The street sweeper

The suburban street on which I lived for nine years (1986-1995) in Houston never required sweeping. I never swept it, and no mechanized street-sweeper ever passed by either. It just stayed clean.

The situation in my hardscrabble barrio now, however, is quite different. It often requires sweeping, and if I don’t do it, nobody does. I did it this morning after a lengthy spell of ignoring it.

The photo does not do the situation justice. It was worse than it appears. First, I use a rake to sift up the plastic cups, the junk-food wrappers, pieces of tossed paper, etc., left by ill-bred passers-by.*

That all goes into a trash can. Then, using a broom and dustpan, I sweep the sidewalk and, far worse, the street of dirt.

The dirt goes into a bucket — two trips today — and I lug it down the street — it’s heavy! — just beyond the white wall on the right side, and I heave it into a ravine.

Speaking of my previous home in Houston, as I’ve mentioned here in the past, I gifted it to my ex-wife a few months after our divorce. Though she was living there, it was entirely mine, but I was concerned about her, and I stupidly gave it to her. What was I thinking?

She did send me a nice card which said: Thank you forever!

Forever was short-lived.

We continued on good terms for the five years I remained in Houston. When I moved to Mexico in 2000, I asked if I could park my pickup in her driveway because I did not know if my Mexico adventure would pan out. When it did, I asked if she could sell the pickup a year later.

Nah, didn’t want to be bothered. I had to fly up there and do it myself.

Just recently, due to our advancing years, I emailed and asked if she has me down to get my house back if she dies before me. Nah, she’s leaving it to someone else.** It’s worth about a quarter-million dollars now, far more than we I paid for it in 1986.

And she doesn’t even have to sweep the street.


*That’s what my Houston neighborhood lacked: ill-bred passers-by.

**She’s never remarried and has no children, so Lord knows to whom she’s gifting the my house.

The insipid smile

This is such a widespread characteristic of Mexican culture that I am surprised that I’ve never addressed it before. It’s the insipid smile! And here’s how it works.

Where you encounter the insipid smile almost invariably is in a restaurant, coffeeshop or retail store, but most any business will do, and mostly you get it from employees, but business owners are not immune.

It’s the Mexican way of dealing with a customer complaint. Your cappuccino is almost pure milk? Your toast is burned? There were suspicious stains on your hotel sheets? Your huevos rancheros are stone-cold? And you say something about it.

Will you get an apology? Will you be offered a replacement? Will you get a reduction on the check? No, you will get none of these things.

You will get silence, an insipid smile, a moment’s pause, and the recipient of your complaint will rapidly walk away.

I recall only one occasion in which I have lodged a complaint and received not only an apology but a replacement. And it was a Gringo owner of a restaurant, not a Mexican.

I’ve wondered about this routine response to complaints. In part, it’s due to the fact that Mexicans are extremely nonconfrontational, which means they receive few complaints and are flummoxed when faced with one.

Another aspect is that embarrassment runs rampant in this nation. Pena, vergüenza. Words you hear often. It’s usually women who are perpetually embarrassed, but men are not immune.

My latest encounter with this annoying phenomenon occurred this week. I left sheets and towels at a laundromat. The woman at the counter said they would be ready the next day.

A Mexican’s face is a mask and so is his smile.

— Octavio Paz

I returned the next day and the day after that and the day after that. The laundromat was always strangely closed. On the second attempt on the third day, I finally found the place open. I walked in, said something like, “At last, you’re open!”

The counter woman gave me silence and the insipid smile.

I pressed on with, “This is not a good way to run a business.” No reply. She placed my stuff on the counter in silence, and pushed the bill toward me. I paid. Not a word from her. No apologies. Silence.

Sadly, this is very typical. And counterproductive.

I’ll be using a different laundromat in the future.

A Mexican family

In April of 2002, I became an insider of a Mexican family. It was the difference between night and day, the stuff I was privy too, things I heard. More than anything, less lying.

Mexicans are marathon liars, most of which are what we call fibs in English, little white lies, not fatties like Hitler saying he has no plans to invade Poland, that he’s okay with the status quo. But, more often than not, asking a Mexican a question will produce an answer the responder feels most comfortable with, regardless of its connection to reality.

The day before my marriage in April of 2002, I received one set of information from the kin. The day after, I received a contrary set, all relating to the same topics. The change was drastic. They stopped lying to me. And that continues to this day.

Well, mostly. Lying is deeply ingrained in the Mexican culture.

I can be standing right there when, for example, someone asks my child bride something. She responds. Moments later, the questioner departs, and she turns to me and says exactly the opposite. She’s telling me the truth while she told the other person what she felt most comfortable with.

Mexicans loathe discord of any sort whatsoever.


Relatives everywhere

I rarely write about my Mexican family here. I used to, years ago on the previous website, but I don’t now because it could be chancy. I like these people, mostly, and want to maintain harmony. Not one of them speaks English, but you never know.

Mexicans are famous for family ties. I imagine that’s a Latino thing, not just Mexican, but I only know Mexicans. I’ve long had a theory about this family fixation/obsession.

Mexican history has been tumultuous and violent. Corrupt governments have focused little on helping citizens. So the citizens are on their own, usually, and that makes family very important.

Not only have governments been unreliable, so has the Catholic Church. It’s corrupt too.

When my child bride first speaks in the morning after waking, it’s something about a relative. The last thing she talks about at night before turning out the light is something about a relative. Most of the conversation during the day concerns relatives.

I do not know if this is typical, but I suspect it’s quite common.

For contrast, let’s look at my last wife, the second one. She also was one of 10 children in a Catholic family, but they aren’t Latinos. The siblings were almost never topics of conversation.


Difficult times

My Mexican family has a difficult history, more so than most, I imagine. My child bride’s father was a family doctor/surgeon in a small town in the State of Michoacán. He kept his wife pregnant full-time till she died having the fifth baby. She was just 31. Stranded, he needed help fast, so he remarried quickly, not choosing too well, it turned out.

Take care when choosing spouses, something I learned late.

Take care when choosing spouses.

The baby assembly line resumed with the second wife. There were five more kids, splat, splat, splat, etc., plus a sixth out of wedlock from a girlfriend. Now we’re up to 11. The doc, to his credit, treated the 11th as an equal, no shirking of responsibility.

The 11th is now a locksmith in Morelia.

After his first wife died, due to the overload of kids, the doctor sent one to live with a sister, another to live with a brother, keeping three with himself and the new bride.

We are fewer now. Two were murdered in unrelated incidents. One died of a heart attack a couple of years ago in his early 50s. My child bride now has just two full siblings, four half siblings, plus one sibling of one quarter, the aforementioned locksmith.

Some are quite successful, and some are dirt poor. One half sister, a mechanical engineer, is married to a German and lives in Germany. One full sister has a degree in agronomy, though she’s never used it. One of the deceased brothers also was an agronomist, but he was murdered at age 26.

One half brother has a shady past that he abandoned many years ago, deciding to go straight. He owns a Chinese restaurant in Querétaro. Another half brother is in a wheelchair due to an affliction that was poorly treated in a government hospital. He is married to an indigenous woman from Oaxaca, and they own a laundromat in Querétaro.

A half brother and a half sister, one in Querétaro and the other in Morelia, are always just squeaking by, wondering where the next tortilla is coming from. Their lives never change. And it’s not circumstances or bad luck. It’s just them.

Personalities matter.

One full sister, the one deposited decades ago with her aunt when Mama died, owns a coffeeshop she inherited here on the mountaintop. The other full sister, with the agronomy degree, spent her work life as a rabble-rousing teacher. There was never a street protest or highway blockade that didn’t have her name on it.

She’s retired from that, and now owns a small store selling something or other. We do not get along, but it’s not due to her radical politics. It’s the same reason I don’t get along with my own sister: She screams at people. Never a good idea to scream at me.

It’s never a good idea to scream at me.

So what I lost family-wise above the Rio Bravo, a sister and a daughter, I have more than made up for down here with what seems to be 10,000 relatives who are the source of endless conversation. And I haven’t touched on the nieces, nephews and assorted spouses.

That would require an effort on the scale of War and Peace.

The Legal Mexican and bad cultural habits

WHEN I SWITCHED WordPress themes almost a month ago, some things were lost in the transition. One was the Legal Mexican logo that you may see now to the right, depending on where you’re reading this.

It’s been reinstated because I take pride in being a Legal Mexican. The term is even part of my primary email address, which is visible on the “Felipe” page. You’ll find a link in the header. Say hi.

I believe the term is disturbing to the political left because of its proximity to “illegal alien,” which is usually associated with Mexicans in the United States who have not bothered with the inconvenient detail of obeying the law.

Yes, the Legal Mexican is a hot-button term, which is why I use it.

There are two Yahoo forums that focus on our neck of the Mexican woods. On my bookmarks, I have them labeled Commie Forum and Capitalist Forum. Given the sort of Gringos and Canucks who move to Mexico, you can likely guess which forum is the most lively. Hint: It ain’t the Capitalist Forum.

I’m a member of both, but I’ve been banned a time or two from the Commie Forum, not because of any trouble I’ve caused but because of my politics, which are obvious on the Moon though I never mention politics on the forum.

You might wonder: Why even bother with them? Because I occasionally see some useful information there.

The forum focuses on helping old people and orphans, the occasional movie schedule and announcements of hikes through forests. I do not help old people and orphans. I don’t go to local movies (exception: Coco, which I wrote about here), and I don’t hike through forests.

Nor do I attend their monthly cocktail parties at a restaurant downtown. I don’t drink. I don’t need to polish my English. And I don’t want to lament Hillary’s (or Bernie’s) loss in last year’s election. I rejoice in it.

My posts on that forum are very rare. I’m mostly a lurker. When I do write something, it stays in limbo for a day while, I imagine, it’s examined for any hint of “wrong thinking.” Sometimes I get published, sometimes not.

(In contrast, when I post something on the Capitalist Forum, it is immediately visible to one and all across the globe.)

* * * *

Bad Mexican habit

A few days ago, I ventured a post on the Commie side, and it never appeared. I think I know why, and it had nothing to do with the topic.

I signed off with the term “the Legal Mexican.” Oh, dear!

The post I left should have been of interest. It wasn’t about feeding old people and orphans, movie schedules, or hiking in forests. It was about a bad Mexican habit. Of course, the post might have been rejected due to its negative aspect about us Mexicans who are all absolutely lovely people.

Here’s what I pointed out: Mexicans often hide prices on things they’re trying to sell. This habit is completely counterproductive as countless marketing studies have pointed out above the Rio Bravo. But it applies equally here.

I was responding to a forum post by a Mexican woman advertising a house for sale. She, of course, mentioned no price, which is one of the first things anyone would want to know. Email her, she said instead.

A for-sale ad with no price is silly.

Why do Mexicans do this? Because there is no set price. A Mexican wants to get a look at you or at least get a feel for you, particularly a feel for your economic status. The better off you seem, the higher the price you’ll be quoted.

(This is often misunderstood as the Gringo Effect, but it applies equally to well-off Mexicans. It does, however, usually apply to Gringos due to their being perceived as universally wealthy and foolish with money.*)

This practice means things are not sold as quickly as they might have been had a price been attached to the initial advertisement. When there is no visible price, a percentage of potential buyers move immediately to other matters.

Listen up, paisanos! No price = reduced buyer pool.

It’s part of the Alice-in-Wonderland aspect of living in Mexico, which I mentioned in the previous post about Magic Dirt.

On further thought, maybe my entry’s disappearance did have to do with the topic, not the signature line of Legal Mexican. Or both.

Only the Goddess knows.

* * * *

* If you’d quit colossally overpaying for everything and stop leaving massive tips, maybe Mexicans would stop seeing you as easy pickings. By the way, don’t ever buy a house that’s priced in dollars. I mean, really!