Monday, October 08, 2007

The Gringo "Bubble" In Sayulita

I just read another book about ex-pat life in Mexico. Not in Chacala. I think it came out in the last year or so. I won't post the name here. I found the book to be interesting, and about 75% annoying. I think it would it tend to draw to Mexico just the kind of people I don't particularly want for neighbors.
(Added on 10/11/07: I have been thinking about my reaction to this book.
I think I was really disappointed in the difference from the beginnig of this book, and the rest of it. And I stupidly ended up being angry at the author for not living up to my idea of how he should be. Judging him. I feel like editing this post some, now that I am in little different place about the book. I am going to do that now.)

The story is set in another beach town on the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Sayulita. The friend who loaned me the book said I probably wouldn't like it. And it turned out she was correct. But, at first, I really thought it was a pretty good book about expat life. The author wrote about many of the same things that I have written about here.

I kind of liked the first 50 pages or so. Even though he pretty much ignored a very important
(just kidding) topic: toilets in Mexico. He did discuss all the trouble they went to in order to get colored toilets for all three bathrooms. With wooden, not plastic, toilet seats, in colors matching the toilets. My guess is these folks arranged their lives so that the only toilets they ever used (outside their own home) were the toilets at Walmart, Home Depot, or the homes of their wealthy friends.

Anyway...... One of the first things the author discussed was gringos coming to Mexico and then living in "bubbles". Like gated developments, houses in gringo-only neighborhoods, Nuevo Vallarta, etc. So they could pretend that they weren't really living in Mexico. Places where the only Mexican they might see would be a maid, a gardeners, or the "security" staff. Well, I see "Bubble" people all the time around here. The concept certainly resonated with me.He spent quite a bit on time on the "bubble" idea. And about how other gringos living in Mexico "didn't get it." (His phrase).

I took him to mean that there are many many Americans and Canadians who come to poor Mexican villages to live, and don't get where they are. Or that this is a different culture. And that it might be a really nice culture. Even a nicer lifestyle than what it's like where they came from. He wrote that coming to a small Mexican town and barricading yourself behind walls and gates and security people kind of defeats the purpose of coming here. Or at least I think that's what he was saying.

He seemed to believe that if you are going to live in Mexico, learn some Spanish, learn about the history and the culture. Try to make some local friends, and be respectful of things you don't understand. And keep your suggestions and ideas to yourself for a few years. Until you have a least a small clue about where you are living.

He also wrote about "gringo amnesia". That's when people come to Mexico, and forget all the reasons they wanted to come here. And all the downsides of living north of the border(s).I felt as though I related to what he wrote completely. So you can probably see how I would think, "Oh, I like this guy, or at least, his book".

One of the pieces that I especially liked was when he wrote about how the concept of how time works around here. How the Indios in Mexico saw time as circular, not linear. And how that plays out in everyday life here. And about how Mexican life, at least in small villages, tends to be in the "here and now". Like the concept of "Be Here Now" and "Let It Be", for example. Okay. I liked that part a lot. And I like how those concepts are playing out in my own life. Here in Chacala.But the next thing I know, this guy's true colors seem to come out. And so did my irritaton and frustration. And judgemental character.

They build a house inside their own little "gringo bubble", a walled compound with a big gate. And they originally planned to build a 3+ story building in a one-story neighborhood. A house with a pool, etc etc etc. Among many other things, he said they spent $7000 dollars on decorative furnishings for this place. Maybe I am just jealous. Their garden probably cost $30,000US. At least.

And then he explains how he and their gringo friends plot to get around the various Mexican regulations and laws. Like import duties, labor laws for employees, gringos not be allowed to take work from locals, getting various permits, etc etc etc. Proudly. Very respectful of the cultural. Plot with your buddies to break any inconvenient laws.And what happened to appreciating "Mexican Time"? He's building this house. One that costs more than he can afford. Their friends and family are coming down for Thanksgiving. And of course, the place isn't ready. The town water is turned off, so he pays $500US to have someone haul water in and fill the pool. So his friends won't have to see a naked pool, I guess.

Just as the pool is filled, the town water comes back on. I bet all the workers just looked at him. In wonder. Not the "awe" kind of wonder. The "I wonder what's the matter with this guy?" kind of wonder. He drives everyone nuts. His wife almost falls apart. The crew is working unpaid overtime for the sake of his ego.

His saintly contractor hangs in there, and seems to do everything he can to help the author with his need to meet his "deadline". Like he will die if he doesn't have a perfect house, pool garden, etc, when his friends and family arrive. The contractor does gradually, and very politely, remove himself from the picture, going onto his next job.

The author apparently forgets all about "going with the flow", "letting it be", etc, etc. He becomes blinded, and so does his wife. It looks like all that matters is that they will look good to visitors from the U.S.. All he can think about is his goal: Finish the house and grounds now!!!! Who cares about your workers losing their Saturday afternoons with their families? Or the contractor working like crazy? What's important here? Certainly not letting things play out, and keeping the respect and friendship of your workers.

Apparently the only time this couple got into "Mexican Time" mode was when the contractor repeatedly begged them to make their selections for tiles, fixtures, etc etc. Which they apparently were just too busy to do in time to meet the construction schedule.

I got more and more irritated as he seems to lose sight of everything in the world except finishing the house. As if the only way to judge the quality of his life in Mexico is by this house being finished before his guests arrived. And then, a couple of them arrive a couple hours early. Oh my God!!!! Tragedy.

Maybe his family would have enjoyed being part of getting things together, the last minute details. It might of been a nice chance to work together, to enjoy each other's company. Instead of being greeted by two (self-described as) exhausted, frantic, and angry people who hardly a have the energy to say "Hi".It was interesting, in a way. The author seemed to understand that Mexicans are extremely polite. And that respect and dignity is very important here. He seems to recognize that dynamic in how the local people deal with other gringos. But not in how they deal with him.

He doesn't seem to notice how much he is pressuring people to get what he wants. Doesn't seem to get it at all. It appears from his book that his plans and needs are all that mattered. And he pressured whoever to try to get whatever he wanted, when he wanted it. Waved money in front of their faces. Who cares if meeting his deadline means a worker/craftsman doesn't see his family for a week.? Doesn't extra cash make up for that? It seemed as thought he took advantage of the Mexicans' politeness and civility to get his way. Repeatedly.

At the end of the book, the contractor tries to explain to the author that he and his workers have their own lives and their next job. And he doesn't seem to "get it", again

Of course, my opinion is probably really warped. And maybe I totally mis-read this guy. And this post mainly reflects my judgemental attitude. I did enjoy the actually reading of the book. And read it pretty much in one sitting. But still......


wayne said...

I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head again. I certainly would not enjoy this book. I have the real thing for a neighbor! I remember vividly a gringo who was building a house at the time Hurricane Wilma hit here. All around were destroyed homes. His biggest, and only, concern was why weren't these LAZY! people showing up to work on his house! We told him to shut up and look around. They probably were working on their own first. He still doesn't speak to us when we see him and I could care less.

Paul said...

We read this book and had pretty much the same feelings that you did. The author was totally schizophrenic about what he said versus what he did. Oh well, I hope he paid plenty for all the services and work he got, I bet he did.

Charmaine said...

I don't think you're being fair here. I read the book and couldn't relate to the fact that they built their dream home with a wall around it but I still thought the book was a humourous look at a couple of New Yorkers trying to make their dream home happen in Mexico. Given where they came from, what did you expect?? I see the their home is advertised for rent for the whole year, except the Christmas season, for an ungodly sum of money. I think they found in the end that they overextended themselves. Hmmmmmm.