Another cord cut

IT SAT IN my email folder at dawn on Monday. Your account has been canceled. Your credit card, that is.

My last Gringo card. Zapped for inactivity.

I moved south 16 years ago with four credit cards, all issued by U.S. institutions and all paid in full every month via the checking account I opened in 1999 at Banamex USA,* the U.S. branch of the Mexican behemoth Banamex.

I’d been a longtime Wells Fargo Bank customer, but I was planning my move to Mexico.

sailor-knot-9-ana-maria-edulescuThe four cards were a Wells Fargo Mastercard, an AT&T Universal Visa and two other Visas from another bank, somewhere in the Dakotas, the name of which I have long forgotten.

The two Visas from the Dakota bank were the first to go. I had to cancel them both 12 years ago after one was skyjacked by Sky cable television down here. Never give Sky your credit card number for recurring charges.

That is very good advice for most Mexican firms.

That left me with two credit cards, which didn’t concern me.

A few years later, Wells Fargo sent a renewal card to my post office box here. But due to living in Mexico — a shady land, you know — they insisted I go to a bank here and jump through all manner of hoops to prove I am who I am.

Screw that, I muttered to myself as I cut up the card.

That left me with just one card, the AT&T Universal Visa. I was starting to get a little nervous. To have a backup, I went to Banamex here where I had a checking account and requested a credit card. They gave me one with a $10 limit, only a slight exaggeration, and there was a fat annual fee too.

About a year later, I got a hair up my keister about something, and I canceled the card. I hadn’t used it much.

So, back to just one credit card.

THE LETTER

Then the letter came in 2014 from Banamex USA. Your checking account will be canceled shortly. That happened due to a new U.S. law known by its initials, FATCA.

It’s all Barry Obama’s fault, of course.

Banamex USA was my only way to pay off the U.S. credit card. No other option existed.  I do not now qualify for another U.S. bank account. No U.S. address or driver’s license.

That effectively nulled my last credit card. But I never canceled it because, I thought, maybe one day I might need it, though I could not imagine how, where or why. I held onto the account, my final Gringo credit card, a lifeline.

There was no annual fee.

For many months, I was left only with a Banamex debit card, which is not as secure as a credit card, especially online.

I asked for my Banamex credit card again. They wouldn’t reissue it. It was due to FATCA, but they danced around that fact. Irked, I canceled my Banamex account that I’d had for 14 years. They didn’t seem to give a hoot.

Heartless, greedy capitalists!

HUNTING ALTERNATIVES

I opened a checking account just up the street at HSBC-Mexico. I asked for a credit card. Not just yet, they told me. Later maybe. Later came and went. No credit card.

So I went even farther up the street and opened a checking account at Bancomer, still keeping the one at HSBC. Again, I requested a credit card. Wait three months, they said. I waited, and they gave me a credit card. Yipee!

And another for my child bride. For this and other reasons, I’ve become a yuuuge** Bancomer booster.

I requested a credit card from HSBC many times, and they always said no with little explanation. I gave up. Months later, out of the blue, they asked if I wanted one.

I said sure. Go figger.

So now I have credit cards at both Bancomer and HSBC. I also had my AT&T Visa, the Gringo card, till this week, useless as it was, an emotional tie to the old country.

Gone now, like so many other cards and cords.

FORGET AMERICA

My goal these days is to have as little to do with that troubled land above the border as possible. The norm, it seems, for Americans living in Mexico is the opposite, to keep connected to the greatest degree possible.

They keep bank accounts, addresses, homes, relatives. You name it, they keep it. Their Mexican ties seem tenuous.

They’re always visiting up north. They’re always having friends bring down “stuff” they can’t find here, stuff they think they can’t live without. Someone recently posted on a Yahoo forum catering to local Gringos a list of “essential” stuff one needs from above the Rio Bravo. I guffawed.

  1. Workshop tools, as if you cannot find tools in Mexico.
  2. Down comforters, as if Costco doesn’t offer them, and so does Bed, Bath & Beyond.
  3. Mosquito nets, as if they’re not easy to find here.
  4. Smartphones. We Mexicans still use tin cans and string.
  5. Up-to-date laptops. Best Buy, Walmart, Sears, etc., in Mexico just sell crusty Commodores and dusty Ataris.
  6. Linens “to fit your bed.” Somehow, my Mexican linens always fit my beds, both king and queen.
  7. Walking sticks. Certainly, no walking sticks can be found here. I wonder where I found mine?
  8. Good binoculars. Only defective binoculars are sold in Mexico, of course, leftovers from pirate times.

That’s just some of the stuff I saw on the list, all of which is available in Mexico. Do they cost a bit more at times? Sure, but factor in your minuscule electric bill and fresh, cheap veggies and low restaurant tabs, you’re way ahead.

And the beautiful women.

I don’t go north anymore, nor do I have things smuggled down. It ain’t necessary. You can live quite well here with what’s available, and that’s what I try to do.

And now I have no Gringo credit cards at all.

If you read all this, you’re a better man than I am.

* * * * *

* Banamex USA is closing entirely this year. There has long been talk of its involvement in money laundering. HSBC’s reputation along those lines isn’t much better.

** Trump allusion.

(Note: There is a Mexican credit bureau. It has no connection with credit bureaus in the United States, so you start from scratch below the border no matter how good or bad a credit rating you had in the United States.)

A better Mexico

MY CHILD BRIDE spent six months in Spain in the late 1990s doing postgraduate studies.

She often got her panties in a twist due to European attitudes toward Mexico, that it was a backward nation where most roads were still made of dirt.

When I arrived below the border about four years later, most of the roads were not dirt, but the highway system certainly needed some improvement.

That has happened in spades. Many of our highways now are better than what one finds above the Rio Bravo.

* * * *

Nice chains

We have lots of great stores from above the border. Sears, Costco, Walmart, Sam’s Club. And chain restaurants. Chili’s, McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Sirloin Steak House.

Plus many more.

Recently, Bed, Bath & Beyond opened in the nearby state capital. It’s indistinguishable from its stores in Houston or Atlanta. I love that place.

* * * *

Checks and water

Years ago I wrote hereabouts that there were no public water fountains in Mexico. At least, I had never seen one.

I was quickly corrected by a reader who said he had spotted one way over in The Yucatan.

Just this week, I saw water fountains in two stores. One was Costco and the other was a supermarket here on the mountaintop. I was surprised.

But I would not use one. I have formed habits.

Another surprise occurred last week. Our local Bancomer branch was totally renovated, and new ATMS were included. They accept both cash and check deposits!

While I recall such things in the United States, I’d never seen an ATM here that did anything more than dispense cash.

(By the way, if you’re going to open an account in a Mexican bank, I highly recommend Bancomer.)

I recently read a report that about 80 percent of Americans feel that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit. Most Gringos have never set foot here and base their opinions on hysterical reports from the media and State Department.

Fact is you can visit here quite safely. You can go to Walmart, Costco  or Dairy Queen with confidence, and you won’t be mugged or murdered in the parking lot either.

* * * *

Bonus material

While on the Hacienda roof a couple of days ago to photograph the water tank for the post Agua! Agua! Agua! I snapped a few other shots just for fun.

stairs

Looking down the circular stairs on the upstairs terraza.

back

Street out back to the right.

street

The same street to the left.

And thanks for joining me here today.

Living dangerously

street

livingRECENTLY, I’VE received word from people above the Rio Bravo that living in Mexico is a war zone or a hellhole. I became worried and decided to investigate.

After all, we do reside in one of the “most dangerous” Mexican states, according to the U.S. State Department, an agency rarely given to error, as everyone knows.

Normally, every weekday morning, the two of us take our exercise walk around the nearby plaza, but since we’d never witnessed violence on the plaza, we decided the mayhem must be taking place elsewhere in the hardscrabble ‘hood.

We left the plaza and headed down some ominous-looking streets. Surely, we would find the war zone quickly.

There was a Hellish cast to the blue skies.

* * * *

But before I tell you what happened next, and how we managed to arrive home unscathed, know that yesterday we drove the 40 minutes down the mountainside to the state capital, a spot where no sensible soul sets foot unnecessarily.

First, we went to the snow-white Star Medica hospital and got our yearly flu shots. Then, with ballooning trepidation, we drove down a flower-rimmed boulevard to an office of the ETN bus line where we safely made a ticket exchange.

The red splashes on the street were bougainvillea instead of blood.

Then, breathing sighs of relief due to our stretch — so far — of good fortune, we headed to the Superama supermarket — part of the Walmart chain — for purchases. Following that scary venture, we had lunch at a vegetarian buffet.

The restaurant’s clientele consists primarily of medical students from a nearby university. Surely, most are studying to patch bullet wounds, grenade gashes, and to reattach severed heads that roll across all cantina floors.

Next on the agenda was a stop at Costco. Then we went to an ice cream stand before dashing back to the Honda, heads down, expecting gunfire at any moment.

Again, luck was with us. Not even a flesh wound.

* * * *

We made it home, and the next day dawned, this day, and now we’re walking through the neighborhood in search of our war zone.

Something blood red approaches down the street, and there is noise. We freeze in place. Is this it? Am I about to meet my Maker?

It comes closer, a marching band and rows of students in scarlet uniforms. They’re from the nearby school, rehearsing routines for Revolution Day next month.

We stand on the sidewalk as they pass. Many of the kids giggle on spotting the tall, strange Gringo in their neighborhood.

They decide not to murder us.

As music fades behind, we trod on, apprehensively. But nothing happens, and we return to the Hacienda intact, still wondering where the war zone might be.

I toted my camera, expecting to shoot exciting footage that I would sell to international media outlets. There would be corpses, blood and body parts. A Mexican Robert Capa.

I was disappointed. But I did take these photos.

The war zone remains elusive, hidden. Maybe mañana, amigos.

Maybe mañana.

house

Leaving Mexico

NO, NOT ME. Gadzooks! I’ll be here till I die.

But sometimes people from above the Rio Bravo move to Mexico, stay a spell, and then pack up and go back, after all the bother of coming here in the first place, and it is a bother. Culture shock too.

What inspires this post today is a recent blog entry from Debi Kuhn who lives with her husband, Tom, in Mérida. They’ve been in that sweltering city for 10 years, but are planning to pack up and return to the United States, an incomprehensible step, to my way of thinking.

Debi is a little vague on the cause of the return, pointing mostly at the difficulty of learning Spanish. And that can truly be a major problem. But it can be solved by moving to San Miguel de Allende where all Mexicans within the city limits are obligated to learn English for your convenience.

And the weather is way nicer than Mérida too.

The first two or three years, I would have returned to the United States had it been financially feasible. It would have required returning to the workforce — a horrible thought — due to the far higher U.S. cost of living. Living in Mexico is cheap. Don’t believe it when people say otherwise.

I moved south alone seven years before I was eligible for Social Security. I lived on a measly corporate pension of $540 a month, and I took up the slack with savings. And I lived just fine. When I got married at age 58, the two of us lived well on the same money for the next four years.

Time has passed, and I’ve grown used to Mexico. Culture shock is long gone. I feel utterly at home. Culture shock would likely hit me if I returned to America where I have not set foot since early 2009.

I like it here very much.

The language thing Debi mentions can be a bear. If you come here as a couple, which means you speak English daily, learning Spanish well enough to have conversations is almost impossible except for the very young.

Virtually everyone I know of who can converse in Spanish has either moved here solo or is married to a Latina.

flagIt takes time to acclimate to this very different world. But go back now? No way, José.

I love hearing burros braying in the distance at dawn, and roosters and dogs. I love sunrises over mountains that I watch every morning above this computer screen where I read the news from America and its ethnic conflicts, race riots, deficit spending and “social democracy.”

In an odd way, I even love the passing trains that gently rattle window panes in the middle of the night. I love the weekday morning exercise walks around the nearby plaza where sits a 16th century church.

I love that I can get a plumber or electrician or bricklayer or any talented workman to come to the Hacienda on a moment’s notice and do whatever needs to be done for a pittance of what it would cost up north.

I love that I can pay cheaply for traffic infractions on the spot without having all the bother of waiting in courthouses, even though that’s only happened once in 15 years. I still favor the system.

I love that our infrastructure improves daily, highways, shopping malls, and first-class, snazzy, inexpensive bus transportation nationwide. I love that you can fly an airliner anywhere — except to the United States — without being strip-searched and otherwise abused and humiliated.

I love that you can easily get a doctor appointment for tomorrow or even today in a modern facility, and when you leave you pay in cash and still have change left for Sears or Walmart or a café latte at Starbucks.

And I love that you can voice unpopular opinions without being fired from your job or socially ostracized or have your children turned over to the state. You may get punched in the nose, but that’s only fair.

I love perfect avocados in the outdoor market and high-quality, name-brand shirts with an invisible flaw that you can buy for eight bucks not far from where you just purchased those perfect avocados.

And I love that you never hear the words racist, sexist or transgender, and that television shows that regularly feature men passionately kissing other men are invariably beamed down from America, and that shows produced in Mexico feature manly men with mustaches, often clutching tequila bottles, sporting sidearms and punching other men, not kissing them.

MariawhoopiAnd women on Mexican television, from actresses to commentators to weather girls, always look like Penelope Cruz or Maria Grazia Cucinotta, not Ellen DeGeneres, Whoopi Goldberg or Rosie O’Donnell.

I love living in a PC-free world, and I love paying just $80 in property taxes on two homes and an apartment in Mexico City. Total.

I love that a beautiful, bright babe not much older than my daughter said yes when I asked her to marry me. I love it that when I pull back the bedroom drapes on summer mornings, I see a sea of golden datura.

And there’s the elegant, artsy Hacienda, which I could never have built or maintained in the United States. I do love that.

* * * *

I hope Debi and her husband, Tom, do not regret returning to the United States, but we will always welcome them back if they decide it was a mistake. For me, I cannot fathom such a move.