Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Strange Adherance to Rules

Living in Mexico, one might think there is very little regard to rules or law. People drive fast, fast, fast. Around curves so fast the whole van sways to the side, to the point of toppling, but it doesn't. Double lines in the middle mean nothing, cars pass on curves even when other cars are passing over the lines coming the opposite way, and the passed cars quickly move to the side and everyone passes with a hair's breadth to spare.

Then there's the other side of the rule spectrum.


Picture this. The entrance to the Amber Museum, from inside the lobby, is a open doorway, maybe six feet wide. On the other side is an enormous courtyard and patio. The doorway has two poles with a metal bar between them. The right open side has a removable chain with an ENTRADA sign dangling from it. The other open side has a little metal flapper people push through when they come out. 

We'd already paid and visited the museum, and were in the gift shop. There were no other customers besides our little group. I wanted to use the bathroom before we left so I just ducked out through the closest of the two openings, which happened to be the through the exit flapper. The woman who ran the gift shop dashed over and called me back, I was already several yards down the patio. I had no idea what she wanted so I came back. She insisted that I exit through the flapper back into the lobby, then she reached over to unhook the ENTRADA chain and insisted I go through that. Rules! You just don't go IN the OUT door!! 


There is a Canadian store with branches all over Mexico called Coppel. I am convinced that although Coppel has many big and small ticket items for sale, it is much more interested in loaning money at extreme rates than in selling anything. Downstairs are refrigerators, washing machines, and TVs. Upstairs are smaller but expensive items like sewing machines, blenders, microwaves. They have all the other stuff a kitchen needs too, pots and pans, spatulas, etc. Everything in the store has a very professional sign on it with two prices. The price you pay weekly, or the price you pay in cash. For a refrigerator that costs 5,000 pesos in cash, the long term payment over 100 weeks will cost the customer 10,000 pesos total. (But you'd have to be able to multiply 100 pesos by 100 weeks to know that!) It's an interest rate of 50% a year!!!

Even a 26 peso spatula has a payment plan. The small items are secured, hanging from locked studs. I had seriously looked around the cheaper hardware and miscellaneous stores for a small skillet and spatula, but found what I really wanted at Coppel. Both were locked up. Nobody who worked there seemed to be able to unlock them and they told me to ask at the payment window (where 30 people were lined up to pay their weekly 100 peso installments) for a "muchacho". I asked and nobody showed up. After about ten minutes I found a kid in a store uniform shyly skulking around behind some displays. I asked if he could help me and he looked embarrassed that I'd caught him doing nothing at all. He followed me to the items, wrote the numbers on a piece of paper and then took me downstairs to pay while he then went back upstairs to unlock and fetch them. Why he couldn't have unlocked them and brought them down with us, I don't know. More than likely it's a rule of some kind, like you can't let a customer see how easy it is to unlock something.

So downstairs I pulled out a 100 peso bill and was ready to pay for my two items. (100 pesos is the equivalent to $8 US dollars!) The woman slowly and meticulously filled out a form on the computer. She needed my name, my address, my birthdate, my phone number. What? I refused. She became visibly upset. I told her I was paying cash and asked why she needed all that? She looked blank. I'm sure she was just trying to fill out the form because that's her job and those are the rules. Finally she reluctantly took the money and a bit later the muchacho showed up with my purchases in a bag, stapled at the top.