24 January 2009

Money makes the world go around?

It all began with a party. A wonderful, beautiful party. It was not too hot, not too cold, visible half-moon and plenty of strangers. A lime tree, a fig tree, lots of Spanish. Fun, yes? Mix with slightly-naive-trusting-young-woman from a very different sort of Valley, and you get a Missing Purse. Yes, it’s true-I got my purse nabbed. Full responsibility is taken, and now I have learned from the mistake of leaving it behind an armchair as opposed to bringing it to someone’s room.

There are pros and cons to the situation. The only huge items of interest lost were my ATM card, phone, some cash. But from this slip-up I have entered a scary, frightening realm that is: talking with Bank of America on the telephone. It is hellish. It is awful. So here’s some advice:
Don’t lose your debit card.

But if you do...
1. IMMIDIATELY have it blocked. Don’t wait, do it as soon as humanly possible.
2. IMMIDIATELY ask them to send you cash, and lie about how much of an emergency it is. They will wire it to a Western Union, so something a super-prepared traveler would do is scope out the barrio for one while first getting acquainted. Alas, I have not earned my badge yet.
3. Make sure you are drinking during this entire process. This is something I have not been doing, but it sure would make talking to the majority of BoA people so much more fun and interesting. You know, just to take the edge off.

Please, learn from this kid’s mistakes.

And now that we’re on the topic, I have been gathering some other money-related advice through the richness of first-hand experience.

Always have spare cash tucked away in your abode. More than one currency, if possible. This will make you happy if something was to happen to an ATM card.
Remember, banks like Santander want a passport or other Federally-issued ID when selling pesos for a foreign currency. A State ID will not be recognized as official. Do yourself a favor and ask for small denominations. Some taxi drivers will not give change for large bills or simply will not have the change (not all taxi drivers deserve the vilification received), so 100 peso bills are probably the biggest you should be carrying around at one time.

Metrobuses and Microbuses also enjoy exact change (and pretty much require it at night) and there you will need 50 cent, 1, or 2 peso coins. The ‘taquillas’ (ticket booths) in metro stations will change 5 and 10 peso coins, but I have never tried anything beyond that. It probably depends on the line.

Also, banks will occasionally be willing to trade you clean, unmarked bills for any ripped ones that you have. Open-air markets, tiendas, and restaurants of all types will not take ripped bills. If the bank won’t take them, try passing them at a big store like a Mega or Wal-Mart. If you say that you got it from the bank or look clueless/fierce enough they usually will take them with not much of a problem. To paraphrase The People’s Guide, smaller business owners and artisans simply cannot afford to take questionable bills. When thinking about this, it makes sense. But as a traveler you can’t either-so if you are even in a position where you are receiving change and get some funky cash do not feel bad about asking for a different bill. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

Pricing of things:
I have found this is be variable and strange to the US mind. Here is a list to give you and idea of the way pricing is scaled. All following numbers signify amount in pesos!

Metro, one way-2
Pan Dulce-3 to 6
Sponge- 5.50
Used books- range from 7-60
‘Boing’ fruit juice in a glass bottle-10
Torta w/out meat-12
Torta w/ meat-17ish
Beer in a bar-15 per, maybe less
Box of juice-15
Corn with chili and lime-15
Museum Visit-15-45
Plants-on average 15, huge range
Coffee Americano (black coffee) from cafe-16ish
2 tlacoyos or quesedillas w/out meat -20
Coffee from SevenEleven-20
1.5 oz Indio-29 (with bottle return only 20!)
Cigarettes-around 25
Cappuchino- around 30
Magazine- in a supermarket 35ish, newsstand around 60
30 min. taxi ride-35-60 (10 pesos more after 10 pm)
Loaf of sliced bread-40
Good Flan-55-60
Olive oil-70
Blanket from Dept. Store-79
Bottle of Wine-80ish
Leather purses- 150, upwards from Ciudadela (where the locals shop)
Pitcher of beer -240 or less
Antique jewelry- range from 250-2000

Food from the market is a whole different story. You can manage to get a surprising amount for less than 150 pesos. This is totally a new experience from the Farmer’s Markets in Amherst/Hadley, where it is as if one must be either privileged or buying in bulk to buy produce from a stand. Supermarkets are markedly less fun and more expensive, this is a point that will be continually repeated!

The way things are priced also seems to differ from the way things in the US, particularly in the Valley, are. Here the things that are equal-access are good food, alcohol, and cigarettes-some for better, others for worse. And thinking about pricing makes me think about privilege in a new way. Privilege, pricing, and access are interlocked-this much can be said as true. What does it say about a culture that makes a loaf of bread from a supermarket more affordable than a pound of carrots from a local farmer, or a magazine less expensive than book? Or a bottle of wine less than a blanket? All three of these questions stem from actual prices assigned to stated discrete objects within the United States. I have little concrete idea how prices come to be assigned, but a guess would be that it has to do with production costs, availability, existence, and reach of industry within that particular locale. But that can’t be all of it, there’s got to be something else.

The downside of not having money is that for the moment my going-out-at-night has decreased. The upside is that I have been getting up earlier and utilizing the cheap public transport as a means to explore this amazing place! What a reward, and a wake up call, for getting ripped off.

So far I have explored the Zocalo and Centro Historico, Alameda, Juarez, Roma, Zona Rosa, Coyoacan, and the outskirts of Tlalpan. Yesterday and today have consisted of Centro de la Imagen, La Opera Bar (where Zapata used to go), Paseo de la Reforma, Plaza Rio de Janiero, and other charming little parks and green places. This city has so much to look at, there is so much more to do.

Tomorrow if all goes well it will be the Museo de Diego Rivera, Printmaking Museum, and the inside of Bella Artes (all free on Sunday!).


  1. Those three points of advice for dealing with BoA can be addressed with much more efficiency and a higher rate of satisfaction with my one point of advice:

    Step 1: Get all your money the fuck outta Bank of America. Seriously, just about any bank is a step up from those robber barons.

    Ideally, you wanna go for a Credit Union, but seeing as you are abroad... probably not that practical.

    Those prices are interesting, but I think some of the confusion stems from inflation. With regards to food, our prices in the US are all about the protectionist racket for companies like Monsanto. I would have thought, though, that organizations like the IMF and WTO would have seen to it that their agricultural market looked like ours with a shitty exchange rate. I'd be interested to see what accounts for that discrepancy.

  2. Here's a little trick for getting coins when you only have bills: the 'taquillas' in the metro.
    You can buy five tickets with a 100 pesos bill and get 90 pesos in small denominations. Or even you can buy ten tickets (that's 20 pesos) with a 200 pesos bill.
    This trick will work almost all the time, except when the seller is moody or when they just have had retired the money (corte de caja).