foodie vs. non-foodies

I’ve been invited to eat Thanksgiving with some expats I know. The hosts, a married couple, I have been out with for beers and pizza a couple of times. One of the times the husband told me this story about visiting his brother at a bar in Brooklyn that serves like 34 craft beers and ordering Bud Light just to piss his brother off. I thought it was a funny story, but I didn’t really take on board that dude ordered Bud Light because he doesn’t drink craft beer. Or I didn’t care enough to mentally file it.

I’ve haven’t gone into this much because my blogging has lapsed since craft beer became a thing in Mexico, but I confirm that I do personally relish craft beer. I realize that’s a pretty generic claim, since all craft beers are different. What I mean is, I really appreciate craft beer in general, as opposed to more industrially produced beer, because it often has more beer-like flavors than most of the mass-market beers you want to name. There are some good mass-market exceptions, especially in Mexico.

The above may be enough to demonstrate that I am kind of snobby. I try not to be, but it’s there. Back to what I was saying, though, about this couple. I invited them out for beers another night, to a craft beer place at the bottom of La Condesa. Again, I picked it because I, me, like craft beer. I wasn’t really thinking about the fact that dude (nor his wife) drink craft beer. A) Who doesn’t like it who has tried it? B) They both went to an elite urban university on the United States east coast. Come on, of course they drink craft beer!

But we were there, and they didn’t know what to order. They just picked something that either I or the waiter recommended. Not awkward or anything, but then I got tipsy and started talking about how great craft beer is (asshole) and then said something derisive about Miller or something. And I saw it on their faces: they drink Miller. And I remembered, “…Right, Bud Light in the 34-tap Brooklyn beer bar.”

It still doesn’t make sense to me. See comments A) and B) above. I mean, I really truly don’t care, except it is one of those things that makes my logic itch a little. Why? How? Does this mean they are not hipster pseudo foodies like all the other expats I know in Mexico City? I don’t get it?

They invited me to Thanksgiving, which I am really stoked about. In fact I wrote an email reply gushing about how I love to cook and omg what can I bring? Since they moved here rather recently and had vented about not being able to find regular USA supplies in regular stores (they boycott Walmart, so I guess they are kind of hipsters still), I also asked if there was any particular kitchen or tableware I might lend them for the affair. I know these undertakings sometimes require specialized tools. As I was asking that I was like, “Wait… remember, there is something different about their interest in the gourmet… don’t say anything too condescending…” but still I thought it would be nice to offer.

They didn’t answer other than “Whatever you want!  Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes already accounted for,” so later I responded that, great, I will bring cranberry sauce. However, I did not stop at that, which I totally could have. Instead, I responded that I will bring cranberry sauce, “Because my supermarket has actual cranberries, not just canned jelly sauce.”

To which they replied, “We already have cranberry sauce.”


Above: the type of cranberry sauce that one has “already.” Photo source: Bon Appetit (seriously).

Should I just bring craft beer then?

Iced Tea

Since I started working from home, and especially since some somewhat extensive recent travel to the U.S., my diet has come full-circle to American traditional foods. For the first time since I can remember, possibly for the first time ever in my life, I bought deli meats, for the purpose of making sandwiches, not European cold-cuts for a smorgasboard, and I have been making all kinds of salads– garden salads, caesar salads, kale salads, egg salads, potato salads, pasta salads, even chicken salads.

A lot of this is practicality. It’s stuff I can prepare in advance and have sitting in the fridge that doesn’t need to be heated up, and it’s fresh and healthy. But today, I realized I’ve also gotten into the habit of boiling water for tea in the morning, and then letting it sit and cool, so that I have a pitcher of iced tea with me all day. That there is not just about convenience.

I tie it to something I blurted out when I was in a stupid spat with my little sister, on a recent family vacation in Monterey, California. She was asking me if I know about some Mexican folklorical figure or another (she lived in Guadalajara briefly, studying medical Spanish at UDG, and also visited Morelos on a college trip about ten years ago). I don’t, but my response then and there crystalized some kind of nebulous thought that had been floating around my head since I moved to Mexico nearly five years ago: “Look, I immigrated as an adult. I’m as assimilated as I’ll get. I have more important things to do, like work.”

I was kind of surprised to hear myself say it, but I think it’s pretty much true. Aside from the old thing about people never losing their home country, I’m also of the mind that the US and Mexico are already really similar culturally, and we share so much history. As a gringa here I already feel like I have a place in Mexican society, without becoming more Mexican.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate that folklore is interesting, and probably one day I will run across some knowledge of it, but I’m not about to make a discipline out of taking in stuff like that. Not when there are so many other Mexican things in my alrededores like señoras and baptisms and tamales and high-interest rate credit cards that already have a practical effect on my life.

Water Bill

I have been working a lot with a company in the water sector in Mexico, and I have attended several conferences on the subject. Throughout last year the buzz was they’re going to start charging by water usage rather than flat rates. Everything agrees that water should be paid for, considering it’s not only valuable to have but also it costs a lot to deliver in potable form.

Here in Mexico City we pay for water by the bimestre, or two-month period. Typically my apartment paid what everyone else in my building, and perhaps my zone, paid, 290 pesos per billing period. That’s like 12 dollars per month. The bill always broke down what actual usage was and then applied a subsidy to it, amounting to the 290.

Now I’ve just seen a bill reflecting the new pricing scheme (which, as far as I can tell, has been either relatively or absolutely unannounced…) For a home that is smaller than mine with fewer people and less daytime occupancy, the Secretaría del Agua de la Ciudad de México wants 790 pesos for a bimestre. Mathing that: 35-40 dollars per month, or a jump of 300 percent over my own bills. Meaning when my apartment’s bill comes we may even expect a higher amount due.

Another determiner in the previous scheme had been that different neighborhoods receive different subsidies, so while the bill I saw no longer had any subsidy applied, perhaps mine will?

Not sure. At any rate, this is the way things go down here. If you want to begin to understand stuff like why interest rates are so high, it’s because instability increases risk.

I’m not saying that I think it’s bad for Mexico to pay first world prices for water if that means in a reasonable span of time water will also be first world-ish. I am mainly surprised that the government can just jack up water tariffs like this with no warning.

that thing i put off for a long time

When I was hired, at the end of 2011, by the company I was at for the last couple of years (until recently– now I am on my own with my own clients), I kind of stopped wanting to deal with my Mexican tax status. Working full time, I wasn’t active anymore as a freelancer, so no longer giving out receipts and collecting fees, and under law here my company was now responsible for what I owed, including the paperwork.

However, after I took the full-time job and stopped freelancing, my accountant (I) was still obligated to keep reporting on my activity, even though my activity was null, until I changed my status in the system. My accountant was doing for me what they call here filing in zeroes, meaning reporting every month that I had no earnings, and charging me about 50 bucks for it (600 pesos). I decided I could probably do that myself for free, so I asked her for my tax system password to do just that. But she didn’t give it to me, and she continued filing me in zeroes (there is a good explanation for this*). So I just stopped paying her.

Embarrassingly, which I even vaguely felt at the time. Now I can articulate it: it’s always a mistake not to fully understand, value and appreciate the service one is receiving from a professional.

That was January of 2012. Since then I have been hemming and hawing about how I need to call my account but, etc., and 48 months have gone by.

Now that I am working independently again, I felt motivated enough to finally decide I would call her up. I did that thing where you assign yourself the most dreaded tasks for first thing in the morning. Morning came, I sucked it up, and I called her. And she was really nice, even though I think I woke her up. She was single when I last spoke to her, and now she’s married and three months pregnant. We set a meeting for today, and she came over with all my paperwork, which she had saved in neat, labelled folders, and explained to me what we will do. And at the end I asked her how much it would cost, and she’s giving me a discount, but it’s still going to cost 12,000 pesos (about 900 dollars).

That’s 500 pesos for every month that’s gone by. Not actually that bad, from the perspective of what accountants charge. But from the perspective of what I have done, versus what I could have done, and why I did it, it’s ridiculous. I could have deactivated my taxpayer status two years ago and saved practically a US grand in unnecessary accounting services. But I didn’t, because I was being a baby. I guess maybe Lauryn Hill went through this same thing.

One upside is that I find blowing money on stupid stuff entertaining. Rubber chickens and scratch tickets and stuff. I hadn’t really done it in a while. Plus now that I am starting my own venture, I feel like this is a good lesson to have already learned. In a way it makes me feel validated as a small business, to be spending so much on “unnecessary accounting”… it’s helping me ease into the scale of finances that I am going to face going forward, where a thousand dollars to rectify your tax standing isn’t really expensive at all. For the old me, the informally employed and underpaid worker, it was “unnecessary accounting,” right enough– and while I could have easily avoided incurring the need to effectively back-pay services that didn’t need to be done, I did not do that. So for the new me, the responsible business owner, it is in fact a necessary accounting service.

*Looking back, I am pretty sure she gave me a good explanation for continuing to charge me for a service I felt I didn’t need, and I just literally didn’t understand: my annual filing was included in my monthly fee so if I wanted her to do my filing for that year she would keep charging me and providing the zeroes service, then file my year-end, then take me out of the system, all included in the monthly fees.

found this on my way to caldos de gallina luis


Saw this in the street, had to take a photo. For whatever reason, I hadn’t heard these would be installed in the city, so I actually had the pleasure of it dawning on me what this is actually for.

It looks like payment is RFID.

I wonder if they are safeguarded so that no taco stands can roll up and start siphoning electricity. And is it on the public grid? Must find out.

public speaking

I’m going back and forth on this. I present sometimes for work, in Mexico, to audiences of native Spanish speakers. Generally, I think it is douchey when people present in English to Spanish audiences. I have seen enough gringos do it; it just excludes a lot of people. I watch the 50 percent of the crowd that grows tired after a few minutes of the concentration it takes to follow along. The presenter really misses out on the chance to connect with a lot of their audience– do they not care? Do they prefer making a half-connection in English over sending someone else to present who speaks Spanish? Do they not get that “everyone speaks English” means in many cases “some knowledge of English but don’t practice it regularly?” Do they have no choice?

There are exceptions, when presenting in English does not come off as out-of-touch. Sometimes, like in Tijuana, my audience is truly bilingual, so in those cases it would be silly or awkward for me to present in Spanish. Or what if my audience tells me they prefer I present in English because I am better-spoken in English, or because they believe I will be more comfortable? Or when my audience’s English is worse than my Spanish, but they can still get a good gist of what I am saying in English? Sometimes, some members of the audience believe it’s more prestigious to listen to me if I present in English.

I guess a lot of times it’s a judgment call. Know your audience, prepare for them, etc. I have actually been in the situation where on-site I realized it would be preferable to the audience if I gave the presentation in English (e.g, client was Mexican-American, living in Mexico but his Spanish wasn’t actually that great), yet I had prepared and practiced the presentation several times in Spanish and not at all in English.

Of course, especially in the North of Mexico, I have also presented in Espanglish.

I saw a guy at Campus Party last night in Mexico City that was on a panel discussion, conducted in Spanish, but he was speaking English. Clearly he understood enough Spanish to understand the questions and dialog of the other panelists, but he felt more comfortable answering in English, even though it meant a lot of people might not understand him. He seemed like he was from California (you can just tell sometimes), so maybe they are less uptight about language formalities.

For me, except in the case of bilingual audiences, to present in English here can sacrifice clarity and accessibility for eloquence (maybe) and (false) prestige. Not a good swap. I think even if it means structuring my message through a simpler vocabulary and less complex grammar than I would in English, that is fine.

I admit that any kind of “structuring” might be hard to do ad hoc in a panel discussion, though, especially if you are not used to speaking that way. And then, maybe your Spanish just doesn’t have enough fluency to be clear.

Also, I am definitely someone who tries to speak Spanish all the time around Spanish speakers. Given my tendency to use Spanish, it has often come up that, when when my Mexican friends do hear me speaking English, they are pleasantly surprised at how nuanced my speech is– in comparison to my Spanish. So there’s that.

kind of stealing from James Surowiecki

I’ve loved James Surowiecki’s column, “The Financial Page” in The New Yorker for years.

Aproveching* that I have a Kindle now, I went to my US library’s website to see if they offer his book The Wisdom of Crowds on electronic loan, but they do not (two branches do have the hardcopy). I went to see if I should buy it from Amazon, and other online stores, and… the download costs the same as the hardcopy– 13.09 USD, exactly, on Amazon. That’s incredibly lame!

Sorry, James, but I know you understand the forces at work here– I would have paid for your electronic book if the hardcopy price comparison were more favorable. Since it’s not, I am just going to download the electronic book in a bit torrent. I’m looking forward to reading it!

Here is the link to his 2005 Ted Talk, related to the content of said ebook. Watching that is what prompted me to look for his book.

*Aprovechar means “to take advantage of” in Spanish. 

P.S. – I’ve been reading books so much more since I got my Kindle. I think this means that the physical inconvenience and yes, cost, of obtaining and managing printed books was a deterrent to reading for me.