Living Like A Local: Cultural Logic

Living in PV
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As an American, we develop our thought patterns and ideas through our families aka culture.

We develop “accepted and understood” thought processes of accuracy, urgency and efficiency. You come to expect things quickly and correctly in all your daily dealings. We schedule ourselves to the point where we’re just running like a hamster in a never ending treadmill. As a professional, I found myself scheduling every minute of my day. In fact I’d hurry-up and get to sleep, so I could “hurry-up” out of bed and do it all over again. My job was stressful, my non-working wife made me stress more and it seemed life was just one fire drill after another. Funny thing is what seemed important, was just spinning wheels. But you don’t learn that until you’re out of the “cage” and running freely that you understand this. Until then many of us live or lived in a self-imposed pressure cooker. Then I moved to Puerto Vallarta after 26 yrs. as an engineer for Douglas Aircraft and the Boeing Aircraft companies. I walked away from the stress I came to know and frankly expect. That was my life.

You really don’t think about it, when you get off that plane, you’re on a completely different “playing field” with new rules. I should say “New Cultural Rules”. You see one of the very first things you discover, mostly the hard way, is that the “Mexican” way of thinking is not the North American way of thinking, this includes Canadians. Depending on who you’re dealing with Time tables don’t really exist. If you’re looking for the punctual and professional support types you always learn that saving money is actually the most costly process. That is in itself a whole article, but it’s normally where the “Mexican Cultural Logic” comes into play.

Fast forward, most of my articles deal with my experiences with the locals and swimming in the cultural swimming pool. Working with the public in my fishing company I get locals and visitors alike who like to discuss the cultural differences. Mostly “how I own a business in Mexico). Sometimes things get interesting, people are mad, other times they just laugh. But it’s never what as an American we would “culturally” expect. So I had this guy, his name was Brad ask me to explain to him how a “Mexican National” thinks. To him and many others, they just don’t understand how nationals relate to money, service and being professional. After being here as long as I have, I still don’t understand it completely, but I do know how to “deal with it”. After the question, thinking for a second, a smile came to my face. Naturally this person wanted to know what I was smiling about. I told him I had two quick stories and one “saying” that would put the whole thing in perspective for a North American mentality.

As I continued, I shared an old Mexican Saying that goes: “It’s better to leave the fruit on the tree, than to pick it and sell it too cheap”! That kind of stopped me in my tracks. I could see the point of the saying, but it worked directly against how my thought process works. In my mind, I have to pick that fruit or I get nothing! Which means all the effort and trouble up to that point was wasted energy if you don’t pick that fruit! This “Does not compute” to a capitalist thought process. But it’s a good place to start learning how to convert your thought processes. Many would just “blow this off”, but you shouldn’t. For the moment, keep this information in the back of your mind.

Another Mexican Cultural way of thinking and acting deals with confrontation. Mexicans are famous for “drama”. Relationship drama, family drama, work drama … Drama! As an American when something doesn’t happen to my “expectations”, I get a little bothered. When I (speaking for all of us) get bothered I tend to share that with who or what is responsible. When dealing with a National, how you communicate with them, determines the results you’ll have. If you come in soft and all polite and smiles, you can politely discuss why the carpenter you paid half the money for the project up front didn’t show up any of the four days he promised to. Professional contractors will mostly not be like this. But the friend who recommended a friend “who would save you money” is where it all begins. When you deal with this type of carpenter for example, you have to keep things on a polite level or nothing positive for you happens. If you get in a nationals face and go all ballistic, you're project will most likely never get done. The guy won’t answer his phone and the money you paid this guy is just gone forever. As a gringo expat, you probably paid this guy too much thinking it was cheap. The “carpenter” just got paid more money with half down (for materials), then he normally would get for the entire job. As “gringos” this happens a lot. Ask a person who’s lived in PV for a while, they’ll have their own set of stories. So this all ultimately comes down to YOU making a bad decision based on your “cultural thought processes”! Not the Nationals, no matter how much you demand you’re in the “right”, It just doesn’t matter, what are you going to do? There is nobody to tell, just chalk it up to a learning experience you paid well for.

                                                                         Sams club VT

Ok, after that little bit of background lets return to the original point of the article. To continue, once again I was asked by Brad “to explain how a “Mexican National” thinks”. I answered his question with a story. Several years ago Walmart opened in Puerto Vallarta. Then Next door they put a “Sam’s Club” at the same time. I was super excited and was counting the minutes until they both opened! The day finally came and to me it felt like Christmas Morning. I waited a day, yes I held off for the crowds. But the next day I walked into pure heaven. Products stuffed to the ceilings and all at great prices. I walked the store wide-eyed and came across the bakery. Yes folks they had a beautiful bakery with all the “gut bomb” foods I loved yet “hated”. There was a familiar smell in the air, a smell I barely recognized until I saw “them”. Apple Pies. And not just any Apple Pie, these were the larger sized pies and with so many Mexican Nationals in the store, they were more or less not giving these beautiful apple pies the respect they deserved. Not me! I was in shock and bought two of them. I don’t remember the price but they could have been a hundred dollars each and that would not have stopped me!

                                                                            Apple Pie VT

After proudly walking out of Sam’s club, I went home and broke out that pie and got a fork. I sliced the thing up and decided to walk the marina and offer pieces to my friends. I was super excited and wound up eating most of that pie that day. Yep, I ate a whole pie in one day and didn’t look back. That pie was Delicious and I was still having apple pie cravings, I pretty much killed the other pie the following day. What was left over the next day was gone before I even thought of breakfast.

You can imagine at that point, I had my fill of Apple pie. About two weeks later I was getting more cravings and headed to Sam’s with my new membership card. I went looking for Apple Pies, but there were none. I asked and was told they “sold out”. Well Damn! But I understood. I waited a few days and went back, but they were selling out quickly and they hadn’t replaced the pies as yet. Still disappointed I left to return a week later. Once again, no Apple Pies. So I found the manager of the dept. and asked if I could preorder a couple of pies. What he told me was golden and very cultural thinking / logic.

I don’t recall the manager’s name but his answer was unforgettable. He looked at me and with sad eyes told me “how they were having problems with the Apple Pies”. To my way of thinking I was expecting him to say there was an apple shortage or something along those lines. He continued to tell me that there were so many people asking for Apple Pies that they couldn’t keep up with them. And that many people after coming to the store several times were very upset and some even yelled! Remembering that the Mexican Culture doesn’t like confrontation the manager found a solution to the Apple Pie problem. They decided to stop making them! Yes, I’m not kidding, they got very upset, that customers were getting upset with them for not being able to keep up with the demand and decided to just stop selling Apple Pies all together. No More Apple Pies, that was his solution! I was floored as you’d expect. The Capitalist in me could not wrap my head around his answer. But it didn’t matter, nothing was going to change. I walked out the door shaking my head in disbelief. A profitable product, flying out the door was a “problem”. The Capitalist in me wanted to open a bakery! Brad was shocked as well, we all had a laugh and it’s a cute story. But it’s not adequate to explain “why” with one example the cultural logic this way.

                                                                                          Apple pie bakery VT

You see North Americans come from “money”. Not like rich or rolling in “dough” money, but we focus as a culture on money. Capitalism is about working hard, saving your money, then spending money. But what if money in your culture was not really “there”. What if money wasn’t much of a thought at all? What if you were living, eating and enjoying life with no real thoughts about “money”? It’s a cultural mountain range separating “basic” thought processes.

To continue, following this “experience” with the apple pies. You just shake it off, chalk it up to things being different in Mexico. I continued the story with Brad, the local, that you have to learn from this and not just put a judgment on it or call it stupid. Here’s why…

A few days after the apple pie incident, I was sitting in my shop, it was a nice day and about six captains and mariners were just shooting the breeze (talking) in the shop. There is this nice lady who sells Tacos Canastas. Basically it’s a plastic five gallon bucket with layer upon layer of different tacos for sale for ten pesos each, about fifty cents each (at that time. As a guy who grew up in Venice California, we had a heavy Mexican cultural influence so I fell right into it in PV.

I asked the lady how many tacos she had as she answered fifteen. I thought I’d buy lunch for everyone so I told her I’d take them all. She then looked at me with sad puppy eyes and said she couldn’t sell me the entire fifteen but she would sell me ten. Ten??? Again, my cultural thinking / logic jumped to the front of my consciousness and “asked” politely why I couldn’t have the other five tacos. The lady told me because she has customers down the way that “might” want some. So she was holding on to them for her other “possible” clients. I proceeded to tell her that if she didn’t have an order for them already, she should sell them all to me and maybe come back with more. Of course her “cultural logic / thinking” said she had to save some for her friends down the Malecon. So I agreed, everyone got one taco, I paid her and she was on her way.

About an hour or so later, this same lady came back and wanted to know if I wanted the other five tacos now? Looking at this woman in amazement I mentioned that everyone had left now and that there was no longer a need for the other tacos. But thanked her for thinking of me as she walked away.

Once again I’d be confronted with the dueling cultural logics.

                                                             tacos canastas 001 VT

With these two different examples of cultural thinking or Mexican Logic, remembering the Fruit and the Tree example, money once again is not the focus. The Taco lady and the Manager at Sam’s had one thing in common, they were thinking of other people over a dollar or peso in this case. With their cultural logic / thinking it’s better to do away with the possible conflict and aggravation by doing away with the “cause” before it arises. The pies were causing pain to the clients. Also the employees and the Manager. I found that amazing to be frank. Money and profit didn’t come into the picture as I was using it for justification. The Taco lady refusing to sell me those final tacos, then coming back, seems almost stupid. But then again I was using my American cultural logic to analyze things. It took a bit of inward thinking but I came to understand the logic and it helped me to understand the Mexican People a little better.

You see, they were thinking with their hearts, about other people, putting the struggle for a peso secondary. The taco lady could have sold those tacos to me and made a few extra pesos, but she cared about her friends and clients that “might” go hungry if she sold out of her tacos. The Manager at Sam’s didn’t want upset people going out of their way for the Apple Pies they couldn’t meet the demand on. Once you push the “this is just stupid” capitalist ideas to the side. You realize this logic works if you take the money out of the equation.

I don’t know if Sam’s or Walmart is making Apple Pies now, they may be making them again, I look on occasion but never see them.

And the taco lady, well about a week after that taco day, she came from the other direction. I started buying tacos from her on a regular basis so she came by daily. At times I would put an order in so she would make some extra just for me. But I remember one day in particular, she came by the shop and had sold out all her tacos, except for the ones she “thought” I might want. She had five, I didn’t want them, but the simple fact she saved them for me, I bought them all.

So the moral of this story is to always to have Mexican Friends that can help you get out of your own way, especially when applying the wrong Cultural Logic!