Living in Mexico:sometimes it’s frustrating

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Karen Blue

A Woman’s Perspective on Living in Mexico

Every once in a while, I get an email from a reader who asks, “What are the down sides of living at Lakeside?” Normally, I have to scratch my head and think a bit, but once in a while, I get a week like this one and it puts my patience and acceptance to the test.

Systems Problems

This last week was the deadline for our monthly Internet magazine, “Living at Lake Chapala.” My co-publisher says about this time every month, we both drift back into our stateside Type A personalities. Judy and I are on different Internet servers here and this week, just before our deadline, they decided to stop “talking” to each other. She sent me emails with attached articles for review and I sent her mine. Neither of us received them, and for two days, I think we each thought the other was taking an undeserved, untimely vacation. I couldn’t phone Judy because she has only one telephone line and was on the Internet.

Finally, under a fair amount of time pressure and with a high level of frustration, we began using Yahoo to transfer files. Of course, with Yahoo, you can only attach three files at a time. We had about 15 different articles going back and forth between us for editing and about 5 times as many photos and captions, all taking twice as long as usual.

Health Insurance Bill

That was the environment. Then, I got this fax from my health insurance carrier that was a bill for next year’s premium. I was a bit ticked that it’s gone up another 12% when I have never once in six years used the insurance, but that’s not the worst part. The expiration date had come and gone.

In a panic, I called my agent in Guadalajara who said, ” No problema. There’s always a 15-day grace period.” Would you believe it was the 12th day of the grace period? Ah, imagine how I felt. What if I had gone to California? Then she’d have missed me all together. Julietta said she’d drive down to Ajijic the next morning to pick up my check. The next day she called and said, “Sorry. Can’t come today. I’ll call you tomorrow.” The next day, no call. Then Thursday, at 8am, she called again and said, “I’m coming today.”

Every Thursday, Judy and I have a “Living at Lake Chapala” Seminar for newcomers. I told her, “You’ll have to get here before 9:30 or I’m gone.”

Julietta arrived at 9:15 and I went to write her a check. The checks for my local Serfin bank were not in my purse. I didn’t panic. I live in Mexico. She couldn’t take my U.S. Citibank Visa. I didn’t have enough cash. I couldn’t get enough money from the ATM’s nor did I have time before the seminar.

“Don’t you have a Mexican credit card?” she asked.

Aha! I had a Mexican MasterCard that I used at the ATMs. I’d never used it to charge anything, since Lakeside is basically a cash society. She, fortunately, had one, and only one, form in the car for taking a credit card charge. Whew.

At 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon she called. I needed to call the bank and approve the charge. She didn’t know why. The bank had closed at 3 p.m. I told her I’d call first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t find their telephone number. It wasn’t on their monthly statement, not on the Internet, not in our local directory and calling information didn’t get me through to an operator. So, Friday morning, I drove to Chapala at 9 a.m. This particular morning there was nobody who spoke English in the bank. After about an hour of struggling with my mediocre Spanish, I learned that my red MasterCard was not, in fact, a credit card, but only a debit card. The green MasterCard is the credit card. I don’t have a green MasterCard.

Julietta was, of course, in Guadalajara and time was running out. While I was at the bank, I ordered new checks printed and since my bank account was somewhat short of the necessary $10,488 pesos needed for my insurance, I used my Citibank ATM card to withdraw money from the machine and deposit it into my account. At least, now, I had checks and money enough in my account to pay the bill.

I returned home, late for my appointment to drive to San Juan Cosalá and pick up the stereo repairmen who would come to my home and fix, for the fifth time, my stupid Bose stereo system. It looked like I might have to drive the check into Guadalajara and that would make us miss the magazine deadline altogether. Slightly panicked, I called Julietta. My grace period would expire today and I was supposed to be home proofreading the last of Judy’s articles. Aargh! Actually, that editing was supposed to have happened the day before, but I couldn’t get any of her files on that day. (Just writing about this is bringing back some of those frustrations. Perhaps I should stop and get a glass of wine.)

I called Julietta with the bad news and, in typical Mexican fashion, she said, ” No problema. I can drive down again (about an hour’s drive-each way) to pick up your check, or you can go to the bank and deposit it directly into our account.”

Why hadn’t I known this before? I had just returned from the bank in Chapala. She faxed me the information I needed. The fax took five tries and by then I was 45 minutes late for my stereo appointment.

I apologized profusely when I got there for being late. Apologizing is the American thing to do. They said, “No problema.” When I got the two guys back to my home, they turned on the CD, and presto, it worked. Now, I felt stupid on top of feeling frustrated. They did discover, however, that two of my surround-sound speakers did not work and that one battery in my remote was dead. They fixed those problems. I thanked them, paid them $100 pesos (a good deal, since I had the two of them out of their shop for about an hour and a half) and drove them back to San Juan Cosalá. Now, at least, I could play music to calm my frazzled nerves.

Then, on to Chapala again – which is about a half-hour drive from San Juan Cosalá. It took three people to process the direct deposit into Julieta’s agency account and by noon, I was back at home, finally ready to edit articles.

Don’t you think a bill sent to me one month before the insurance expired, so I could mail in a check might have been a saner solution? But, ooops, I forgot, that’s the American way;here, it was “no problema.”

Re-soling Old Sandals

One of my discoveries this week was Jose, a shoe repairman. The rubber soles of my favorite, $10-dollar imitation Birkenstock sandals had worn thin and had become dangerously slippery on wet floors or sidewalks. They had no more grip. Jose’s shop is hidden behind a gate with no sign, and I fortunately had just mentioned I needed a shoe repairman to the right person, who told me how to find him.

“No problema,” Jose said. “I can fix for $100 pesos.” Now, that’s what I paid for the shoes, but favorites are special and I agreed. “You come back tomorrow,” he said. Well, I’ve now been back three different days, but he had to go to Guadalajara, then he had to take his wife to the doctor in Chapala and I forget the last excuse, but he’s so nice, I can be patient for one or two more trips. I never, in a hundred years, would have thought about re-soling $10-dollar sandals in the U.S.; but here, everything is fixable.

I saw some denim sandals he was making that I liked, and he said he’d make a pair in my size. I showed him how I like raised arches in my shoes and flexible rubber soles, and because I’ve got short toes, the top of the sandal needs to be set back a bit differently. Today, those shoes were ready and he did a nice job on them. He charged me $200 pesos for the new shoes.

Mexican Taxes

I have to pay my Mexican taxes, quarterly, monthly or bi-monthly, at the whim of the ever-changing government laws. My Mexican accountant speaks no English. I’ve been back in his office four times this week to pick up my statements and today, his assistant said, in Spanish, “Pablo is in Guadalajara. He’ll return tomorrow with your papers.”

“Seguro?” I asked. “Are you sure?”

He smiled and said, “It’s better you call tomorrow and ask if he has them.” I took his card with a phone number on it and I’ll let my fingers do the walking.

Okay, none of these things by themselves are a big deal, and even collectively, when I’m in my “mañana” mode, they’re not. But when I’m in my Type A, meet-the-darned-deadline mode, it doesn’t take a lot to make me shake my head with dismay and fuss about things, which, put in perspective are “no problema.”

P.S. We made our deadline, my insurance is in force for yet another year, and I later found my checks in a purse I’m not currently using. No problema! I think this could be loosely translated as “Don’t sweat the small stuff; and it’s all small stuff.”

Published or Updated on: November 1, 2002 by Karen Blue © 2002
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