Toluca Gringa

8,700 feet does more than simply turn you into a cheap date

Saturday, November 10, 2007

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Humans are a curious lot, especially humans facing a foreigner in a town with few foreigners. In certain situations, I can pretty much guarantee the following questions will be asked:

Where are you from? (logical, although it’s getting old. So far, no one has found “Earth” to be a satisfying answer)

Are you a student? (So kind. I’ll thank my mom and the makers of my moisturizer)

Are you married? No? Why not? (the famous triple threat)

How old are you? (sometimes this one is first, especially among 20-something females)

And after we have all of the above established, people always ask, “What do you think of Mexico?” It’s a difficult, if not impossible, question to answer. Of course, diplomacy would dictate that I beam, “It’s amazing, it’s wonderful, I can’t get enough.” But, somehow I know the schmaltz will be obvious. So, I often say, “I really like living here. But, we all know every country has its good and bad points.” That’s usually a satisfying answer. And it often leads to something like, “Well, what’s the worst thing about Mexico?”

I always skirt the question, but lately I’ve been working hard to come up with an answer that won’t get me spat on.

A few weeks ago I saw a guy, strung out on something, getting roughed up by at least 10 cops. Everyone stopped to watch. I started taking photos. He had been walking across the street, minding his own business, but his obvious uber-altered state must have drawn the attention of a traffic cop. They gave each other a hard time for a bit, pushing each other’s shoulders like two kids on the playground. Then suddenly there were many cops and everything got confusing. I’d taken quite a few photos when one of them came and asked me to stop. I stopped.

Speaking of police. There's still a policeman in front of my house 24-7, supposedly guarding the elementary school. The other day we were expecting company for a Halloween gathering. I asked him, sweetly, if he could possibly move his patrol car to the other side of the road so my guests could park at my house. He said he’d love to, but the patrol car hadn’t worked in weeks.

“Well, maybe we could push it,” I offered.

He said he’d work on the problem. And, sure enough, when I came back from the market, the patrol car had been pushed a few blocks up the road.

Just this week, the old lady who owns the cell phone shop on my street ripped me off. She sold me a bogus phone card (my cell’s the prepaid variety) for $500, about $50 USD. After opening the cellophane of the card, I immediately realized I had been duped, but I’d figured that she innocently had this card in her inventory. A cute little old lady would never rip off a foreigner. So, back to the shop I went and showed her the phony item. She hmmmed and huffed, taking her thick glasses from a drawer to get a better look at the thing. I asked her if I could exchange the card for a different one (a real one) and the cute old-timer suddenly turned into a different person. Her head might as well have spun around on its axis, leaving me face to face with a fanged beast of a granny tapping her wrinkled digits against the card over and over again. She said she would call Tel-Cel the next day to verify the numbers. I wasn’t sure what that would mean for me, but I went with it.

I returned the next day, hoping I’d fine the original cute old lady. Alas, she had been gobbled up by the ogre. This time, her voice had changed. She told me there was nothing she could do and I had to go to the Tel-Cel office. A pain in the ass, but somewhat logical.

“OK. No problem. Can you just write me a receipt to take with me when I go?”

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” screamed the alien hiding inside the belly of the beast.

I retreated and went to teach my class.

Later that night, I returned once again, this time with a group of 8 students who were determined to outnumber the ogre. I nudged the most charismatic student into the fire. All we wanted was a receipt. How scary could it be?

“Grrrraaaaaaaaaa!” screamed a two-headed demon with nails like Paris Hilton.

OK, not really, but she did refuse. Then she proceeded to tell my students that I was lying and I had scratched the numbers off the bogus card myself. Two minutes later, she said I had never been in her shop before.

In the end, I knew I couldn’t win this battle. Crazy is crazy, regardless of the language.

But, back to the issue at hand: the worst thing about Mexico. The old lady is running a close second, I know that.

Still, I’ve gotta say that the worst thing about Mexico has to be this: the tamale sandwich. This breakfast standard works like a bomb in your gut. Tasty and all-natural, yes. But we’re talking about corn and bread. Together. For breakfast. That’s a huge tamale stuffed snugly inside a huge doughy roll. I have nothing else to say about it.