The Simple Pleasure of Getting Things Repaired In Mexico
A washing machine in the tropics
To my dismay, a small side table near the ocean side window of the condo I rent wobbled and sloped downward as if seeking its missing limb on the floor. One of two in a matching set, the table is shaped like an open box turned on one side, with a table top about the size of an airplane seat tray. Like an airplane tray, it is only attached on one side, meaning my guest had probably leaned his elbows a little too hard on it as we contemplated the sunset. Now the tray angled precipitously.
No worries. I am in Mexico, where people can make shoes out of tires. A quick call to the Intrepid Elise, a property manager and friend, and I had the name of a carpenter to call. Within two hours, Alejandro arrived, took a look and showed me where the table had been repaired before for the same grievance.
I asked how much it would be to both repair the table and touch the paint up a bit. After a full 10 second appraisal, all wheels visibly grinding, he quoted 500 pesos.
While I knew I could probably get him down to 400, 350 even, such is not the way of my tribe, the American expat tribe. Our tribesmen remember what we would have to go through and pay at home for such a task. Twenty-eight dollars seemed a fair deal for a repair and two-way delivery.
With a promise to deliver the table back in three days, Alejandro took his leave, leaving me to once again marvel at the small things that make life in Mexico so different and pleasant. While it’s true that at home I might have asked a friend if they knew a carpenter, had the answer been no, I would have gone on line and tried to find one. In Mexico, the latter idea would never be considered. The only way this table would be repaired is through the word-of-mouth referral of a carpenter.
Had a friend at home come up with a anyone who would do such a small job (unlikely), the whole process would be a longer, more drawn out affair. It would have cost me at least twice as much. These days, I’d probably would have had to just throw both tables away and buy new ones. It’s very difficult to find people to do anything for less than $100.
The Intrepid Elise was very clear that I needed to tell the carpenter that she referred him. She hadn’t had work for him of late and wanted to make sure he knew she was still thinking about him. I guessed that her name would help ensure standard rate, no funny business.
All the quid pro quo social elements of this conversation could be found in both countries, yet it underlined for me once again a critical aspect of doing business in Mexico: Reputation and word of mouth referral is the only way you can survive in business here, and the only way to find people to do jobs well for the right price.
I thought back on how much more stress the task would have caused three years ago. Obviously, I had to call, introduce myself, tell Alejandro what I needed and arrange a time when he could come by. After the meeting, I called him back as an afterthought to as that he take a “before” and “after” picture and email it should there being any questions on the part of my landlord.
I remember well how draining such tasks were without Spanish. Some contractors will not work with a good friend of mine here because his Spanish (after so many years here) is so bad. One can extrapolate from this how it would limit your choices of contractors and repairmen. With Spanish, this task was as easy as being at home.
Speaking Spanish and being able to control these simple tasks has finally yielded the reward of turning what had been potential frustrating tasks into a pleasant moments of interaction, moments that accumulate at a greater speed each day I spend in Mexico.
Mexicans wisely embrace alternative treatments and botanical stores are a fun place to snoop around.
Most recent: Discovering a place for grounding rituals in my life as a part-time expat.
About the author:
Kerry Baker is the author of two books, The Interactive Guide to Learning Spanish Free Online, a curation of the best free Spanish tools on the web, organized by skill and level. Using different tools every day will help fight off the biggest impediment to learning Spanish: Boredom. Find the best ones in the Guide.
If Only I Had a Place takes you through the process of renting in Mexico. Do not believe what realtors tell you. You have many opportunities beyond their offerings for luxurious places at much less.
The Mexico Solution - How to Save Your Money, Sanity and Quality of Life Through Part-Time Life in Mexico will be available in September.