Eyes Wide Open

Your nephew is not at the bus station. Not in Guadalajara, and not in Dallas. And Bill Gates isn’t going to send you $100. Don’t volunteer information to callers.  If your troubled nephew’s really calling, he’ll tell you his name right off the bat.

Pay the extra $12 MXN for an unlisted phone number. Who looks up friends in the phone book anyway these days? Telmex charges practically nothing to change your old number.

Get rid of that bilingual or English-only recording on your phone’s answering machine. Everyone who would deign to still leave a voice message already knows the drill.

Particularly in San Miguel de Allende but also in other expat havens, gringos love to name their houses, often revealing their own names or their children’s. It’s quaint, and it’s cute, but it’s a really bad idea. Take your name off your house.  “Casa Newton” may sound perfectly fine on your house back on the Jersey Shore, but it’s not a good idea in Mexico – no matter how proud you may be of your abode.  You don’t need to broadcast “Gringo lives here.” Don’t waste that pretty tile plaque on strangers; put it in the inside where you can enjoy it.

You’re not the only soul on the block who speaks English, and you’re not Travelers Aid. Give up your Good Samaritan dreams – or spend them on someone deserving. Someone who runs up to you on the bike trail or parking lot or even approaches your home with that “Do you speak English?” is rarely looking for a conversation class. Let the pros do their work. Hand out their phone number – 066 – with reckless abandon. An operator’s always standing by to take a call from the troubled.

Leave your home address off any cards you may have printed. You’re not in retail these days. Sure, that may mean giving up bragging rights to that genuinely awesome vacation rental on a swank street in a place like San Miguel de Allende, but it’s also an advertisement that you don’t need to make.

Whether you’re approaching your house on foot or by car, if there’s someone hanging around the door that doesn’t belong there, move on. Take a spin around the block rather than chance a potentially dicey situation.

At the grocery store, don’t leave your purse or parcels unattended in your cart, not even for a minute while you answer some stranger’s question. Keep your purse attached to your body, even if it means strapping it cross-chest Arab-style.

Don’t take Mi Casa es tu Casa so literally. There is a huge temptation to show off your house to new-found friends you just met on the plaza and to welcome friends of friends to parties and gatherings. Be careful. That friend may be as trustworthy as an Eagle Scout, but what about that friend of a friend?

Citizenship and fluency in whatever your native tongue might be are absolutely not harbingers of security. We tend all too often to place misguided trust in landsmen. Crooked Irish people hung around Ellis Island waiting to take advantage of good, honest newly-landed Irish, and the descendants of those scam artists are still in operation in Mexico. Yes, you read that right: more than a few criminals share citizenship with their victims.

Leaving town? Don’t leave your house unattended. Keep the lights on, a radio on, and have someone check up on things at random hours. Better yet, have someone stay in the house. If you can afford to leave town, you can afford to guard what you’ve left behind.

Estadounidenses seem to have a deep-seated need to be liked, to appear friendly, to engage, and perhaps even more so when they’re abroad. And so many of them feel so darn sorry for what they encounter in Mexico that they’ll go overboard, checking their common sense.  Observe how Mexicans of your station act, and take your cues from them. You don’t need to open the door to everyone who knocks, hearing out their tale, and you don’t need to explain anything. You’re under zero obligation to provide answers to anyone.

And that talkative cab driver, the guy you met for the first time when he opened the car door? He may only be bored, but that’s no reason for you to tell him your life story, including how and why you live in Mexico.  Really, would you share that much information with a random taxi driver in Chicago?  Talk about the weather, if you simply must talk.

Criminals don’t always look like thugs. Some of them even wear genuine Lacoste, not even pirated, because they can afford to, all the better to blend in. Some of them even look like you and me. Appearance is no guarantee of morality. Take a look at Bernie Madoff.

‘Tis better to be considered rude than robbed.  Why should you be concerned about offending someone who’s out to offend you?

Learn to look straight ahead, and learn to be deaf to those pleas. Pretend that you’re French or Spanish or Israeli or one of those nationalities not known for taking on Estadounidense attributes.

What you know, as in conocer, is not dangerous, but what you don’t know is.

20 comments on “Eyes Wide Open

  1. Don Cuevas says:

    Did you mention that before you are leaving home, you don’t need to tell everyone in your neighborhood that you are doing so? Only the most trusted “need to know” persons closest to you need know.”

    Word travels fast and may bring rateros.

    Don Cuevas


  2. John Calypso says:

    As always – good advice. We do not have a phone at all. When the ladrones start Skype’ing their intimidation we may have to deal with it. ;-0


  3. John Calypso says:

    Sorry “ladróns” my Spanish skills are embarrassingly marginal.


  4. Jim Karger says:

    Thanks. One of your best! Jim

    Sent from my I-Pad



  5. But I am indeed the only soul on the block who speaks English. And the next block too.


  6. tancho says:

    That is why I have a cauldron of boiling oil perched on the roof parapet at all times…….


  7. Excellent advice, and of course, it will be ignored by those who need it most.


    • Not me. Ms. Rose has scared me silly. I am taking action. Been thinking of having a peephole installed in the big gate for a couple of years. This afternoon I’m going to a blacksmith to get it done! Really.


  8. That reminds me of the Easter weekend maybe a decade back when this crazy guy who’d been wandering the streets of the hood persisted in ringing the bell and the intercom around 3 a.m. There was no way I was going to answer that or even go downstairs. After releasing the ever-vigilant Dobermans into the yard, I went up on the roof, got a look at him, and turned the hose on him. And growled. And did it again. He scampered down the street.


  9. This entry is great Jennifer… hope lots of people read it. You might even expand on the part about the missing relative or friend who phones. I personally know of two people in my small circle who have been victimized (with totally different results but that is another story entirely) by the cousin/friend etc who suddenly calls while visiting from “back home” and is in trouble and needing immediate $$.


  10. Kim G says:

    In my late teens and early 20’s, I lived in a dangerous neighborhood where I was once mugged. Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt, but I did learn a life lesson which has stood me in good stead all around the world. I never let my guard down with strangers on the street, and am cautious about new acquaintances in general.

    I am abundantly cautious in Mexico, where I try to remain conscious of the fact that I can’t read the nonverbal clues that people give off in the way that I can in the USA. That’s where it really pays to remember that cultural differences are real.

    Good post. I think there’s a lot of rose-colored glasses on gringo noses SOB.


    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we often speak through the glass of the front door when strangers come a-knocking.


  11. mexicomystic says:

    Here’s another tip: When traveling don’t have a visible name tag on your bag, cover it with masking tape. I’ve heard of scammers lifting the name, going to white pages with your USA info, getting a phone number, then calling parents or relatives stateside saying this person has been arrested and needs a lawyer immediately… send money to Account no. # XXXX .
    Scam No. 2… your cell phone has been stolen … the thieves will text everyone in your directory saying …I’m stranded put $200 pesos on my phone for me so I can call I’m almost out of phone time. Then they transfer it to their phone.


  12. I have heard of the criminal element checking out luggage tags, and then burglarizing what they suspect will be empty abodes.


  13. laurie says:

    Geez. I had no idea that Mexican expatriates were as naive as you would imply. In Honduras, our American populace is mainly fugitives, do-gooders, and trained diplomatic or miitary personnel. We know the ropes. My German Shepherd is a great companion as well as excellent repellent for late-night wannabe intruders. As you note, if you can afford to travel, you can afford to find a house sitter. I do. Good advice for the naive.


  14. The demographic of foreigners visiting and living in Mexico is much differ from those who opt for Honduras. Many of them don’t know the ropes, give up their guard, and are just too damn trusting. Even those who are world-wise and saavy can get hornswoggled and robbed from time to time. I’m not implying that Mexican is a hotbed of crime, just that it’s a different world from their familiar territory.


    • Gringos are their own worst enemies in Mexico. Both in person and on the internet they repeat ad nauseam that the locals are warm and friendly, jolly good folks all around, people who would never do anything but give you a warm hug and offer you their last gordita. Downtrodden too, of course, and deserving of all the help you can provide.

      Fact is that some Mexicans are nice and some are not, just like citizens of any other country. What we are, much more so than in the United States, is quite suspicious of one another. This trait comes from the troubled history of the nation.


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