What about the change? A Mexican nightmare

by Jim on 7 February 2008

I was on my way down our hill to do some errands.  I decided to stop at the window and mirror shop on my way down.

The shop was dark and dirty, with pinups and pictures of saints on the walls.  Two guys came out to look at the remains of my driver-side mirror.  (I had gracefully smashed it on a lamp post in front of a very appreciative audience at a local café)  One of them began picking the pieces of broken mirror off, while the other measured and cut a new mirror to glue in its place.  They were done in a very few minutes, and told me it would cost MX$50 (about $4.65 in Canadian or US dollars).

Now being on my way down the hill, I had a limited amount of money and change.  I had a MX$200 bill, and handed it to him, but I could see he was about to travel up and down the street searching for change for me.  "Just a minute," I said quickly, and I began raiding my pockets and van for change.  I found $49.50, and offered it to him apologetically.  He laughed – "50 cents!" he said, and that was that.  Then I headed on the rest of my errands.

Suddenly I realized what a precarious position I was in.

I had no change.

You have to understand, in Mexico, you must have coins on you at all time.  Even in the house I always have coins on me.  After all, I might need to tip the garbage man.  If I’m out and about, I need to give tips to the man at the gas station, the kid who bags my groceries, the guy who helps me back out of the parking space.

There’s a joke here in Mexico – What’s the difference between a Canadian and a canoe?  Answer:  A canoe tips!

Well, I don’t want to be part of the joke.  I may be more careful with my money than your average American (US), but really, I do tip.

I needed gas, that was all there was to it.  As the attendant filled my tank, beads of sweat began forming on my forehead.  How was I going to tip him?  Suddenly, I looked at the numbers on the gas tank and called out – "That’s enough!  Thanks!"

Phew – MX$395.  I gave him MX$400 and told him to keep the change.  Not a tip he’d tell his family about that night, but at least it was something.

Mexican change

I went to the bank machine next to withdraw some money (we do almost everything with cash here), but of course that didn’t solve my change problem.  But finally, after paying my water bill at the water place I got a bit of change.  When I got my groceries bagged at MEGA, I was actually able to casually give the "bagger" a normal tip.

Please, don’t ever let me get caught without an ample supply of coins again.  Next time I’ll wait for the mirror-guy to canvas the street for change.  I’m not in that much of a hurry.  This is Mexico.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Dennis February 7, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Janell is always reminding me to “break” the bigger bills so we’ll have change. Funny. Then, you’re amazed that you have like 400 pesos in “monedas”.

Jim February 7, 2008 at 1:08 pm

Yeah, it’s a constant quest – to somehow get rid of those MX$500 bills, and not get buried under centavos….

Ken February 7, 2008 at 11:35 pm

Jim I loved the line, “I had gracefully smashed it on a lamp post in front of a very appreciative audience at a local café.” On Sunday I backed our van into a light pole and smashed the tail light. That’s the second time since we’ve lived here.

I really appreciated the descriptions of things here, from the pinups and saints to having change available.


Peggy Summy (via facebook) February 8, 2008 at 8:48 am

I had forgotten about that when I was in Mexico. We worked with an organization and they wanted every last penny accounted for and we were not to bribe, tip or otherwise compensate someone. Well, I decided it easier to offend my Christian brothers than ruin our witness in Mexico. In the end, of course they understood (by God’s Grace). Great story, thanks for sharing!

Jim February 8, 2008 at 9:10 am

It really was an appreciative audience. They were all seated at tables directly in front of me, with nothing else to look at. I saw the face of one man as the mirror hit the lamp post. His jaw almost hit his table…

Jim February 8, 2008 at 9:57 am

When we were first in Mexico, we were supposed to try to account for everything too … but that didn’t mean we weren’t allowed to tip! Yikes. Some of those workers only get the tip – that’s their whole income!

Michelle in Mx February 8, 2008 at 7:55 pm

Loved this story! I was reminded of your previous post of everything you can buy/get done while driving around on the street.
So being new to living in the city – and wanting to tip – I’ve been rather random about the quantity . . . anywhere from 2 to 10 pesos, so I need your counsel . . what do you typically tip the gas pumpers, the delivery boy (for the propane gas, pizza or otherwise) the grocery bagger, the parking lot attendants????
Inquiring minds want to know . . .

Jim February 11, 2008 at 12:29 pm

I’ll email you an answer, Michelle – but I’m still working on that too! 🙂

Johnny Brooks February 18, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Great story and insight into living in Mexico. Here in Kenya tipping is not practiced outside the tourist industry. Though I do tip in restaurants, but most people would not know what to do. Confusion would rule the day if I tipped the guys at the petrol station.

Jim February 18, 2008 at 12:32 pm

That’s interesting about Kenya. Quite a difference!

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