Monday, July 6, 2009

Do We Look Like We're Made of Money?

They tried taking our shoes; now they're trying to take our money. On two different occasions, both doormen have asked us to borrow money. They asked for 100 pesos ($7.50) each, and while it's not a lot of money for us, it's a lot of money for them and a lot to "borrow"--"borrow" because I don't think they intend on returning the money. 

Carlos asked the first time. He said he needed it desperately and would pay us back. We loaned him the money, and after hounding him several times, we gave up trying to recover the borrowed money. We instead called it even by having him wash our car a few times.

Felipe, our most trusted and hard-working doorman, asked yesterday. He, too, wanted 100 pesos but didn't say why. We were startled that he asked, actually, because he's always very kind and humble. It seemed out of character for him to ask for money. 

This might also be a way of trying to retrieve some tip (because service workers want a tip after completing even the most minute tasks). Like a roundabout way of saying, "Can I have 100 pesos because you're not giving me tips to take out your trash?" The thing is, we pay a hefty month fee for maintenance/doormen, and we give them a generous cash gift on special occasions, like Christmas and Easter. It's our way of thanking them and more than covers the nominal tips they are supposed to receive.

I'm very baffled by the situation. Although they're not family, we interact daily and have gotten to know them. Asking for money is a very personal matter, and it puts us in an awkward position. I'm not really sure what their motives are, or perhaps we're missing some cultural concepts here about borrowing money. Whatever it is, we feel like they're burning bridges by asking us for money and not returning it. We are less inclined to give as generous a gift in the future, and we definitely won't ever loan them money again. 

If you've ever encountered issues like this, I'd like to hear from you. What do you do here when asked for money? 


  1. Interesting...Is it too awkward to ask them why they're asking? I'm guessing the first doorman told the second doorman, so he decided to ask, too.

  2. Yeah when nick gave him the money felipe asked us if we wanted our car washed... I think they collaborated on this. Well we're down 200 pesos but they won't get anything in the future.

  3. Here's the deal Alice. You have fallen into the old "prestamo" trap. Don't worry, it's very normal. It happens to everybody. First of all you can tell them "mañana". When "manana" comes and they hit you up again you say "Hoy no, ando seca, quizás mañana". (Not today, I am walking "seca" [de la bolsa] with a dry pocket, maybe tomorrow.) When mañana comes again and they are persistent and you feel obligated through guilt you can give them money but ONLY GIVE THEM HALF. They only needed half in the first place but what the heck if you are going for a loan go for the max...right? Use this routine a few times and you will get some respect as they find out that you are not such an easy mark :)

  4. I think with the economy what it is everyone is looking around to see where they might be able to score another peso. I think that it's one of those " you never know if you don't ask, they just might give it to you..." sort of things.

    Maybe a better way to handle it next time would be to say, no I can't lend you any money but if you would like to wash our car once a month for a certain price, I would give you an advance for the next three months...or something like that.

    This stuff can be complicated, can't it?

  5. Bob--So asking for money doesn't have the same kind of awkward stigma it does in the US? Everyone does it? I'm thinking they won't be hitting us up again in the future, but if they do, I'll let them know they dried us up.

    Nancy--Yes, the random tipping is very complicated. I tipped a grocery bagger yesterday, and he looked at my tip (3 pesos) to make sure I wasn't being a cheap bastard. Many times I think foreigners get tagged "rich American" and held to higher financial expectations.

  6. The grocery store bagger always looks at my tip! I don't get that either. I think it comes from the same custom that makes waiters here stand over your shoulder while you're paying the bill.

    Also, Bob, I love the phrase "ando seca." Your advice sounds right on.

  7. My hubby had the same problem with one of our neighbors. Every Monday, our neighbor would ask to borrow 100 pesos. My hubby is a generous person, so of course he lent the guy the money. On Friday evening, our neighbor would always pay my hubby back. But after about a month or 2, it would take the neighbor longer to pay my hubby back each time. Finally, my hubby just told the guy, "Sabes que? No tengo dinero!" (You know what? I don't have any money.) No further explanation and no beating around the bush. That neighbor never asked for money again. AND he still greets us in a friendly manner. "Cuentas claras, amistades largas."

  8. Lesley--the different manners about money are hard to get used to. When they're looking, I'm thinking they're judging, but in reality, it's probably just habit.

    Leslie--Thanks for sharing your story! I00 pesos must be the magic number. This whole thing has been very eye-opening to me, and I never thought that borrowing money would not have the kind of negative reputation it has in the US and elsewhere. I wonder where this comes from...

  9. Hi Alice,
    Ive read on your profile you are teaching at a local NGO, could u tell me aa bit more about that? Im planning on moving to Mex in June 10', and I wanna find a NGO-related job to conbine with my university studies

  10. This is so different here. I feel like a lot of people around here think we have more money than we do because I'm American. But we are living on my husbands income which is pesos. For example a lot of times we are expected to provide the meals for get togethers, and my husbands to "nice" to say others should pitch in. Thankfully my Spanish is getting better and now I tell them. lol
    Although on the other hand sometimes when my husbands at work and we need something from the store on his way home he will borrow 100p from someone and pay them back the next day. And no one makes a fuss about it.
    Also the store below my apartment is quick to tell me I can pay them later if I don't have enough money on me at the time I am getting food.

  11. I'm guessing I'm a bit late to comment,

    Top three Mexican lies:

    1. I'll pay you back tomorrow.
    2. Last one [beer] and we're off.
    3. Just the tip [penis].

    Feel free to erase this comment though, if you feel it's a bit inappropriate.

  12. mrtnclzd--funny! although i haven't had any experience with that last one. But here's one I hear and now use a lot, "Yeah, I'll be there..."

  13. yeah, I'm totally late on this, but I have something to add-- a Mexican friend (somewhat boyfriend) of mine asked me to lend him 100 pesos before we headed out to a Roma bar one Saturday night with a group of friends.

    My gut reaction was "Of course!" and I agreed, assuming he wouldn't ask unless he really didn't have any money. But as we made our way to the ATM I remembered that he had just shelled out 100 DOLLARS earlier that day on a pair of Pumas in Tepito. (Something I can't afford to do.)

    I tried to suppress my annoyance, which just compounded it of course, and it kind of threw a dent in the whole evening. He ended up borrowing money from a cousin instead and paying me back that night.

    He thought I was being a tightwad, and I thought he was being irresponsible or stereotyping me. I later made amends by trying to figure out where the misunderstanding was, assuming it's cultural.

    My conclusion was in the US I borrow money all the time for stupid stuff I don't need-- it's called a credit card-- but with consumer interest rates the way they are here it's understandable that people would just ask a friend instead.

    My Mexican roommate (who is in a bit more professional station in life than my friend), however, says that other than the fact that maybe he didn't want to tell the guys he couldn't go out for lack of money, it's not cultural and that my friend was just being irresponsible. From what you guys are saying, though, sounds like a little of both.

  14. Mariaclarita -- i still haven't put this conversation to rest with my friends. on saturday, i asked some local friends what was up with porteros asking us for money all the time, and they think it's because we're gringo. since this post, we've gotten another portero, and he started asking, too. but others in the building have told us they've also been asked. maybe a cultural norm to ask but also a cultural norm to get rejected -- doesn't hurt trying?!?