never experienced this. However, if you live here long enough, it will probably happen. Just last week, a cab driver refused to bring us home from downtown because there was too much traffic in our neighborhood. We got out and hailed another cab. When we told the cab driver where we wanted to go, he readily agreed to take us. As it turned out, the traffic in our neighborhood was lighter than usual. Go figure.

June 2008: We had a bucket load of groceries, so we hailed a cab to take us home. We entered the cab. When we told the cab driver where we lived, he said that was "too far" and told us to get out of the cab. Though we both speak Spanish, we've learned not to argue. It won't work. We got out of the cab.

A Gringo friend moved to Guanajuato and spoke almost no Spanish. He attempted to rent a little house. The landlady told him that if he paid for at least six months in advance, she would cut him a deal. He paid for the six months…to the tune of several thousand dollars. A few weeks into his occupancy, the REAL LANDLORD showed up looking for the rent. This female scammer made off with about six thousand dollars. She was not the landlord. If you don't speak Spanish, you can't ask around to find out who the real owner of the property is.

The Jehovah's Witness group is very big in Guanajuato. They will frequently come to your door or approach you on the street or in one of the parks. We always use this opportunity to practice our Spanish and politely turn them away (and we are polite).

We know the chief missionaries in the church. They moved here several years ago from California. One day, one of them was walking with a fellow "JW" down a street when a Mexican woman came bursting out of her house and screeched at them to go back to America. She also told them how she wished all of the expats would leave town and stay gone.

At least two people, a Mexicana and someone who had been married to a Mexican man for about 20 years, told us the same story: English, and the Americans who speak it, are resented. In fact, in my conversations with both of these people, I was told this love-hate relationship with America and Americans is fostered from a very early age. The Mexicana told us that Mexicans (and she re-emphasized this point) are taught from a very early age that the American is meant to be exploited (swindled).

Her husband, an American, had to fight off a cadre of Mexican men trying to extort money from him every time he left the house. And, I mean fight in the literal sense. They would stand outside the gated wall of his house each morning to try to get him to give them money for booze and cigarettes. He would always refuse, so they would then attempt to take it by force. Fortunately, his U.S. Marine training came in handy and he always prevailed in the fight. Strangely, these Mexican men never tried this tactic whenever he left the house with his Mexican wife.

Eventually, this guy and his wife moved back to the States.

Let me conclude with what I think is the greater wrong.

You will never hear the Gringolandian inhabitants mention this in the books they write, the websites they erect, or in polite conversation. They will paint a picture of Guanajuato (and Mexico in general) as being a sinless perfection where nothing could possibly go wrong.

They will, in fact, deny the events I've describe take place at all. They will tell you that since they've never seen or experienced such events, the events never happen. Instead, they accuse me of making things up. (How do you like that piece of reasoning?)

If you insist on writing or talking about your observations, the Gringolandians will go to such extremes as to threaten your physical safety to shut you up.

"Do they love us here?"

Correct me if I am wrong, but it doesn't look like it to me!

It is wrong to imply otherwise!

(This article does not apply to all Mexicans or to all Gringos without exception.)

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