Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Poor Canadian Living in Rich Mexico

We're not all as rich as we "look."
Early on in my life in Cuernavaca, my wife was working taking pictures at events at a little event-garden (kind of like an event hall, but completely outside, something that only works a couple of months in Canada.)  The owner of the place ran it as a small business where he did everything pretty much; all the event services were contracted out, but maintenance, promotion, etc. he and his wife did.

One day when the business had been growing nicely, he decided to buy a new place.  The new one was pretty much a house with a really big yard and a pool; personally, I liked the first place better, since it has a lot of trees and was picturesque in a truly rustic way, but the second place was "nicer" by just about all standards but my own.

One day we were chatting about it:

"It's not much of a place," he observed.  "I know up there in Canada you're used to much more.  But I'm just a poor Mexican, I can't afford much."

"Well, I'm from a pretty humble background," I explained. "I'm sure it's beautiful."

"The thing is, I had to go into it with an investment partner," he went on.  "I could only afford 4 million pesos.  The other guy put up the rest.  It's nothing much compared to what people spend up there."

4 million pesos would have been about $450,000 CDN at the time (slightly less US)!  I didn't really know what to say to that.  I had never lived in a house worth that much, and I don't believe that any of my friends' parents' houses were worth that much.  The average home in Canada last year was worth about $350,000.  I know a lot of people have homes that are worth more, but since this is the average, that means there are plenty whose homes are worth less than that - just about everyone I know, I guess.  This was also before Canada's post-recession housing boom - even before the recession, in fact - so the average values would have been less than that, which was a record high.

This property he bought was worth more, since the $450,000 was just his part - there was also the other investor.

At this point I had just begun teaching part time, and was earning about $700 dollars per month, and my wife was earning another $300, plus what we got from the photography (I helped take the pictures to be developed and sell them to the guests; I even took pictures now and then!)  A home worth $450,000 was well beyond anything I could imagine at the moment.  Yet this guy was sure that the amount would have seemed trivial to me.

I just nodded my head, and told him I was sure he made a good choice; business was good.

I know that this was for business, but what shocked me was the idea that $450,000 was a negligible amount of money!  I know well-to-do people, but I think any of them would consider that amount an amount to treat with care.  This guy was certainly treating them with care - he was kind of "betting the farm" in this new undertaking - but he was sure that that kind of money was nothing for me, since I was Canadian; all Canadians are filthy rich, after all. (I don't know what he thought my motivation was for working with my wife as a photographer on my weekend evenings.)

It seems to me that many Mexicans, like this friend of ours, regardless of how much money they make, will assume that all foreigners are richer than they are.

During a slightly earlier time in Cuernavaca, when my income and funds were even tighter, a man selling chicken in the market got really angry with me because I asked him for 15 pesos of chicken; when he gave me 20 pesos worth, I told him I only had 15 pesos, and he would have to give me less.  This was the absolute truth.  I really only had 15 pesos.  I had a bit more cash at home, but that had been carefully rationed for transportation and other needs.  In my pocket I didn't have another cent - not even a Mexican cent!  My wife and I were going to walk home.

"What's 5 pesos to you!" he shouted.  "It's less than half a dollar.  Stingy gringos!"  Some people will joke around like this, but this guy wasn't joking.  He was fuming mad.  He finally chopped off half a leg, and gave me my 15 pesos worth of chicken, cursing under his breath as we walked away with our chicken, cent-less.

Most of the time these kinds of encounters aren't so aggressive; taxi drivers here regularly try to tell me their price in dollars (elevated.)  I always politely say, "Sorry, I only earn Mexican pesitos.  What's that in pesos?"  (in Spanish, of course.) That usually gets me laugh and a better price.

While in general Canada is definitely richer than Mexico, there are plenty of Mexicans who are richer than plenty of Canadians.  Getting many Mexicans to believe that is virtually impossible, though.

Tomorrow, or some time down the road, I'll share some stats about Canada and Mexico from the CIA World Factbook (a great source for statistical information, free online) and tell you what I think they mean.

To read more about those of us who live in Mexico, and either by necessity or choice are living the "real thing", read:

What is an "Expat"?


  1. Well I do believe that many Mexicans think that people from other countries have more money, and try to take advantage of them, even being really mean, I feel bad about that. It's true also that many people in Mexico is way far richer than people in other nations, just to give an example, Carlos Slim, the owner of Telmex, is been consider among the first three places in Forbes magazine as the wealthiest man on earth. But to tell the truth, I found out that depends on the things you want to but, you can find them cheaper in one country or another, even from one state to the other. San Francisco is one of the most expensive places in U.S, a small apartment over there can cost millions of dollars. You can get a mansion for half that price in Merida, Yucatan Mexico.

    Another example is that Mexico is famous for having cheap and good food. The U.S for cheap clothes. China..well..What can I say? everything and everybody in there are poor, however their economy is one of the strongest in the world.

    So my advice is that you bring with you several Canadian Dollars in your pocket, and pay the lousy Mexicans with them, even thou you give them less of what you are supposed to pay, they will be happy thinking they tricked you by getting your more valuable than peso foreign money, but you will know inside yourself, who was the real dummy!

  2. Jacob, You are so right about all this. I am so tired of hearing about how poor everyone in Mexico is and how wealthy everyone in the US and elsewhere is. They think we all live in crystal palaces and drive on golden paved streets. I work at TEC de Monterrey and I take home about $30 USD per day. Of course, as you know, when people see me they think I'm rich, especially when they hear me speak. $450,000 is a HUGE amount of money. I could RETIRE on that if I did it properly. I have NEVER been able to afford a house of ANY price in the US and at $30 per day I don't think I'll be buying one anytime soon. I came from a middle-class family in the US and the house I grew up in is still owned by my father and is worth about $250,000 USD. Here in Mexico I take the train to work and I walk 45 min to school to save my pesos so I can afford to buy something to drink when I get there. Mexico being poor is a paradox. I look around me and wonder to myself if all these mexicans are so DARN poor, then how can they buy these cars, houses, and clothes. I haven't bought a single piece of clothing since being here because I can't afford it, yet the malls are packed with mexicans buying overpriced stuff without flinching. I guess they must take home more than $30 per day, eh? I know Mexico has a lot of super-poor people, but Mexico has plenty of people with money too, JUST LIKE IN THE STATES! The US has it's poor and it's rich and it's quickly shrinking middle class. I will NEVER be able to live the way I was raised. Not here OR there. I would be a poor american living in the US and I'm a poor american living in Mexico. Kharma?