|The neo-Ugly Americans|
- Sunday, March 18 2007, 17:21:39 (CET)|
from 126.96.36.199 - dsl-189-162-80-232.prod-infinitum.com.mx Mexico - Windows XP - Internet Explorer
In the 50s that term, “Ugly American” referred mostly to career diplomats and businessmen who made no secret of their disdain for the great unwashed peoples, mostly Darkies, they were forced to endure on their way to gobs of wealth at their expense.
Today it can apply more readily to the hordes of American ex-patriots living among darkies because it costs less and is far more pleasant than in America…especially at the economic level their dollars can buy them entry to, compared to the hardscrabble and uncertain existence their ever diminishing retirement checks and modest pensions and investments entitle them to in the States.
You see them everywhere, bargaining with natives over trifles, sure they are being cheated and that everyone really wants to trade places with them. They especially haunt the restaurants because the food is “cheap”. Whereas at home they could maybe afford a meal at Denny’s once a month, or breakfast out once a week...in Mexico they can eat at least one meal a day in some type of restarant every day of the month. This unsettles most them...they get to acting very lordly, or how they think a Lord would act. They become easily convinced that more than a ten percent tip will ruin the moral character of the Mexicans slaving for pennies…while they park their eighteen-wheeler arses and grunt their pleasure at the bargain they’re getting…though they’ll never admit as much to any Native.
I had the extreme misfortne of being with Maggie when she saw a dress she wanted to buy from a peddler who’d hung his wares on a cyclone fence in Manzanillo’s centro. The man wanted all of $20 for a lovely linen dress…and that it could fit Maggie at all is a testament to the sheer number of square meters involved…yet there she was, driving the guy down to $15 and not a penny more because “I know where I can buy them cheaper.” That she was still “overcharged” never penetrated her fat head...so dizzy did it become with her bargain and bargaining powers…I say overcharged only because there should be a tourist tax added to everything…to compensate those at the middle and bottom who can’t afford to fool the gringos, as the wealthy resorts can, into paying ten times what anything is worth…because such gringos feel like Royalty when fleeced… royally.
I don’t haggle with anyone over anything...not even foundry costs. I’m grateful this country exists…I wish the poorer people well…I know how hard they work and that any extra dollar goes to feed their family…for the most part…and I accept being “overcharged” as a near approximation of what my privileged life here is worth…really worth.
I can barely tolerate the kinds of gringos I just described(and whatever Maggie says, she is a gringa)…and so it was with some regret, dear reader, that I happened on three such persons today. I was in a major beach resort town near my fishing village for some business or other. It being late morning by the time I finished I decided to get some breakfast before driving back. A small sidewalk restaurant looked appealing, even though the outside tables were awash in humungous tourists. I found a table inside and waited for service. Out on the sidewalk I saw an older fellow holding his battered tape player by his face, singing out a tune more or less in time to his disc…this man was working and working hard for his meager living.
From one corner of the sidewalk I noticed an older woman, very thin and frail looking, her back badly deformed by a hump, wearing a skimpy house dress…her gray and streaked hair gathered in a loose bun…scrawny thin legs, ratty tennis shoes….this woman had nothing to sell, no trick to perform…she very meekly approached each stall of white people and held out a wrinkled palm…anything, 50 centavos, one peso, ten cents and she could buy at least tortillas that day and hope to live to reach her grave in some comfort.
I’d earlier noticed a table of obnoxious gringos, very pleased with themselves and all their buying power…one especially was very “hail-fellow-well-met”…looking like he was an old native and knew all the ropes. When the elderly woman approached his table he made a fluttering gesture with the back of his palm as you would shoo away a pestering fly or other insect. I thought to myself…”not even a peso”?
I feel if you can afford the Crowne Plaza Acapulco or the Fiesta Americana Vallarta, you have a reasonable right to expect you’ll never come in contact with the Great Unwashed while you eat in the terrace café your $20 omelette( which Maggie would never dream of haggling over)…but if you haven’t got that kind of money and all you can afford is to eat on the street among the better-off natives, then you should be prepared to accept, with some grace, that you will indeed encounter “the people”. You should not behave as if THEY are where they don’t belong…There are many ways to discourage panhandling, most of them painlessly polite.
When the woman pulled back her hand to shuffle to the next table, I leapt to my feet to go after…tapping her from behind I slipped several coins into her hand. Shaking with suppressed rage I flipped a two-peso coin onto the table of the gringos as I made my way back to my own. At first they tried to pretend it wasn’t there and they had no idea what was meant by the gesture…which was nothing more than to remind them who was the real beggar in this opera. That old woman was brought by force of circumstances beyond her control to such pass so late in life…she was a “beggar” on the outside but grace and humility mixed with inner pride shone through her…while the Americans, whom another sort of circumstance had placed in this unearned “lordly” position, aping the manners of what they thought was arrogant gentility, were nothing more than beggars at heart, begging their “pride” in Mexico.
But it must have been eating at them because they were no longer as jovial as before, not much anticipating their three egg omellets, bacon, toast, butter, jam, hash browns and beans. Finally one of them(not the one who’d made the dismissive gesture), a man in his 50s maybe, with a shaved head and handlebar moustache, of the lastest ex-Pat “look”, got up, all jolly like and approached my table...he put the coin down and said something like, “I guess you need this”…I don’t really remember.
I decided to skip breakfast…I’d lost my appetite anyway. Before leaving I asked the waitress for a big plastic cup of ice water….I tipped her for it and made my way to the car parked outside…on my way I had a bad accident and poured the ice water, on a very hot day, down the man’s neck, splashing plenty on his companions…I continued walking leisurely to my car…but I did hear him shout out in shock…you can imagine.
They must have known I was also a gringo because no Mexican would ever have tossed them the coin they deserved…Mexicans are far too polite to do such a thing and have learned how to swallow these little daily insults…but, had that fellow made the mistake of placing that coin on the table of a Mexican man…he would have found himself either shot or cut badly.
I take a special solicitude in my countrymen…I feel their lack of education and manners reflects on us all and does them no good either…and wishing to do well by my fellow man, I took the time out to help someone reflect a little. They knew exactly the reason for that coin on their table...and could contemplate, if they chose to, the entire incident from a much cooler perspective than before.
One only hopes they improve. I know I felt better.
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