Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Culturally Unconscious in Chacala

The other day, I wrote a post about my struggle to understand how my culturally-based expectations impact my ideas about what is appropriate and polite (in this case, in a small restaurant in Mexico). That post brought a lot of comments and some emails. I didn't post some of them because they struck me as racist and/or arrogant. But the Comments I did publish all gave me food for thought.

It seems odd to me now, but part of my job in my previous life, was overseeing Federally and State funded mental health services. And on small piece setting up methodologies to ensure that the services, inpatient and outpatient, were "culturally competent".

Looking back, I can see how totally ignorant I was about what that phrase meant. Really, I had no clue. And I still probably have a long ways to go. I had lots of training, and by fluke or choice, I have always had friends who were raised in other cultures. But I still didn't get it.The upside of new construction. Villa Celeste.
A really lovely new rental building, overlooking the ocean.
It's really only been in the last few months that it's becoming clear to me how deeply our early childhood family/cultural training is embedded in all of us. I am thinking particularly about what behavior is considered polite and appropriate is each culture. I am embarrassed to realize how insensitive I am in lots of ways.

I had always had enough trouble being aware of how my behavior impacted other people when I was living in English. Let alone in Mexico and in Spanish. I guess one of the good things about not speaking or understanding Spanish, beyond the basics, is that I have to watch people's expressions and body language much more carefully than I ever did before. And I am still not good at it. But I do know now that if you are not paying attention to the whole message (words, eyes, body movements, expressions) you aren't going to get the message. And if you are sure your experience of the world is THE true experience, you will never get the message, except from other people just like you. Two little primos, cousins, hanging out together
as their Dad's, Granddad, and Uncles, work on building project.
And, if, in addition, you assume that everyone is experiencing a particular social setting (like a restaurant) with the same expections and values are you have, well, Good Luck!!! I think one of the harder things in the world is to be able step back from your own filter of expectations about politeness and behavior, and values. And become aware of other people's usually unspoken and rarely conscious, expectations about behavior.

For example, just because your experience in restaurants in the U.S. is that they MUST, by law, serve you, well, it's just not reality in Mexico. And the lovely saying that "the customer is always right" is certainly not true here. And maybe that's a good thing. Why should anyone with any pride or feeling of self-worth allow a customer to treat them with rudeness or disrepect? And the gringo attitude that the most important this is making money just don't wash for many people in Mexican. At least that's my observation.

Many businesses in Mexico are very small, family-run, businesses, where the family eats, sleeps, bathes, washes their clothes, does their homework, and raises the children. And entertains their friends and socializes. Entering a small family business is very much like entering someone's home.

They have no obligation to serve you. It might be a good idea to serve you, if they want to make money. But that's not necessarily a cultural priority here. Family and personal pride seem to be valued much more than making money, at least in the older generations in Mexico.

It's my observation that almost every interaction in small town Mexico is personal. The business part comes later. It seems though it is disrepectful to treat a business person in Mexico as if that's all they are: a piece of a business. First, there's saying "Buenas dias", and acknowledging each other, and maybe making some small talk, and establishing a personal connection. Then comes the business. Beatriz's husband, Gabi, is walling off a small patio
to make an additional, very small, rental room with bath.
Of course, this is just my take on one tiny aspect of what it means to be aware of how your own culture has biased and limited your ideas about how to treat other people. I may be really off base here. But my own opinion is that many of the people running small restaurants and other small businesses put their family first in a real way.

The somewhat derrogatory phrase "Mexican Time" refers to that value. Many people in Mexico are able to sort their priorities about what is most important in their lives, and what needs to be done first, in accordance with those values. And often what important is not someone's wanting their new tile for their bathroom delivered, RIGHT NOW!!! Or whatever.Bouganvilleas grow all over Chacala.
This color is partly an artifact of digital photography,
and partly real.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Service at Family-owned Restaurants in Chacala

I read a post on one of my favorite blogs a couple of days ago. About the blogger's experience in a small family-type restaurant that apparently serves meals for workers. Trajabadores. Apparently she and her partner weren't happy with their experience there: long, long wait, and reluctant service, and very small servings. I wrote her a note giving a possible explanation for what happened at the restaurant.

The gist of my note to her, was that cultural clues about appropriate behavior, and what is polite, and what is expected behavior, are subtle and difficult to see if you are not looking for them. If you aren't comfortable with how you were treated in a "foreign" setting, maybe the first thing to look at is your own behavior, and then to look for the clues you are being offered in response to how you are treating the other person.

My short experience with most Mexican people is that they are extremely polite, and they often don't understand why gringos act so rudely and disrepectfully.This is what I said to the poster about her experience in a small restaurant.

"My guess is that they didn't want to serve you. Perhaps they were out of food, or needed to close up, or don't like dealing with gringas. If I am right, they probably gave you several polite clues that they wanted you to leave, which you probably weren't looking for, or didn't recognize.

I help out, and sometimes hangout, at a lot of restaurants here in Chacala. I have noticed that small restaurants that aren't advertising for, or otherwise asking, for gringo customers generally don't want them. Many Mexicans find gringos to be rude and inconsiderate. I assume that's because the Mexican and gringo cultures are very different.
There seem to be alot of differences between what is polite for a person from the USA as opposed to what a person from the USM. (United States of Mexico) thinks is polite. It would be unlikely for a Mexican to tell a gringo they were closing, had no more food, or didn't want to serve you for whatever reason. They would consider it politer to ignore you, and give subtle or non-so subtle clues they don't want your business. Maybe for that day, or maybe in general. Many family restaurants here seem to find gringos rude, picky about food, demanding about service, and always in a hurry.

It's just something to think about. A different way of looking at the situation you experienced. Here, in Chacala, if you want a nice dinner, you go to the restaurant the afternoon before, or that morning early, and talk over the menu and plan with the owner about when you will be there. Asking them what's a good time. For a small family restaurant it's more like going to their house than going to a business. It's nice to come in, ask if they are serving, etc..... "
Oh well. I probably will get an unpleasant response to that email, and probably to this post. Whatever.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday Morning in Chacala: Clocks Go Back One Hour

Sunday Morning in Chacala. I love Sunday mornings here. Mostly because very few of the hundreds of construction trucks that drive by this house every working-day morning come to work on Sunday. On a normal workday they start about 6:30am, driving about 70mph, and about half of them honking to get into the gate to the gated community. So Sundays starts out nice and quiet around Chacala.Lately the morning nois on weekdays includes the construction noise of the jerk who is building right below this house. For that last 10 days or so, I have been listening to the loud motor of some kind of equipment, maybe a concrete mixer, all day long. And it's really, really, an annoying sound. But, what can you do? Chacala is growing and people (not the local people, however) are making money. What's more inportant that that? That's a somewhat sarcastic remark.
The owner of this new three story, 12 foot by 10 foot concrete bunker is constructing an ugly building with loud equipment, and I hate it.

Although, it would be great if gringoes building ugly buildings in Chacala were illegal, or at least prohibited. Or maybe there could be an UGLINESS TAX imposted on ugly buildings built by people who should know better. I have three nominees for that tax right off the top of my head. One across the road from here and two on the beach.

Never mind. On to nicer construction news:
Isreal (above) and Cheeto (below) are completing the kitchen on the ocean-facing downstairs unit on Mirador rentals. I think it will be very nice. Great view and location.
Mixing concrete the Chacala way. I like it when they mix mortar this way. It's quiet, for one thing. Fortunately for me, in Chacala woman aren't considered intelligent or scientifically- minded enough to mix concrete. So, with any luck at all, I will never have to make concrete in Chacala. It must be very backbreaking work. It's a young man's job anyway, in my opinion.

Another nice thing about making concrete in small, hand-mixed batches, is the work rhythm is slower, and more human. And you can talk in a normal voice with your co-workers, rather that screaming at each other over the sound of the equipment.

The family at Mirador is also re-planting some of their garden areas. Both Isreal and Chata are serious gardeners, and it shows around Mirador. The new Villa Celeste, next door, also has lots of new plants. It looks great.This year is the first time I remember really appreciating moving back to Standard Time. Until yesterday didn't get light until about 7:10am. And was getting dark about 6:45pm. But, at least for a while, it will be light at 6:10am (when I wake up anyway), and dark at 6pm or so. I don't care for the early dark evenings, but I love waking up in the morning light.

I guess everyone knows that the closer you live to the equator, the more equal the hours of day and night are. The sunset is also changing in Chacala. Al least, where the sun appears to go down in the ocean is changing. Right now, the sun is setting in front of the Chacalilla point. And soon to will be setting further south, over Playa Chacala.

I am struggling with getting going with my preparations for moving to my new winter location. I have mentally divided the move into sections.

First, get all my stuff in one place and sort thru and get rid of as much as I can. Then divide stuff into the treasures I don't need in my everyday life for the winter, but will need next summer, of for special projects.Second, pack up that stuff, in my rolling suitcases, which are provided by my wonderful son. Each time he comes down he brings me goodies in a couple of rolling suitcases, and then leaves the suitcases for me to use. Some I have given some away, but mostly I use them to stash my stuff. They are pretty secure and bug free, and stuff doesn't usually get smelly/moldly/damp in them.Third. Once I have that sorting done, I start a pile for the first truckload. And add my "furniture" Foam mattress, three plastic tables, seven plastic chairs, a couple of plastic stools, my small refrigerator, and buckets for water. Same with my plants.

Fourth, I sort thru the stuff I want in my living space for the winter. I divide that into stuff I don't need for the next week, and pack it into suitcases or orange crates or plastic boxes. And add that to the pile for the truck. The stuff I need until I actually move stays where it is, in this, my summer house. Sometimes it's hard to decide what I can live without for a week or so. Like my pens and beads.Fifth. Then, in a week or so, I find someone with a truck to move my plants, furniture, and stuff that will stay packed down to my new place. And then about a week before the homeowner leaves to come south, I move out with the last of my stuff.

Sixth, I return to this house daily for three or four day, to make sure things in ship-shape for when the owners get back to Chacala. Particularly the area around the house. The house is always clean and tidy, but I want things to look as good as possible when they arrive.

I have to re-arrange the furniture during the summer because the rain comes in some of the windows and one area of the roof during the rainy season. And scorpions love the kind of furniture the owners like, so it's a constant battle to keep them out, or dead.

Although this is a great house, in some ways I can't wait to be moved. I have to sweeep this house twice a day, (and mop every other day) to remove bug debris and remains. And sweep the walls and ceilings of cobwebs and small creatures weekly. It's amazing how many bugs geckos, and whatever, there are here, living in close proximity to me. Hiding behind and under the furniture. Dead and alive.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chacala Update: Affordable Rentals

If you are NOT considering coming to Chacala this winter, don't bother to read on.

This is just an update on the affordable rentals here in Chacala. And some new information about accessing extra photos of various rentals around town. I will list the affordable rentals in order cheapest first. Additional information about these rentals can be found at either

Chacala Budget Rentals (which includes ONLY afforable rentals)
Chacala Budget Rentals Blog (which includes almost all the rentals in Chacala).

Generally, the US dollar price is a 1/1oth of the peso price. Just remove the final zero.

Casa de Socorro: 2 upstairs units with basic kitchens on a patio, private bath. Bedrooms have two double beds. $200pesos $18US) a day. For stays of more than a month the rate is $750 pesos a week. This price will probably be higher soon. In my opinion, this is a good deal for someone looking for a place to spend the winter.

Casa de Beatriz: 1 unit upstairs with kitchen on the patio and private bath, two double beds: $3500pesos a month. 2007. Beatriz also has 3 small bedroom units. Two are very very small. Private baths. Downstairs. Start at $150pesos a night.

Casa de Gracia: Very nice large upstairs bedroom (with two double beds) and bath with kitchen on the patio. ] I think it's $350 pesos a night.

Casa de Concha: Concha has a lovely upstairs unit with patio with view, bedroom (two doubles), bath and kitchen. I think the rent is $450 pesos\ She also has a main-floor unit which has a bedroom (a single and a double) and bath and small kitchen area. There is a guest patio right outside the unit. She also has two small rooms that are $200/25opesos a night, with a bath down the hall.

Casa de Aurora: Aurora has one very nice upstairs unit with bedroom (two doublel beds), bath, and a basic kitchen on the covered patio. Nice view. Close to the beach, but quiet. $450 pesos a night. She also has two nice units each with a bedroom (two double beds) and private bath. The two units share a covered patio, and one has a basic kitchen. . For extra photos of Aurora's go to http://casadeauroraybeto.blogspot.com

Casa de Laura is rented for the season

Casa de Dona Lupe is rented for the season

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Dancing on the Basketball Court in Chacala

The huge tree outside the church, from which the church bell hangs.
The final day of the San Rafael celebration started with a long perenegracione on the beach road, to the Church.
The local guys are carrrying the statue of San Rafael,
which is usually in the Iglesia, the Church

The two nominees for Princess of Chacala or something like that.
Jessica is on the right and I can't remember the other girl's name right now.
Some of the smaller member of the crew.

Last night was the annual dance on the playground of the Chacala Primaria School. On the volleyball/basketball court. Every October 24th most of the town celebrates the actual day of San Rafael, patron saint of Chacala. This was my third San Rafael's event.

Plus, in the past I've been to a bunch of parties with bands and people dancing and celebrating other events here in town. I love watching people dance, expecially married couples I have never seen even talking together before. But this dance was a novelty. Something very different, at least for me.

It even started out differently than usual. For one thing, this was the first dance I've been to in Chacala with a live band (good enough) and a decent lighting system. And the sound level was almost bearable, but easily heard all over town until 2:30am on the school night.

By the time I left at about 1am, there were about 400 people there. Sitting around white plastic tables in white plastic chairs provided by the beer distributer. Sometimes the tables and chairs are provided by Coke, but this time with was the beer company. The early part of the evening was the crowning of the Princess, who was Jessica this year.The kids did a dancing and a tumbling exhibition and wowed the crowd. Bad lighting and an imcompetent photographer resulted in almost no good shots of the event.The little girls in pink were part of large group of dancers who were practicing all week. I don't know if I missed their show or if it didn't happen. There were alot of kids and babies, young mom's with infants, and young adults and older couples, single guys, and me.But the highlight of the evening was the intermission show. A torch-singer transvestite. With the comedic relief of another, smaller, man, also dressed as a woman (kind of like a country-western singer gone bad). The second guy, apparently drunk out of his mind, was kind of the groupie in the act. The actual singer did three songs, each with a different long wig. And ugly, slinky dresses. She was lip-synching, and after the first song on the stage, she went into the audience and tried to sit on men's laps.

Apparently this person, the singer, did some shows during Easter Week, but somehow I missed that event. Everyone at the dance except me seemed to know that was coming, I think. I have the impression transvestites are called something like "Juko's", but I may have gotten that wrong.

The women in this audience mostly seemed to love the show, and maybe half the men seemed to be enjoying themselves.. The other half were scared to death "she" was going to try to sit on their laps and they would have to defend their manhood (s). Jessica's father, who was drunk out of his mind all night, tried to beat the singer up. But was restrained.

Generally, a very entertaining show, and not what I espected in Chacala. There is a small group of three transvestites who hang around Chacala, one from Zualcupan, and one from L.V., plus Chelo, whose aunt (?) owns one of the restaurants in Chacala. It was quite a night. The stumbling-around little guy was so wasted he could hardly stand up, but he was kind of sweet. He's the guy who lives in an apartment at the collectivo stop in L.V.

Chilango, formerly and currently of Delphin's, and Leo of Koko Bongo's, were very gracious the first time she came around to lap-sit, but the second time Leo was prepared and flashed his lighter at her wig, and she quickly retreated. Quite a night. Chacala always surprises me, and tonight was a good example of that. I was glad to see how friendly and welcoming the audience was.

I love all the kids and babies and young adults and young married with babies, and grandparents and aunties. There always seeme to be someone to hold the babies while their parents dance.
Guadalupe, escaped from her Mom and her dress-up clothes.
Her Mom, Miriam, has just started a new restaurant next to
Polo's Taco Restaurant on the beach road.
Oh, and the cockfight promoters, who usually to set-up their arena down at the far end of the cuestos on the beach road, are right next to Tres Mars restaurant this year. For five or seven days. It's so disgusting. Gambling on which rooster dies. Or dies first. It's sick. Just my un-humble opinion of course.
This is the morning after the Dance and Princess Crowning Ceremony,
and Jessica, the new Princess, is playing on the playground
with the 4th,5th, and 6th graders. She is the second from the right
Jessica, the newly crowned Princess, wore four different lovely gowns/dresses last night, and looked very sweet. She handled herself very well, especially considering two years ago she was not allowed to go to school, so her mom could work while Jessica took care of her three year old brother and cooked for the 3 or 4 other boys in the family and her Dad. She is now a sixth grader, and very posed for her age. And very competent. Jessica's life has changed alot, and I am worried for her future.

I actually hate the Princess thing. The girls or their families put little decorated shoe boxes in all the stores, and you vote with money. I don't know if it's a fund raiser or not. Being special because you were lucky of enough to be born pretty doesn't seem like a great idea to me. But, then, if I had been one of the beautiful ones, maybe I would feel differently about the whole subject.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Chacala Weekend

Every late afternoon this ast week the kids have have been practicing their dance routines on the volleyball court for the big shower Tuesday night. I love this picture. A future rock star, on his way to the big time!
Chacala was busier than usual yesterday, which was a Sunday. Actually, the beach is almost always busy on Sundays, unless it rained the day before, or is really overcast. But the rest of the town is usually pretty quiet, with lots of locals visiting friends and family elsewhere for the day.But yesterday the chicken murders were here, which draw some people, and a volleyball tournament was in progress at the Primaria playground. Teams from Las Varas, Chacala, and San Jose del Valle (near Puerto Vallarta) were here for the afternoon. The teams were composed of young guys, averaging may 19 or 20.

And young women and their Mom's ran some refreshment stands. One of which was collecting money for community stuff. Like the San Rafael Day stuff. When I wondered down to the court to check out the action, one of the local guys said to me, "Oh, the guys from San Jose are all gay". Young Mexicans, or at least Chacaleans, seem to be highly attuned to the sexuality of their counterparts from other places. And often call each other "gay". Which seems to be considered both funny and derogatory.
So anyway, in general, when I hear the local guys calling someone else "gay", I always try to present a semi-disgusted look on my face, as in "How un-cool can you get"? Yesterday a local young man, who often calls other guys "gay", was particularly vocal about his team's opponents being "gay". I gave him in hard time. As in "Oh, how is it, exactly, you know he is gay?" "Personal experience?" And then everyone started laughing at him, and joking around. He seemed to think it was funny too, and life went on.

The joke was on me though, because it turned out some of the players on the other team were very "out". And very flamboyant and open about it. When they saw I was taking photos they made sure I got photos of them posing. Very funny guys.Sexuality/sexual perference, etc is interesting around here. At least to me.There are a couple of young men in the Las Varas/Chacala area who dress up as women, or at least, very decoratively and effeminately, and no one seems to pay much attention. They seem to be active and accepted members around town. Noticable, but that's all.Of course, there may things going on around here I don't know about. I noticed one of those effeminate young men was being pushed around by some drunk 16 year olds at the big Las Varas fiesta one night last February. Two other people and I walked up to the group, and asked XXX if he could help us with something. We all walked away from the drunks together. And they didn't follow. I hope they were embarassed. It seemed like they were.

What I see though, is very interesting, and nice, in my opinion. In my former (conservative, Catholic, town) for example, it would be unlikely you would see a man who dresses mostly as a woman, teaching dance routines to boys and girls on the school playground. In preparation for a big community-wide show.
When I was walking home at the end of the day I ran into this vender, selling toys for 10 pesos. The streets of Chacala were totally deserted at our end of town, and I ended up taking some photos of him. And buying a couple of things. I took about a half dozen photos, and I think it cheered him up some. He really got into posing, and had a nice smile by the time we finished with the picture taking.
This is a local gentleman who often is working on some handcraft or carpentery project on his front porch. Piecework for the local fishing industry. Today he was making leaders for hooks for some fisherman. Sometimes he is making what looks like wooden lobster traps, but I'm not sure what they are.

Bright and early yesterday morning, a Saturday, the kid trash patrol crew was out in force again. Picking up the trash thrown out of the trucks and vehicles of people driving in and out of the gated community. Bags full. It doesn't seem appropriate to me for kids to be picking up garbage that adults throw out of their very large and expensive vehicles. Aurora was in charge, and Jaime, a wonderful young man who is working hard on his English and computer skills, was driving. Interesting enough, the girls were picking up the trash, while the boys rode in the truck. At least while I was taking pictures. In any case, the kids were having a good time, and that counts for alot. They are still so innocent in many ways in Chacala. The kids here, with a few exceptions, don't seem to spend much time in front of TV. It's still kind of new here, maybe three or four years old, and the cable (which is necessary) is about 500 pesos a month. ($45US).The kids in Chacala (like poor kids everywhere, I guess) are geniuses at finding things to play with, and making up games, and enjoying themselves. Runniing around freely and having adventures. Even the littlest kids, usually under a sibling or cousin's supervision are often over at the playground, running around together. And dancing is very popular, all year around. The after-school program at the Bibliotecha, on the Primaria grounds, has become very popular lately. With all age groups, not just the elementary kids who usually have a study hour before activities. I'm not sure why. Baylin is working with the program now, maybe that's the difference.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Life as an Unpaid Rental Agent in Chacala

These Chacala girls are checking out their outifts for their big show on Tuesday,
the night of final San Rafael celebration,.

I think I have mentioned before that I have a blog with photos of almost all the rentals in Chacala, with photos, contact info, rates, descriptions, location etc. It's called Chacala Budget Rentals (http://chacalabudgetrentals.blogspot.com.

It's a service (no cost to rental owners or renters) I offer because (1) it's usually fun for me and (2) it's kind of a payback for the wonderful life (most of the time) I am enjoying here.

I have had email interactions with many different people. Almost all of them seem to be nice people, looking for the right place for their vacation or visit. All of them, that is, except for the 1 in 7 emails from spammers. And I have made real friends with people thru doing rentals with them.A new "restaurant" set-up Saturday morning in front of a house
across the street from the Primaria playground.

First day of the chicken-killers and their gambling arena. I didn't go down to check it out last night, but I suspect there were alot of people there, mostly from Las Varas and other local towns. The people running the show were not from Chacala, and probably not even local. Ugh!!!

So, if you are looking for a nice basic rental with kitchen on the patio and a private bath for $150 pesos a night (13.50US) write me a note. The open dates, right now, are in February.
She also has an opening for December and early January. There are photos of Socorro's further down in this blog. I think it's titled "Socorro's". And on the Chacala Budget Rental site.

To change the subject, I get about five or six spammers a day, pretending to be looking for a rental. They are usually really obvious, but not always. Apparently they are trolling for valid email addresses.This guy was one of the three ice cream sellers in town from Zualcupan yesterday. Unfortunaley the weather was dreary and overcast, and there were hardly any tourists.

I also get emails from people who (as it gradually becomes clear) are only fantasizing about living in Mexico, and apparently have no intention of renting, and seem to have plenty of time to ask endless questions about the rental and Chacala, etc. Oh well.Dona Lupe, owner of Fonda de Lupita restaurant,
and the Dona Lupe: Techos de Mexico rental unit,
embroiders alot while she waits for customers with her daugher, Blanca.
We are having another very, very overcast day, apparently because tropical storm Paul is out over the ocean somewhere, heading for Baja. Very gloomy.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Volleyball, Dance Routines, and Cock Fighting, in Chacala

All kinds of thing are going on around Chacala right now. Besides construction, and school, and rain, and heat, and humidity. And lovely, cool evenings spent visiting with friends, or whatever.

The young guys are practicing volleyball every night on the Primaria playground. I guess there is some kind of tournament as part of this week's activities.A bunch of younger girls and boys are practicing dance routines on the playground every afternoon, under the direction of Chelo (sp?), and supervision of Baylin. I think they will be putting on a show for the town this weekend.
Every morning and evening (5am and 5pm), there is a service at the Church, and a walk around town, with flowers, and a special San Rafael banner, fireworks (morning and night) and church bells (5am and 5pm).Some of the newly named neighborhoods (mainly organized by new street names) are making paper decorations to string across the street, and to decorate the houses. It looks great.And the Church is getting more new windows. It looks like they will slide to open. And maybe the top parts will be left open. It gets very hot in that building, and even six or eight fans don't really help, so....The only event that doesn't thrill me, is someone is setting up an arena for cockfighting this weekend. Right uphill from Tres Mars. It's disgusting. I won't even say "From my POV". It is just disgusting. Training chickens to fight undo death. So people can gamble. Lovely. People around town are almost as shocked that I don't appreciate cock fighting as they are when I say I am not a Catholico.