San Francisco. Seattle. Portland. Los Angles. San Diego. Houston. Baltimore. New York City. What do all these cities have in common? They were territory I’d cover during a typical Monday-to-Friday marketing trip in the late ‘90’s when I worked as an analyst for a brokerage firm based in Boston. Usually the trip would start with a weekend flight to the West Coast, and then a 5:00 AM client breakfast on Monday morning. We’d usually finish up with client dinners around 8:00-8:30 or so, only to start the grind again the next day. On the West Coast, we could do a lunch meeting, then catch a plane to the next city, and manage a dinner meeting the same night. Other afternoons and evenings were filled with flights to the next city. After a week of this, on Friday night I’d land at Boston’s Logan airport around 9:00PM, my mind reeling. A jerky taxi ride home from the airport, and then I’d be lucky to get to bed by 10:30, totally drained of energy, spirit, and the will to live.
So you can totally imagine that the slower pace of life in Mexico is one of the attractions to living here. And indeed, a slower pace of life can be appealing if that means no hurried commute, no horrific marketing trips, and a more relaxed way of life.
Here in Mexico City, despite the hustle and bustle, I’ve been experiencing my own slower pace of life, but I’m not sure I can take much more, frankly. Last Thursday, I went to look at a furnished apartment. After a couple of days, a veritable odyssey started when I decided I wanted to rent it. What follows is a relaxingly slow-paced timeline.
Monday 18 January
I find a furnished, one-bedroom apartment available in Colonia Cuauhtémoc for $12,000 pesos a month, about $660 USD. I contact the agent, María, and she agrees to show it to me the next day at 1:00 PM. I already know the neighborhood well and know it’s safe, quiet, and that I want to live there.
Tuesday 19 January
I see the apartment for the first time. Frankly, it’s close to perfect, but it’s the first one I’ve seen, so I don’t jump on it immediately, though I do go to some pains to sell myself to María, the agent. I emphasize that I’m stable, quiet, respectful of the neighbors, and that I have plenty of financial resources to pay the rent. I show her a recent brokerage statement and her eyes boggle. I also explain that I have no “fiador,” a Mexico City property owner who will guarantee my rent. But I do offer to pay for the five months I want in cash, in advance, and with a deposit. She seems to think we can work out a deal.
Wednesday 20 January
I look at a couple of other places, but none compare María’s apartment. One of the apartments is shown to me by a fast-talking Argentine woman whose accent throws me until I realize where she’s from. The place is dark, old, and cold enough to store sides of beef. I pass. That evening I go back to María’s apartment to check out the noise level at rush hour. All to the good. I chat with a neighbor who says the neighborhood is one of the best in the city and she loves living there.
Thursday 21 January
María emails me in the afternoon to ask if I’m still interested in the apartment. I e-mail back and tell her that while I’m not 100% decided, I’m interested enough that I want her to send me the rental agreement so I’ll have plenty of time to read it at my leisure. The last thing I want do is to have to sit in front of her in the office, reading this contract in Spanish for the first time, and being pressured to sign something I don’t fully understand or agree to.
Friday 22 January
María emails me the address of her office, since we had talked about me coming down that day to give a deposit. Turns out it’s about an hour south from me, in Guadalupe Inn, near UNAM. She sends me a copy of the contract. I e-mail her back telling her I’m looking at the contract, but I had no idea her office was so far away, and that I can’t get there to give her the money that afternoon because I’ve got a date with Roberto at 5:00. OK, I leave out the part about Roberto, but make it clear I have a commitment that prevents me from going to her office that afternoon. Turns out I don’t meet Roberto until 5:45, but ni modo. I promise that before Monday, I’ll send the contract with the proposed revisions. She promises we’ll meet Monday, and it sounds like all will be finalized then. I start to get excited. I’m moving to México!!! Yippee!!!
I start to round up six months of rent in cash. Fortunately, I have two ATM cards, one with a $1,000 USD daily withdrawal limit, and another with $500. Between the two, I should fairly easily be able to take out enough money over the weekend to pay for my apartment.
Unfortunately, the Bitch Goddess of Finance doesn’t quite see it that way. Friday night, ATM card #1 is rejected “due to my institution.” (Mexican ATM-speak.) Unfortunately, said “institution” is a two-bit California credit union that only answers its phone during weekday business hours, Pacific Time. And all the telephone voice prompts are recorded by valley-girl wannabes. Ugh! Fortunately, it’s the lower dollar limit of the two. The second card is a Schwab Bank card. I successfully get $11,000 pesos (about $600, USD) on the first try. But the attempt to get the remaining $400 is rejected “due to my institution.” Fortunately, Schwab is a world-class operation, and I can call them any time I want. So I go back to the hotel, boot my laptop, and call Schwab via Skype. They fix the problem. Unfortunately, I have to rerun this particular game with Schwab several times over the weekend as the fraud-detection software thinks I’m a scoundrel, no matter what the Schwab agents tell it.
Otherwise, the rest of the weekend passes uneventfully, at least apartment-wise.
Monday 25 January
I text María telling her I’ll go to her office that morning to give her 60,000 pesos, sign the contract, and we’ll be done. She says she’s sick, but can do it Tuesday.
Tuesday 26 January
I text María around 9:30 AM asking if we can talk by phone. I call her and we talk about the contract, my various objections. She says to write it all down and e-mail her. She’s in the office, though not 100% well.
I do my final, thorough review, and write a point-by-point letter explaining my various issues with the contract, which on close inspection seems to be somewhat sloppily written. (References to numbered clauses have the wrong number, an educated Mexican friend finds certain clauses as vaguely inexplicable as I do, etc.) I write a short e-mail explaining that I’ve put all my issues into a word document, and that I’ve also turned on “track changes” and made revisions to the contract in another word document. I send the e-mail at 11:32 am, with the attachments attached.
11:46 PM: She emails me back saying she can’t find the questions. I start to wonder about her intelligence.
12:01 PM: I e-mail her back telling her that everything she needed was in the attachments in the prior e-mail. Did she get it? (it was certainly in my “sent” box, and yes, the attachments were right there.)
12:04 PM: Figuring it won’t hurt, I re-send the documents in a separate e-mail and emphasize that all the questions and suggested modifications are in the attachments, which need to be downloaded and opened with Microsoft Word.
As the day winds down, I’m wondering why I haven’t heard a peep out of María. The changes seem simple enough. (I refuse to be responsible for a water heater breakdown on a 5-month lease, along with a couple of other, minor points.) But I figure I’ll let her get through her work. No doubt there’s some ridiculously complicated process going on behind the scenes. So I let it be, not wanting to be a nuisance.
Wednesday 27 January
I have heard nothing and start to worry. I know Mexicans don’t like confrontation, nor saying “no.” So I start to worry that the silence means that I’m being quietly rejected for this apartment. Maybe the water heater is as non-negotiable for them as it is for me? Who knows? I schedule a visit to another apartment in the same neighborhood. Meanwhile I’m starting to feel oddly desperate. There are few alternative apartments showing up on either Craigslist or Vivanuncios.com, my main sources. And the longer this takes, the longer I’m effectively committing to stay in Mexico. And I’m sick of restaurant food. And there’s no chair with a back in my hotel room, and whine, whine, whine. That evening I begin to panic.
Thursday 28 January
11:31 AM: I text María indicating I definitely want the apartment, and have they decided if they want me? I wait anxiously for a response. No text back. I wait about fifteen minutes and call María’s office and leave a message.
2:28 PM: María emails me (finally!) basically saying that I can have whatever I want in terms of contract modifications. I’m elated.
2:40 PM: I e-mail María back and basically say, “Terrific! We’re in agreement. Please send me the final copy of the rental agreement with my name on it, the exact rent, deposit, etc. I’m ready to move in tomorrow if we can get this done soon. By the way, I’m going out to lunch now, and can’t read e-mail away from my computer, but please text me if you send me the contract, and then I’ll go back and read it ASAP.”
3:33 PM: No reply to my earlier e-mail yet, so I text María’s cell phone saying I answered her e-mail, looks like we’re in agreement on the contract. Has she read my e-mail? Can we finalize the deal? I’m eager to move in.
3:37 PM: She texts back a terse, “OK.” I’m left wondering what exactly this means. Yes, we can finalize the deal? Yes, she got the e-mail, but hasn’t read it? Something else? Trying not to be a pest, I just spend the rest of the day kind of anxiously wondering what’s next.
11:59 PM, Midnight, I e-mail Maria: “Can we sign the contract on Friday the 29th? I have a meeting at 2:00 PM, but I can come by your office in the morning. Please send me the final copy of the contract at your earliest convenience.” I figure if she reads the email in the morning, there’s still a chance we can wrap up the deal Friday morning and I can be in my new apartment for the weekend. Maybe I can cook dinner for Roberto. My mind starts to race with fun possibilities.
Friday 29 January
I call María around 9:30 AM local time to find out what we need to do to put this baby to bed. She says she needs a copy of the first page of my passport. I say I can take a picture of it and e-mail it. But since I consider it to be highly personal information, I tell her that I’m going to put it into a Microsoft Word document that’s password protected. (I’ve already looked into the encryption and am satisfied that it will be safe there.) I tell her that she’ll need the password to open it, and I ask her if she has a pen. I tell her the password and then have her read it back to me.
She tells me she needs a deposit from me to guarantee the apartment. The deposit is only a thousand pesos, about fifty five dollars. Since her office is about an hour away from my hotel in the south of the city, I ask if there isn’t a bank account I can deposit the funds in, since I really don’t want to spend two hours to hand someone a thousand pesos in cash. She says yes, I can deposit it in a bank and she’ll e-mail me the information. I emphasize to her that I’ve got another meeting at 2:00, and that I’ll need the bank info fairly shortly so as to be able to make the deposit.
She also agrees to send me the final copy of the contract, and agrees to let me move into the apartment on Tuesday. (Monday’s a holiday here).
10:02 AM: I e-mail the passport photo, and write up the details of the conversation in the same e-mail so that there’s a written record of what I think she said, and close the e-mail with “please let me know at your earliest convenience if this summary is not what you said.”
10:46 AM: I text María: “I still don’t have the bank info.”
10:47 AM: She texts back, “OK, I’ll send the bank info right now.”
For the next couple of hours, I keep checking my e-mail for the bank information, but nothing.
1:15 PM: I leave my hotel for my lunch date with Julio at 2:00. We have a lovely lunch, during which I explain how long and complicated this rental transaction has become. He sighs and says something to the effect, “Look, I’m Mexican. I grew up here, but frankly, I don’t know why the simplest things often take so long to get done here. Let’s just say that that kind of thing is handled with more “agility,” in other countries.”
4:30 PM: I get back to my hotel and immediately boot up my computer looking for the e-mail with the bank information. It arrived with a timestamp of 2:35 PM: “No problem,” I figure, “Banamex is surely open until 5:00. I should be able to squeak in.”
4:45 PM: I arrive at Banamex to discover that they close at 4:00. I return to my hotel with a certain feeling of annoyance and disgust. “Jeeze, I practically was begging her this morning to send the darn thing. Why the heck did it take nearly five hours for the friggin’ bank info?,” I think. I told her that I’d need it sooner, and that I was going out to lunch. Why is she dragging her heels on this?
5:06 PM: I text her and explain that I was away from my computer when her e-mail arrived. (I didn’t remind her that I had explicitly told her that I’d be away from the computer at that time.) And explain that Banamex closes at 4:00, so I’ll give her the whole $60,000 pesos on Tuesday when I see her and sign the contract.
5:30 PM: Given how fraught this has all become, I overcome my fear of Google spying on my Yahoo e-mail and decide to install the Yahoo Mail app on my Mexican cell phone. Now I can get e-mail anywhere, anytime.
8:13 PM: I’m in a Pizza & Beer restaurant in Roma Norte enjoying what turns out to be one of the better pizzas I’ve had in Mexico when my cell phone indicates an e-mail. María is writing me to tell me she couldn’t open the encrypted file, and thus she can’t begin (“BEGIN???” I scream internally) the contract and so I’ll have to wait one more day until Wednesday to move in. I practically scream in the restaurant. “Why did this pendeja agent wait until the END OF THE FRIGGIN’ DAY to attempt to open an encrypted file? Given her trouble with the attachments, she’s obviously not particularly computer savvy. You think she’d have tried sooner.” I immediately e-mail her back reminding her of the password and immediately text her cell phone with the password in the increasingly likely case she forgot to write it down. No answer.
I’m feeling seriously annoyed at this point. I text Roberto looking for a little sympathy. He replies back with a funny little rhyme, “Así son las mensas de ventas aquí,” which roughly translates to “That’s the way the idiot real estate agents are here.” I feel a bit consoled and walk back to my hotel, dejected at the Kafkaesque, slow-motion process of my attempt to rent an apartment here.
Meanwhile, I’m left with a nagging feeling that this apartment could still slip away since I don’t have a signed contract.
So, yeah, if you want a slower pace of life, well then Mexico is for you! Just be careful of what you wish for. Saludos!