Getting Back In Shape, One Snarky Comment at a Time

22 Jun

Although soap operas were prohibited from my childhood, it didn’t stop me from developing my own dramatic flair. I’ve spent years crafting what I hope are fabulously scathing responses to rudeness, whether it be yelling back at catcalls while I’m on my bike, smiling politely while I tell a business exactly why I’ll be conducting a smear campaign against them, or writing a perfectly understated resignation letter ‘appreciating the opportunity’, even though I’ve made it clear through other means that I’m finished dealing with the boss’s raging alcoholism. I’ve been refining my sarcasm since toddlerhood, dreaming up blithe and amusing come-backs in my spare time (admittedly I’m no comedian, but I amuse myself at least). Tragically, all my effort is for naught when the cultural definitions of rudeness change and I have to think up new snarky responses to damn near everything.
For example, if someone in the U.S. insisted I tell them how much money I make, I might ask if they need to see my bank statements, or if they’re trying to figure out if I’m good marriage material. But it’s never happened to me there before so I was thrown for a loop when my friend here asked about my new salary. I simply said, “It’s a good salary,” leaving the peso value to the imagination. “No, but really, how much?” she asked. And again I told her something vague. I even used Conan’s favorite line from when he was in the U.S., telling her that “In my country,” (theoretically putting up a barrier I could blame on our cultural differences,) “we never say how much money we make.” She didn’t get the blatant hint, though, and said, “But I want to know!” Finally a family member told her to let it go, although I think they wanted to know, too. I imagined that this was just my friend’s personality, since she is one of those brutally honest, say-the-first-thing-that-pops-into-your-head types. But then several other people asked me the same thing, also not accepting my non-exact descriptions. Chalk it up to yet another instance of my basic social norms being ground up and remade into something barely recognizable.

And then there are the people who want to know when the baby is due. Granted, I was carrying around an extra 10 pounds for longer than I wanted after Lucia was born. And yes, it seems that anymore every half a pound I gain goes straight to my belly. But when I was actually pregnant in the U.S., people not-in-the-know didn’t ask me about pregnancy until my belly was practically basketball-sized. Here, on the other hand, I can even be out drinking a beer and still have someone ask me if it’s a boy or a girl. And I’m only 5 pounds heavier than normal right now! Hardly big enough to know the sex of a nonexistent baby.

Belly Bulge: A growing fetus or an excess of tortillas? Just ask! Or just keep your mouth shut.

Belly Bulge: A growing fetus or an excess of tortillas? Just ask! Or just keep your mouth shut.

Also, there is a version of customer service in some places here, but it only vaguely resembles the super kiss-ass, customer-is-always-right policy we have in the U.S. Restaurants, for example, resemble Europe more in that if they bring you food and drink sometime today and aren’t outright rude and ignoring you, that’s great service. It’s true that servers don’t live off of tips here, either, but that’s not the only place where our idea of service is seriously lacking.

There are three banks and a credit union here in Puerto, but you’d never know that by the service; there is certainly no competition in treating customers better to win them over from another bank. You are liable to wait in line for an hour or more (I’ve waited for more than 2 hours before on a day before a holiday) and nobody even apologizes. In fact, you’re lucky they got to you at all and you might as well be grateful that the bank exists.

I’ve heard that one of the banks is the most together, organized, and quickest in town, but it still took me three trips to finally be able to open my account there. Like in the U.S., the basic teller services are separate from the more complicated services, but still I waited over an hour and there were still people in line ahead of me, although I counted three cubicles and only four people ahead of me when I had walked in the door. The second time I went in I nearly threw a tantrum when some lady cut in line ahead of me, going straight back to one of the cubicles. The banker blew me off. I got seen in less than an hour that time but they couldn’t open my account with my water bill as proof of address; they needed an electric bill. I explained that we don’t have electricity, and the banker kindly assured me that, “oh, no, it doesn’t matter; just borrow any friend or relative’s electric bill.” So much for legitimate proof of address.

On my third visit to the bank, I was finally able to open my account, but only because I complained that it was my third visit in a week and my lunch break was going to be over soon. I magically got pushed ahead in the line, and didn’t even care that it was unfair. Once I was in a cubicle it still took an hour for the banker to fill out all the paperwork, for me to put my signature on a million sheets of paper. The copy of my immigration card didn’t look good enough as a copy, so he had to take a picture with his phone and email it to himself. Then there was a W-9 from the U.S. I had to fill out, supposedly to make sure my U.S. Social Security number is correct (why is this important to the U.S? or to Mexico? Who knows?), which the banker had no idea how to fill out. I was too relieved about getting it done to care.

A couple days later the same banker called me, informing me (not asking me) that I had to return the next day to correct a mistake. He said I’d abbreviated my name on one of the forms and that it had to be turned in correctly by the next day. I was starting to feel like I had a second home at the stupid bank, but at least he promised I could go right back to his cubicle and not have to wait in line. (Maybe something similar had happened with the woman I had complained about!)

Sure enough, I had “abbreviated” my name on the W-9, putting my middle initial instead of my whole middle name. I should have remembered about this cultural faux-paux because the first time I sent money to Conan I made this mistake and had to resend the transfer. Even though there are probably no other Conans in the entire country of Mexico, and even though he had the correct code number for the money transfer, they just couldn’t be convinced that “Conan Palacios Lopez” (the name I’d put on the transfer) was the same person as “Conan Rene Palacios Lopez” (the name on his ID). (Oh, my dear adopted land of arbitrary enforcement of banal rules, I love you even though you make no sense.)

And on and on it goes. Eventually I’ll quit being surprised by these things and will get it together to come up with new amusing and appropriately scathing responses to all this absurdity. Thus far I’ve been too busy refining my ability to laugh at myself and at the circumstances instead of inventing good come-backs. I just hope I can keep my brilliant sarcasm in shape and exercise my witty expositions of irony, at least in the retelling of my surprise and dismay. So bring it on, Oaxaca; I’m here for the long haul and there’s no TV to distract me from redeveloping my own dramatic flair.

never-ending amounts of fresh tortillas (and homemade salsa): not good for my waistline

never-ending amounts of fresh tortillas (and homemade salsa): not good for my waistline

4 Responses to “Getting Back In Shape, One Snarky Comment at a Time”

  1. fml221 June 22, 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    And you do NOT even look pregnant!! I’ve had people here ask me if I was though, in my younger days – and even the other day- I am not kidding – someone asked me when the baby was due. I just looked at them. I’m 58 frigging years old, I am not having any more babies. So I feel your pain. But you DON’T look pregnant!!!

    • exiletomexico June 24, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

      Whoa. So ridiculous. And thanks for your support in my not looking pregnant (although I was wearing a belt in the picture!) ; )

  2. Kirsty Erikson June 24, 2014 at 6:08 am #

    Made me laugh and cringe and roll my eyes…proof of residency…bring a friends electric bill? OMG..shaking my head. If *you* look “big enough” to be pregnant…well…I can’t think of anything more dramatic than…dammit. (okay there are other words in there too but “sheesh” and “those frigging idiots” don’t help, does it?) I’m constantly amazed at your fortitude, J. Whoops…I just abbreviated your name. I think that means I need to come back tomorrow to correct that…



    • exiletomexico June 24, 2014 at 5:49 pm #

      Yes, please return tomorrow and fill out this form to correct your comment. HAHAHAHA. Fortitude is not optional! Hugs!!

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