Live or Retire in Mexico: Snakes in the Banks

Live or Retire in Mexico: Many of the Snakes are in the Banks

When you live or retire in Mexico you quickly discover one of its main inconveniences. The banks in Mexico prefer not to provide good customer service. A simple transaction, such as depositing or withdrawing money from your account can take 30 minutes to an hour.

It is a mystery to me why banks can’t train their employees in basic customer service habits, but that seems to be beyond the scope of current possibilities. There is one bank here that allows clients to take a number and sit out the long wait, but my bank isn’t that one.

Here’s how it went for me today at my bank.

11:37: I arrived at the bank and asked a busy employee, who was engrossed in something on his computer screen for a withdrawal slip.

11:38: I got into the serpentine line, where I remained patiently for 30 minutes. I passed the time brainstorming ideas for this web site. I had forgotten to bring a book, but I have passed many an enjoyable hour reading on my feet in line.

11:56: My husband joined me in line, having had time to run another errand while I stood there.

11:59: I got up to a teller window and handed over my ID and withdrawal slip.

11:59 and 10 seconds: I was asked by the teller to go to a desk out on the floor and request approval for my transaction. I requested and was granted permission not to stand in line again.

12:00: The desk employee received, then approved my request for a transaction after a silent and lengthy consultation of his computer screen, my ID, and signature.

12:03: The desk employee walked my documents–me and spouse in tow–up to a teller. He passed her my documents around the shoulder of the customer standing at her window, placing them to the side of her cubicle, and telling her I would be next. She looked at him, looked at my documents, glanced at me, then continued with the other customer’s transaction. I tried to look appreciative.

12:06: The customer ahead of me left.

12:06 and 1 second: The teller stood up, walked briskly away from her window, and through a door behind the secure teller area, all the while maintaining a secure view of her feet.

12:06 and 2 seconds: I looked at my husband. “She has to come back some time,” he commented encouragingly.

12:06 and 5 seconds: We began chatting and joking to pass the time (I was trying to ignore the fact that now I had to go the bathroom.)

12:15: The customer with the teller next window over left. Someone from the still serpentine line ran up to the window. I leaned over anyway and asked the neighboring teller if I could please come to her window because my teller was gone. She had to serve the new customer, so asked me to wait just a bit.

12:23: The customer at the neighboring teller was STILL there. I mentioned to my husband that I had to go to the bathroom. He went back to the guy at the desk and told him that we were still waiting.

12:24: The guy from the desk went up to a different teller window and called out to my vanished teller by name. She appeared from a back room looking bothered. The desk guy then moved my documents from her cubicle to a different one.

12:26: The client at the new window left and we got to begin our transaction.

12:27: My husband sent me to the bathroom, while he finished the transaction.

12:27 and 30 seconds: I left the bank, crossed the street to McDonalds….

12:34: my husband and I reunited in the street outside the bank.

Still want to live or retire in Mexico? Here’s how to make the best of the banks.

Think maybe all the hassles when you live or retire in Mexico are at the bank? Try shopping.

What’s the one thing we are all afraid of before we live or retire in Mexico? That’s right, scorpions.

Here’s how to beat one of Mexico’s most incessant problems and get a good night’s sleep.

What is likely to be missing from your rental place when you move to Mexico? Find out what it is and how to fix the problem.

cover of Mexico: The Trick is Living HereMike Goll, a U.S. citizen and his Mexican wife purchased the first edition of the e-book Mexico: The Trick is Living Here to help prepare themselves for their big move from the U.S. to Mexico. On, July 9th 2006, Mike sent me the following email:

“Well,I devoured your book yesterday. I read the whole thing! It is a very very good book. I learned a LOT of things, especially on behavior and visa requirements. I loved the part about gestures too. I knew [about the] finger wag but not the other ones.

“My wife got a few good laughs every time I would ask her about what you said. She said yes that is right -every time….

“OK have a great Sunday and Thanks SO much for writing that book. I printed out a copy to bring with us so I can reference it back. I think you should do another one now….”

Back to 5 Strategies for a Good Start


Cultural Differences: Be Diplomatic

Cultural Differences: Come On Everybody Let’s Be Indirect
Be Diplomatic

When you get to Mexico, the definition of honesty will surprise you. It is one of the cultural differences that you should learn about.

The U.S. and Canada

Did you know that Mexicans often say things that we consider “lies?”
The author of this website has prepared an e-book with a funny section about cultural differences and honesty.

In the US and Canada we value honesty. It is important to be honest in relationships at work, with family, and with friends. When we feel that people are honest with us, we trust them and feel comfortable interacting with them.

When we detect that someone is being dishonest with us our “bullshit” meter goes on, we get an icky feeling in the pit of our stomachs and we end the interaction.

Additionally, the phrase “beating around the bush” has a negative connotation. When someone starts to talk around something, without getting to the point, we start to feel uncomfortable and wonder, “why don’t they just get to the point?”

The thing we never stop to think about is that most of us share a common definition of “straight talk”; of what honesty means, what honesty sounds like.


In Mexico a lot of what we consider honesty, they consider blunt, rude, and down-right abrasive. Mexicans feel attacked by our straight talk. It is always important to find some diplomatic way of putting things.

For a North American, this is one of the cultural differences that requires a lot of effort. First of all, sometimes it’s just plain exhausting to be so round about.

Second of all, sometimes we don’t know what set of words would be diplomatic. All human beings learn–through exposure to others, the variety of ways that things are said. When you first arrive in Mexico, you won’t have this cultural background knowledge and your diplomatic phrase library will be quite limited.

Thirdly, and for me, most difficultly, sometimes what is gentle and diplomatic in Mexico would be defined as manipulative back home.

For example, the other day we were eating indoors at a fast food restaurant. There was a huge crowd of people, and all of the tables were full. We were half way through our burgers when some guy appeared in the crowd with a cigarette in his left hand! (unfortunately, this is not uncommon in Cuernavaca.)

Normally, I move myself away from cigarette smoke, because it would be rude to ask Mexicans to take their smoke elsewhere, but this time I decided not to take it. We were inside and there was nowhere for me to go.

I called out to him and said, “Favor de no fumar adentro,” loosely translated, this is “Please don’t smoke inside,” which was pretty direct, but I did use a polite phrase for requesting an action. (The phrase “Favor de” is now in my diplomatic phrases library.)

He took it pretty well and made the “give me a second” gesture (Holding the thumb and forefinger about a 1/2 centimeter apart in a pinching gesture) and skedaddled pretty quickly.

Later, my husband told me that it would be even better to say, “Disculpe señor/señorita el humo de cigarro me hace daño.” (Excuse me sir/ma’am. Cigarette smoke hurts me.) Note that this request is so indirect, it’s actually not even a request!

I Get Maaaad!

I don’t know about you, but back in the US, I hate that stuff. I consider it manipulative, because the other person is supposed to figure out what you want and do it!

So here I am, in my house in Cuernavaca, practicing a manipulative little phrase in the name of cultural differences. I don’t want to forget how to say it nicely next time I am in a similar situation.

The Big Picture

Try to get over the discomfort of doing something that doesn’t fit in with your personal/cultural definition of what is right. There is nothing that naturally makes “your way” better than “their way.” Chalk it up to cultural differences. By being flexible you will develop better relationships with others.

A not so obvious advantage of learning to do things “their way” is that you will recognize other people’s polite words for what they are.

For example, one of my in-laws is the queen of the non-request. She says all these things that I have to figure out what she wants, then do it. If I use my own cultural perspective, I feel manipulated and it drives me nuts. If I use what I’ve learned while in Mexico, I can recognize her words as an effort to be polite. …And I don’t go nuts. (That’s the real reward, you know. Not being mad at people all the time.)

RULES for dealing with the cultural differences in situations that require diplomacy:

Rule #1: Try to find a nice way to say everything.

Rule #2: Be indirect.

Rule #3: Listen a lot. You learn the cultural differences this way.

Rule #4: Ask a friend for suggestions on how to say things. I have a Mexican friend who has traveled extensively throughout the world, including in the US and Canada. She helps me handle all kinds of cultural differences. Often I go to her and explain a situation. She tries to think of phrases that I can add to my diplomatic phrase library for that particular situation.

Rule #5: If you are feeling put-out remember, your way is not the only way. You are in Mexico now.

back to cultural differences


Travel in Mexico to Help You to Live or Retire There in the Future

Travel in Mexico to Help You to Live or Retire There in the Future

Travel in Mexico before making the life-altering decision to work, live, or retire in Mexico. A few in-depth travel experiences are necessary to choosing where and how you will live in Mexico, once you move here.

How Long Do I Have to Be in Mexico?

You should plan a series of trips for at least a week each. If you can, it would be better to be in one place for 2 to 4 weeks. The longer you stay, the more you get to know the transportation system, and begin to develop some habits that allow you to get to know restaurant owners and other familiar faces in an area.

Click here to read about Equity Issues for Those Retired in Mexico and Conscientious Travelers.

Click here to read about Oaxaca.

Spending a long time somewhere lets you feel the challenge of having to speak Spanish every day and to find out if you truly feel comfortable somewhere.

Once you find a place that you really like, visit it at different times of year. See if you can make an extended stay, renting a furnished apartment that lets you meet the neighbors, shop, and cook in your possible future home.

What Can I Learn From Traveling in Mexico?

1. Traveling here will allow you to pre-view different TYPES OF CITIES AND TOWNS.

Do you like a city environment, with all of the urban and cultural events that it offers? Travel to places like Mexico City, Puebla, Queretaro, or Gualdalajara.

Do you like a smaller, but still urban environement? Travel to places like Cuernavaca, Veracruz, Morelia, and San Miguel de Allende.

Do you want to be surrounded by an American expatriate community? Travel to places like San Miguel de Allende and Cuernavaca.

Do you want to avoid tourists? Try Zitacuaro, Michoacan and take the trip to see the Monarch Butterflies.

Do you want picturesque? Try Tepoztlan (near Cuernavaca, Morelos), Morelia, and Oaxaca.

Do you need surf, sand, and sun? Travel to the coast of Oaxaca, or to the Mexican Riviera.

Do you need to work once you move here? Try Mexico City or Queretaro.

e-book See below the surface of Mexico as you travel. Join the select few who understand something about this wonderful country.

2. Traveling here will allow you to pre-view different TYPES OF ENVIRONMENTS.

Do you want lots of sun and year-round hot weather? Travel to Los Cabos, Merida and Cancun.

Do you want cooler, more variable weather? Try Morelia, Zitacuaro, or places around Mexico City.

Do you need to see the changing light on the desert? Try Los Cabos.

Do you want to see smell pine trees and feel cool air? Travel to the states of Morelos, Mexico, and Michocan.

3. Traveling in Mexico will allow you to sample the excellent bus transportation system and let you learn how to get around.

4. A trip to Mexico is perfect to let you exercise your Spanish skills. You will learn if you need to study more and also if you actually enjoy communicating in your second language.

Click here for some more ideas on how and why to study Spanish in Mexico.

5. As you travel you can get a feel for the cost of different items. Don’t forget to get off the beaten path and check the prices of things that you would need if you LIVE somewhere. It is one thing to spend $8.00 USD a meal when you are traveling for a week or two, but might be a whole other if you are living on a fixed budget or working for third world wages.

Stop in a grocery store and compare prices. Step into an electronics store and see how much TVs and DVD machines cost. Swing by a computer store and see if printers actually cost the same as they do back home. Call a couple of phone numbers on “For Sale” signs and check the asking prices for cute little houses.

What Kind of Trip Could I Take?

You could just have some fun relaxing on a beach. You could bird watch or go to see some pre-Hispanic archaeological sites. You could snorkel and kayak. Volunteer or take an eco tour. Also, I strongly recommend studying Spanish at a language school.

If you are interested in traveling in Oaxaca, Let the central valley of Oaxaca touch your soul.

If you are interested in traveling in the heart of Mexico, read my series of articles on travel in the State of Morelos. (note, you have to scroll down just a bit.)

Interested in the Yucatan as a possible travel or retirement destination? Read Yucatan Living an online e-zine about living, working and traveling in Merida and the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

Mexico: The Trick is Living Here is an excellent read for anyone considering moving to Mexico as a seasonal snowbird or full-time resident. It is packed full of interesting stories and insights that will enhance the stay of anyone considering living in Mexico. I would highly recommend this book.”

–Douglas Gray, LL.B. Author of 24 bestselling books, including, the national bestseller: The Canadian Snowbird Guide (Everything You Need to Know About Living Part-Time in the USA and Mexico). The 4th edition is being released in the Fall of 2007, and is published by John Wiley & Sons. Vancouver, B.C. www.

Planning Your Trip

Tips for all last minute travel at

iTravelnet Travel Directory Travel Directory. Comprehensive directory for travel related web sites.

Adventure Travel Tips – The Global Directory of Adventure Travel Websites.