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.

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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.

expat anecdote from a few weeks ago

In May or late April some expat friends and I went to the “magic pueblo” of Tepozlán, where the Vice Mexico Pool Party was being held. We weren’t on the guest list, but unlike when the Vice Pool Party is at swanky city hotels, in Tepozlán no one really cares. So we went, and there were a bunch of other foreigners there, because it’s Vice.

The party was cool. One of the girls I went with was being super sociable, I guess she is always like that apparently, and made some new friends and kind of went off with them. At one point I ran into them at the (open) bar and started talking with the person who was closest to me in their group, this tall blond dude. Stupid stuff. I think I asked him where he was from, and he tells me he is South African. That he is in mining.

Background on me: I am a trade consultant who helps Canadian exporters enter the Mexican market. It may not look like it, but I actually am really interested in, and know quite a bit about, mining.

Imagine that, at the Vice Pool Party of all places. “REALLY? What company do you work for?” So, actually, I am ready to start asking him a million questions. “Is your company South African?”

He kind of is quiet. Then,”I’m actually French. I work for an international trade publication.”

“Okay…” I think, switching gears slightly, and then just throw out there, “Is it Business News Americas?”

Yes, yes it is.

“That’s great! I read you guys a lot for my job.”

Dude is not really into this conversation, I notice. He seems kind of annoyed that we seem to have something in common. Or, I guess, that we have enough in common that I totally caught him in his dumb lie. No matter. He is going through the motions anyway. He asks me about my job, asks me for my card. I give it to him and continue jabbering.

“You know, are you guys ever looking for freelance writers? I write market reports and trade updates and stuff all the time for work.”

Okay now he wants the conversation to end. I get it, I guess I am being schmoozy. French people probably hate that. Whatever, he’s the one that brought up mining at a Vice Party. What does he expect. He gives me “a sure, yeah, great” as he turns away. He doesn’t give me his card.

Fast forward to early June, ExpoHidraulica 2012, Centro Banamex, where I am representing Ontario water process technology exporters. My company and I had been worried that this particular day I would end up working the stand alone, so my boss had told me to go ahead and ask one of my friends along to help out. I had asked a friend who had recently lost her job, an expat, in fact the expat friend who had gone off and made friends at the Vice Pool Party.

She and I are shooting the shit at the Ontario Water Sector stand, and all of a sudden these two dudes come up. One is a Scrappy Doo-ish brown-haired guy and the other is tall and blond. They know my friend, and are kind of blown away to see her at ExpoHidraulica. And she is surprised to see them, but she realizes they are there for work, of course. She then explains why she is there, that she is helping me out, which is kind of my cue to explain what I do. The guys then seem to conclude they ought to ask me for my card, which makes me realize that, being foreign yet also living here, they are probably somehow involved in international trade, too.

I give them each my card, still talking, and then notice that the tall guy has a weird look on his face. Although he clearly has no idea how, he tells me that he already has my card, that we have met before. And then it clicks, of course!

“Yeah, we met at the Vice Party.” The smaller dude, an American, turns in amazement to the tall guy, whom I later learn is the boss. And I continue talking as the memory comes back. “You told me you worked for Gold Corp.”

Not totally accurate, but in my head it was a solid enough connection. The tall guy, who I now remember is French, sort of mumbles about how he had had a bit to drink. His colleague wants to say something but doesn’t. Then they talk briefly about something else before saying they would stop back by before they left. Neither of them gives me their card.

Writer Juan Villoro on Mexican Elections

From SDP Noticias, article talking with writer Juan Villoro on the 4 candidates for the Mexican election. Basically, “Una aplastante maquinaria ha construido a un candidato ‘inevitable’ y las encuestas repiten como oráculos que Peña Nieto va a ganar,” or, “A crushing machine has constructed an ‘inevitable’ candidate, and the polls repeat like oracles that Peña Nieto is going to win.” Villoro had previously called for the public to vote strategically for López Obrador (PRD) to keep Peña Nieto (PRI) from winning. Okay, but Villoro’s criticism of Vázquez Mota (PAN) as “a woman so ‘different’ that she seems to have testicles” seems pretty oversimplified and stupid. Not that her campaigning so hard around the fact that she is woman hasn’t been equally lame, but still. She DOES have balls– consider the likelihood that she could be shot if it looked like she were going to win. Jerk.

Anyway, even though more than half the country hates them and they are a political machine, not a party, it looks like the PRI is going to win for a combination of reasons, among them: PRI are the ones in the streets every weekend giving out soccer balls, and PRI are the ones who will give you a job with an inflated paycheck if you cooperate with them. Short-term gains. I hope this doesn’t screw up all the progress in recent years that Mexico’s credit-banking system has seen.

banana republic/dreams

I guess it’s true that it feels kind of irrelevant when other people recount their dreams, so I will try to keep this short. Last night I dreamed that Banana Republic was opening a store in Mexico City.

There aren’t any Banana Republics in Mexico, although I think you can buy some of their clothing in the nicer department stores, Liverpool, Palacio de Hierro, Sears. Which I would never do because the prices in those places do not reflect the fact that the products are made in Malaysian sweatshops.

But yeah, there is a real demand for Banana Republic here. Which is I think partly why I dreamed that. And because I am going to the US next week and plan to make major wardrobe purchases while I’m there. In fact, that was my dream– I was coming out of a Banana Republic in the US on my trip, and the shopping bag listed the cities in which new stores will be opening. Mexico City was one of them.

Another thing, the dream reflects my anxiety about gringofication tendencies in Mexico. There’s already like 160 Starbucks in Mexico City alone, a Pinkberry, a California Pizza Kitchen, etc.

Although I would be kind of happy if a Banana Republic opened here, I still doubt I would shop there. The 16% value-added tax, limited availability, and unlikelihood of quarterly sales would probably rule out ever finding any bargains.

My dreams are often this realistic and practical. I am not sure if that indicates anything interesting about my psyche, but I will say that sometimes it leads to confusion: I can’t always distinguish memories of my dreams from memories of reality.

speaking of extortion

Here’s a youtube meme that’s popular in Mexico. I’m pretty sure the call is real. If you don’t understand Spanish, some guy is calling the home of a brother and sister. He’s claiming to be in a position to hurt their mother, in order to try to get money out of them.

This type of extorsion call is quite common and the threats are normally more often than not unfounded; the callers supposedly just go through the phone book. Compare it to the scams from a few years back where old people in Florida were getting swindled into buying property over the phone: people fall for it because they get caught up in the moment.

In this call the sister, the Marcela of the video’s title, responds in a way the caller doesn’t expect.