Last night, we were in Moheli Cafeteria, a neighborhood cafe a few blocks from our house. You know the type – leafy side street, tables on the sidewalk, good coffee, hip waiters, mellow vibe. It’s a nice place for trinket vendors and street musicians to ply their trade.
One regular, an elderly gentleman, was there playing his guitar. He happens to be blind. Rather than shooing him off for bothering the customers, the staff waited for him to finish, then did an extraordinary thing. One took him gently by the arm and patiently guided him from table to table, so he could collect his pesos from the diners.
Such is life in Coyoacan, this most charming of places.
I did not write this (Dennis, a missionary operating in Mexico did, and here is the original post), but it’s too good not to share. We have found pretty much everything he writes to be true. Enjoy!
We were taught to be students of the culture in order to effectively minister. Here are 101 things about Mexico City that we have observed since getting here. They aren’t good things or bad things. Many are just different.
- There are 31 speed bumps between my house and my work.
- You will get stood up. Bank on it.
- If someone talks about “your house,” they are really talking about “their” house. (My house is your house)
- The banks will be packed on the 15th and the 1st of the month.
- If you don’t know what it is, don’t eat it.
- Brain can be served in a tortilla.
- Stomach can be served in a tortilla.
- There are many different types of mole (a typical salsa). It takes a while to find one that you like.
- There is no taco bell.
- There are more people in the city at night.
- Asking, how long will it take to get there is considered a stupid question.
- Never say, just follow the green taxi.
- Motorcycles don’t have to stay in a lane.
- Car alarms are ignored. Always.
- You can get your side view mirrors stolen off your car.
- You might see cows in your front yard.
- Dog poop happens.
- Bus drivers are not afraid to hit you.
- If you get there on time, you’re early.
- The electricity can go out for no apparent reason.
- You can buy almost anything on the side of the road.
- Dogs are used as a house alarm.
- Dogs bark at all hours.
- There will be someone trying to give you a flyer at a speed bump.
- You will tip someone everyday.
- Clowns juggle at intersections.
- Stores might be open at the time they say they are open, but probably not.
- Nobody will leave a message on your answering machine.
- Nothing ends on time.
- You can get knock offs of just about everything.
- Electronics are expensive.
- Fruit is cheap.
- If you miss your exit, you change your plans (usually).
- The map book has over 200 pages (for the city).
- If you ask for directions, chances are the person doesn’t know.
- There’s one gas company…government owned pemex…no competition there.
- The gas guy for your house may try to rip you off.
- They paint lines on the street by hand.
- McDonald’s has gigantic playgrounds.
- Lunch is at 2 or 3 pm.
- Customer service…what customer service?
- Pizza has very little sauce (if any).
- Movies are mostly in English with subtitles.
- You should really only plan to get one thing done in a day.
- If someone will be late or not show up to a meeting, they will probably not call you to tell you about it.
- Stopping at a red light most of the time is optional.
- There might be a pothole big enough to eat your car in your lane at any time.
- The pedestrian does not have the right of way.
- You will be offered just about any type of “fruit water.”
- Smog (cough, cough) what smog?
- You should get your car washed everyday like everyone else.
- If someone thanks you by showing the back of their hand (in a sort of obscene way), it’s normal.
- Don’t pronounce English words with an English accent or nobody will understand you. For example, you must pronounce “hot dog” with a Spanish accent.
- By the way, a hot dog is the full thing (dog, bun, ketchup, etc). A salchicha is just the hot dog and can be used as a pizza topping.
- Ketchup goes on pizza.
- Music can never be played too loud.
- Stores hire dancing girls to promote their products.
- The best way to park your car is backing it in.
- A money loan to a friend should be seen as a gift.
- You can get a piñata of whatever cartoon character you can imagine.
- The word translated right now can mean anytime in the (maybe) future.
- Cake can have the milk IN IT (and it’s good).
- You can watch soccer 24 hours a day.
- If you need to change lanes, just stick your arm out the window and the other person is obligated to let you in.
- You can back up in your car even if there are people coming up behind you.
- You can do just about anything in your car if you put on your flashers.
- If you need windshield wipers, the best place to buy them is on the side of the road.
- Hardly anything is open on Mondays.
- You can get stuck in traffic going to the grocery store.
- If you see traffic in an unusual spot, chances are there’s a traffic cop directing (creating) it.
- Pretty much everyone has a cell phone.
- If you call a cell phone, you pay for the call.
- You get 100 outgoing calls per month on your home phone.
- Traffic roundabouts are dangerous. You could get stuck in one all day.
- You can get a pre-paid minutes card for your cell phone while waiting at an intersection.
- In just about every parking lot, someone will ask you if you want your car washed, whether it needs it or not.
- Parking is almost never free.
- I hope you like mayonnaise. It will be loaded on your sandwich.
- Left turns are usually a no-no. You must make a u-turn.
- You better know how to parallel park.
- You don’t walk on the sidewalk. You walk on the road.
- Uneven pavement is a fact of life.
- You can buy corn on the cob smothered with mayonnaise and chili powder.
- Popcorn at the movies must be accompanied by hot salsa.
- Japanese peanuts aren’t really from Japan (or are they?)
- Lots of people wear suits and ties.
- Pizza is 2 for 1 on Tuesday.
- Movies are 2 for 1 on Wednesday.
- Everything is “straight ahead” if you ask for directions.
- The trunks of trees should be painted white…I think it has something to do with bugs.
- If you see a cop with his lights on, it just means he’s patrolling the neighborhood. It’s not because you did something wrong.
- You might get a receipt for the slip of toilet paper you buy at a public restroom.
- Babies should be covered all the way pretty much at all times.
- Children are not allowed to drink cold drinks or they will get sick.
- Baby car seats are optional.
- A traveling market can take up a whole street (and cause more traffic).
- Coca Cola from a bottle goes great with tacos.
- Grasshoppers can be eaten live.
- You should sweep the street in front of your house everyday like everyone else.
- The garbage men sit in the back of the truck and sort the trash.
- Personal space doesn’t exist.
- You can fit 15 people in a Volkswagen beetle.
A few weekends ago, we went up to the Bazar Sabado in San Angel, a lively outdoor art market in a beautiful colonial section in the south of DF (read about the Bazar in Julie’s wonderful post here). After a lovely day of eating, window shopping, browsing and otherwise doing nothing, we headed home.
In true Mexico City fashion, my food grazing instinct kicked in, and we stopped at a fruit vendor’s cart on Avenida Revolucion to get a street snack of a giant cup of sliced mango. After I ordered (in Spanish), the vendor told me (likewise), “you speak Spanish just like George Bush.” Then he laughed.
I tried to tell him that this was an unwelcome comparison, but he just laughed some more. Grrrr. So, what to do? Get in a fight? Express my outrage by walking away? Patiently explain to him that we are not fans of our ex-President and that his observation, though well meant, was insulting?
Nope. I laughed along, with him, but only a little. Then I bought the mango. It was delicious.
The Mexico City metro system is wonderful. It’s amazingly clean (the platforms are marble, and they glisten). It goes everywhere (it has 163 stations along 280 miles of track). It’s quiet (the trains are on rubber wheels, and you can carry on a normal conversation beneath an open window while riding – try that in New York). And a ride costs 25 cents.
Best of all, riding the metro allows you to watch the human carnival, and it’s free. I recently sat next to a guy dressed in full clown gear – complete with wig, face paint and floppy shoes – acting like any other commuter on his way to work. And of course, no one gave him a second look.
In each and every car, someone is either selling something or entertaining the riders. All manner of cheap stuff is for sale – candy, chewing gum, pens, cheap toys, bootleg CDs, fake cosmetics. It’s a never-ending stream. After one vendor goes the length of the metro car, she exits and another vendor immediately gets on to take her place. And they cooperate with one another – I once saw two vendors mistakenly get on the same car at the same time, and one waited for the other to finish before starting his own sales pitch.
The entertainment is even better. The other day, a woman came on to perform. She had a guitar and a pan flute, and carried a toddler in a backpack. She strummed her guitar and alternated between playing the pan flute and singing (she was surprisingly good), all while the baby snoozed away in his carrier. That’s worth 10 pesos, right? But my timing was off. When we reached our stop, I caught her in the middle of singing a verse, but she managed to stop long enough to offer a “gracias” as I gave her a few coins. Now that’s multi-tasking.
Here in Mexico City, we often get around on “peseros”, which are usually little green and white buses that carry 20 people or so (for not so popular routes, they sometimes use VW vans). They are called peseros because, once upon a time, the fare was just 1 peso. Those days are long gone, but even now they still only cost 3 or 4 pesos (about 30 cents). Peseros are not the least bit luxurious, but they’re obviously cheap and they go everywhere. Best of all, they offer a glimpse of working class life in Mexico City.
Like today . . . we were riding the Ruta #1 pesero along Miguel Angel de Quevedo. It was packed – all the seats were taken and the aisles were full. A woman got on through the back door. We were standing room only, and there was no way she could get through the crowd to the driver in the front to pay her fare. But she couldn’t not pay. So, she took out her 5 pesos and gave it to the person in front of her, who then passed it forward, and on and on, all the way up to the driver. Then the process was reversed, and her change of 1 peso, 50 centavos (about 12 cents) came back the same way. Remember, these are poor working class people, and 5 pesos makes a difference. But it never crossed the passenger’s mind to grab a free ride and it certainly never occurred to the other passengers to hold onto the few coins being passed around. Not a word needed to be said – everyone knew how the system works and everyone knew their role in this little drama.