Thursday, March 24, 2011

Change, We Can Believe In

We can't recall if we've written about this or merely bitched about it over drinks with anyone who would listen, but just what the fuck is it with Mexicans and change? Not change in the Obama-sloganeering sense, but in the "money back at the point of purchase" sense. We can't count how many times we've gone to the newsstand to purchase 17 pesos worth of delicious yellow journalism, only to have the woman look positively stricken when we hand her a 20. At this point, she's probably been selling papers for at least an hour, hour and a half. For those unclear on the exchange rate, we're looking to get back about 25 cents. Often this involves dispatching her child to a neighboring newsstand to do God only knows what in exchange for three pesos, during which time we find ourselves standing there wondering if all children run this slowly, or just this one.

So yesterday we were meeting some major advertisers for lunch, and on the way we stopped off at an ATM, which, to our horror, was dispensing only 500-peso ($40) notes, which is basically the same as not having money at all, unless you're purchasing something that costs 497 pesos or more - and even then. The clients told us they wanted Italian, "in honor of Sofia Loren's passing." We were about to explain that it was Liz Taylor who died, but frankly, we liked the idea of pizza. So we went to Italianni's - which, aside from actually having really good pizza, had the advantage of being a chain. A chain: multiple locations, an actual business plan, employees wearing matching uniforms, laminated menus with color photographs and, in Italianni's case, a half-dozen pizza-delivery motorcycles parked outside. In short, a place that should be able to break a large bill.

We run up a tab of about 200 pesos (Mexican pizza is cheap) and hand over a 500. So we're looking for about 25 US dollars in change here. "Have a seat, we'll bring you your change," we were told (in English, because this place is legit enough that even the register clerks are multi-lingual). Would you be surprised to learn that all our food arrived, and still no change? "It's coming," we were assured, as one of the delivery bikes screeched away. Dessert? Coffee? Still no change.

Eventually we learned that the delivery guy had been dispatched with our 500-peso bill to go... well, it's not clear to us where he was going, but someplace - the bank maybe? - that could give him change. The explanation - delivered politely and apologetically - was that "we only opened an hour ago."

Do Mexican managers close up shop at night, take all the cash on premises with them, deposit it in the bank every morning before opening, and then come to work hoping that all today's customers will have exact change? This is the only reason we can think of that a successful chain restaurant would not have 25 dollars in the register at 2:00 in the afternoon. Might we suggest perhaps keeping a small safe somewhere in the establishment? It seems safer to us than having the manager carry they days receipts home with him at night. We've met the manager - he came over twice to apologize - and think we could totally kick his ass.


Anyway, the 45 minutes (no, really) we spent waiting for our change allowed us to admire the restaurant's pre-fab decor, including this poster for La Donna di Notte, about which IMDB has little to say except that it's an Italian documentary from 1962, released in English as Women by Night. It seems from the poster to be a survey of swingin', super-glamorous, international jet-setting nightlife. The poster lists the seven hottest hotspots on Earth, circa 1962,  and while we don't think Acapulco would make the list today, we're kind of shocked to see Haiti making the list even back then. We know things were different under Papa Doc, but not that different.

So change isn't always good, we admit.  But sometimes it is. 

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

The stores in Arizona have change in the cash register.

Anonymous said...

when I have this kind of problem of huge bill and need of change, I always go to the nearest Oxxo and buy a coke, even with the 500 bill, sometimes they get mad, but always they have change.

http://imustbecrazytoliveinmexico.blogspot.com/ said...

I can't tell you and the rest of the staff how much I look forward to your informative rantings. I don't think I could survive Mexico without Burro Hall.

wally said...

Hysterical and sooo true. Whenever we get on the cuotas, we use big bills at every stop...which is legion.

Burro Hall said...

And given where you live, that's a real compliment! Some days, it seems like this blog is the only thing holding the damn country together, doesn't it?

Dave said...

Great post.

I still haven't forgiven Italianni's for the humiliation they caused me. I was just dating my wife at the time, and even though college Spanish should at LEAST help you find the bathroom, I rehearsed the "Donde esta el bano" line, headed off vaguely in the right direction and asked the nearest employee...who pointed up and replied "upstairs."

My wife still reacts to the 500 peso bills in my wallet like they're radioactive. Took me a while to figure out why.

Burro Hall said...

If it makes you feel any better, I don't think any of them speak Italian.

Snidley Whiplash said...

I missed the anaylsis of Mexicans and rubber stamps, would you post it.

When we encounter this situation it usually becomes "Change we can be leaving."

Beer Diary... said...

This change thing may be a way for the Mexican banking system to stimulate the economy. Dispense 500peso notes and make the people spend on stuff they don't want or need for the sake of change.
mark
www.backyardbrewer.blogspot.com

Yann said...

"Do Mexican managers close up shop at night, take all the cash on premises with them, deposit it in the bank every morning before opening, and then come to work hoping that all today's customers will have exact change?"

This is almost right. Sometimes they make a trip during the work day to make sure any change they have acquired after selling something is promptly deposited in the bank. At least this is what I have learned after my wife got a job at a prominent coffee shop chain in D.F.

Greg said...

OK, so maybe we need to acknowledge the Obamaesque kind of change too -- not the cambio of bills & coins but the cambio of attitudes and habits. We gringos all know the locals won't have change. And yet we persist in bringing our big bills. Shoving big bills in their face may be considered by definition an act of cultural inequality or inequity. Their response is to pretend to know nothing, to have no cambio. They haven't changed, in other words, nor have we.

Burro Hall said...

Trying to buy an avocado from an indigenous fruit peddler with a 100 dollar bill might be considered an act of cultural inequality, but I don't think that attempting to buy 135 pesos worth of ground coffee with a 200 peso note is anyone's idea of "shoving big bills" in their face. This place has one of those expensive stainless steel espresso machines and serves tiramisu for 40 pesos a slice. It's really not unreasonable to expect them to have five dollars worth of change in the register.

Of course, if you're implying that Mexicans pay with exact change, unlike us gringo imperialists, it does raise the question: why do Mexican consumers walk around with so much change, but Mexican merchants never have any?

Byron said...

My favourite is going to Mega Commercial, a BIG supermarket and right as they're about to scan my groceries they do a cash pick up at the till which takes a few minutes but which I now consider Zen time, zone out, check out the crowd, etc. They vacuum the till of everything except for the coins and then when my groceries gets run through and I offer a 500 peso note for a couple hundred pesos of groceries they of course have no change and ask if I don't have exact change.
This has to have been going on for as long as they've had effectivo in Mexico. But it's why we love it here.