Our “honeymoon” here in Mexico officially now feels like it’s over. We were warned that this would happen, and like just about everything else we were “warned” about – the warning doesn’t even come close to preparing us to deal with the reality. But hey – thanks to the warnings nothing so far has blindsided us (seriously?! I have to give a tip to the garbage people?!), so I guess that’s a plus.
Just like in new relationships – the passion and excitement and adrenaline for us all has been pretty high the first couple of weeks of being in our new home. For me, shopping and buying new furniture is enough to put me on a permanent high for at least a week or two. Now that we are all unpacked and are as settled in as we are going to be (and I’ve been told I can’t buy anymore furniture), a lot of that excitement has dissipated.
Now we are in the “working” phase of our relationship with Mexico – and just like that phase isn’t nearly as fun in relationships, it’s the same in adjusting to a new home in a foreign country and culture. Just like in relationships – little annoyances that you disregard at first start to get a little more irritating. The phone calls get shorter, you stop coming up with fun pet names for things, your conversations get briefer. You start recognizing the other person’s aggravating habits and start to consider whether it’s worth tolerating those annoyances for the sake of the relationship (personally, I can’t stand noisy eaters… that’s always been an early deal breaker for me). It takes a lot of effort on all parties to move through ALL the relationship phases together – and if you are lucky enough to successfully get far enough through them – well, then you end up in a committed, comfortable relationship with a pretty awesome person for the rest of your life – be it in marriage or friendship. Great, right?
Our family is currently in the “annoyance” stage with Mexico. I’ll spare you the details but recently we all had a very serious discussion of pulling the plug and returning home. I’m not going to blog about the details of why as I’m sure they will not make for interesting reading (even for my mom). Finding the positive and bright way to encounter our world here has started to become a lot of work and a hassle (what? I have to tip the folks bagging my groceries!?)
Back home in the U.S. when we encountered hard times, challenging situations and hassle-filled positions, it was called: life. Just like it is for everyone else in this world.
Here in our adoptive home, I’ll admit that after recently dealing with hard times and challenging situations filled with hassle: the phrase coming to our minds was: time to go home (are you kidding me? I’m supposed to tip the people in parking lots who wave me on as I pull out of my parking space?!)
But we are not ready to give up on our relationship here and are currently working really hard at it. We are laboring on making this a positive experience for the entire family, even during the times when it might not be all that positive – because frankly, that’s life, be it in Chicago or Mexico or anywhere. It’s just been strange as we deal with our issues that this extra option of returning home gets thrown into the mix. But honestly, none of us (including the kids) are ready to break up with Mexico.
Speaking of Mexico, let’s talk about the tipping practices here: you may have heard rumors about having to tip grocery baggers, sanitation workers and parking lot attendants. I’ll share some details with you: I’m happy to tip the folks bagging my groceries – a lot of the times they are elderly folks who should be enjoying their retirement years. I have no idea what the circumstances are as to why they are working or how the retirement process works in this country. But they are usually very friendly (which is nice because for reasons I have yet to understand, all my bank cards still get declined here about 50% of the time – be it our US cards or our new Mexican accounts – which adds a little spice to my shopping excursions… as while I’m nervously waiting to see if the payment goes through the nice friendly smiles I share with the baggers is helpful). The baggers usually help me place all my items onto the counter, bags all the purchases and fills up my shopping cart again and offers to assist me out to my car (which I always decline). When I get to the parking lot it starts to get annoying. Many parking lots here have (usually) elderly gentleman with whistles. I have no idea if they are employees of the particular establishment whose parking lot they are in or not. But they will usually rush over to my cart to help me place my bags in my car. I wave them away with a friendly “no, gracias” and they will withdraw. But they will lurk around the car, and when I put the car into reverse, they run behind the car like some sort of demented airline attendant and proceed to wave and gesture as I pull out (sans the revolving blue lights in each hand). Most often times they are physically in the way of my car and many times I’ve worried I may hit them. My only guess is that these guys are offering a service of helping you to safely back out of your spot – I have no idea. Now when I have seen this in action from afar I will then see people roll down their window and tip these parking lot attendants. I will admit that I am drawing the line on this one. All these guys are doing is creating a hazard because they usually are in my way as I’m pulling out. Why would I pay for the added experience of yet another hazard I have to contend with here while in my car? Not only that but they are CONSTANTLY blowing their whistles – which makes me a tad twitchy as I’m trying to be vigilant in a public area, get my kids in the steamy-hot car and get all my groceries in the trunk before the ice cream I use to bribe said kids melts.
The garbage collectors – I’m happy to tip, although it’s strange as we don’t do that back home. Don’t they get a salary? The first couple of weeks were we in the house the collectors would ring our doorbell – so hubby would go down to the gate to find out why. No communication was had – and we were worried we were doing something wrong in our garbage-placing practice. Are the cans in the wrong place? Are we using the wrong color bags? What, what? We were frantic to find out because, you know, it’s garbage and we really need it to go away. Come to find out the collectors were incessantly ringing the bell to alert us that they were there (which is ironically hysterical because technically, their services are supposed to be on Monday and Thursday mornings… now, ask me if they ACTUALLY come on Mondays and Thursdays. Go ahead, ask!) – so come to find out they have been asking us for their tip. One of our neighbors told us to NEVER tip them – don’t even answer the ringing bell they said. Another set of neighbors (who has lived in their house for about 30 years) said: always tip them. They don’t earn much money and they do a pretty disgusting job. We decided to go with the second neighbor’s advice.
Now sadly, and just as interesting to me as this local tipping practice (I’m not sure it’s a local thing or a cultural thing here) is the amount of these tips. Once we started learning the ins and outs of living here – like these tipping practices – we did our due diligence to figure out how much is customary to give out – and it’s not much. Keep in mind that 13 pesos equals 1 American dollar. Here’s what we were told to give out: baggers get about 3 pesos and the garbage collectors get 20 pesos each week. Comparing those amounts to what we are used to monetarily in the U.S., I’m handing over 23 cents to the baggers and $1.50 to the collectors (and there’s usually about 5 collectors per truck). (Wow – look at me using math, my dad will be so proud!) As you can see, these tips are pretty small – however, I’m not about to become Ms. Moneybags in this part of the world and start handing out more tips than anyone else, so we’ll do what the natives are doing. Having services done like your hair, nails – and eating out all have the customary tipping practice we are used to – EXCEPT that no one usually goes over the standard 10% tip – no matter how good the meal or services are. That’s just not done here.
One last thing here to share and then I’m done, is the practice of domestic help – and I’m talking about maids. That’s something that has been pushed on us since day one: do we have a maid? When are we getting a maid? Other moms at the school would look at me with concern and ask “do you have any help at home”? And loads of people have someone they want to recommend to us. We’ve said “no” to all of this and we will continue to do so for the duration we are in Mexico – local customs or not. At some point in us learning this new culture, fitting in and respecting it – I’m hoping this culture and it’s people will afford us the same regard and understand that this subject is a lot different from what we are accustomed to in the U.S. We didn’t have a maid back home and we don’t want one here. At times this situation has been a tad uncomfortable because as we are declining this service yet again, or again explaining that we do not want domestic help – it’s hard not to sound like we are frowning upon that practice here. In a way I am because in the midst of these offers and questions of whether we have help, at times we’ve been told: “it’s really cheap”. Cheap or expensive, it doesn’t matter to us, although if someone actually comes into my home to clean up after our family they certainly deserve good pay for it. But it’s a moot point – we are declining this service and will accept any cultural ramifications this decision might cause us.
So the relationship therapy between our family and Mexico has been going well – mostly thanks to family and friends back home who have been listening and supporting us. At times it felt like no matter what decision we made – it didn’t feel right, and simply trying to find the peace to go along with our decision was elusive. We’ve made a lot of calls and written a lot of emails (wow, I can be really wordy sometimes and need to work on that which reminds me that I really need to wrap this up). Our family has talked and soul-searched and are working to on ways to remind ourselves of why this relationship is worth the effort it takes to maintain it, for the present time and our futures.
Relationships are really hard. Actually, anything worth having is worth working for, right? And we’ll continue to work on it here, and continue to make sure we have loose change on hand at all times for tips.