Moving into our home in Mexico City in the summer of 1995, we encountered unique challenges unheard of in Westport, Connecticut. Like having the telephone company appear at the door to ask if we wanted our telephone service connected?
Oh, yes please. Well to do that would cost us the equivalent of US$200 in cash. If we didn't want to pay, we didn't have to. Neither did they have to connect the telephone.
My husband Gary also learned that due to the recent devaluation of the Mexican peso after the Mexican financial crisis, a.k.a. the Tequila crisis, all of the banks had stopped issuing Mexican peso credit cards. There were no exceptions to this ban, not even for international executives who worked for multi-national companies that worked with the very same no-new-credit-card-issuing banks, even if the multi-national company guaranteed full monthly payment of the credit card. There was no way around this Gary said.
It was a dangerous time for businessmen to travel throughout Mexico, given they had to literally stuff their pockets with cash. For despite those American Express ads with Karl Malden touting using traveler's checks abroad, pieces of paper were suspiciously viewed in Mexico. Bank checks too. Even street vendors gave any paper money a hard look to check for forgery.
So I'd have to do grocery shopping in cash. Off I'd go every few days to the nearby bank's ATM. Through the double security doors, I'd enter. Into the slot went the bank card, followed by my password and a wait. Would the ATM pay off? For it was like a slot machine, sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn't. Most surprising of all was the first time the unpredictable ATM ate my bank card. Going into the bank to complain or report this wasn't a viable option given my slow Spanish compared to the locals fast grammar and the reality that it was a commonplace, shrug worthy "so what" event.
But it was a way to make new friends. Two or three of us would enter the security glassed-in ATM with our various bank cards. In turn we'd put in our bank cards, if they all worked well that was fine. If the ATM ate one or rejected it, we'd try another one. When one worked we'd max out our withdrawal and pass some cash around to the others, who'd write checks to cover the float. Luckily it never took more than three bank cards to score some cash.
With an adolescent son in high school and a maid in the house, I found myself with time to learn about the thousands of years anthropological history of Mexico. I joined a group of like-minded women at a weekly English-language lecture at the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia. It was far more my thing than playing Bunco.
After class one day, a small group of expatriate women asked if I wanted to join them at the museum's cafe for coffee. Truth be told I didn't want coffee, but I did want to invest the time to get to know them so I went. Who knew, maybe I'd meet my new best friend?
I didn't there, but I did get to know new faces and names. As these conversations always went abroad, we identified not only who we were but who our work visa-holding partner was. Liz identified herself as the wife of a banker husband who worked with a name-brand international bank. He'd been brought in to clear up the credit card disaster.
Now how could I do this, I thought? Carefully so not to ask for a favor from this stranger point-blank, So I slid sideways into my question by jabbering lightly about what a problem my poor husband had--cue violins--in getting a Mexican peso credit card.
"Really?" smiled Liz, "Well, why not have your husband talk to mine? Maybe something can be worked out." Names and numbers were exchanged and indeed something was worked out. Gary got our credit card making both his business travel and my grocery shopping easier, and safer.