Monthly Archives: December 2011

La Rama – Yucatecan Christmas Tradition

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, in the more popular neighborhoods – popular being the local euphemism in Spanish for poor neighborhoods – you can see packs of children aged 5-13 or going door to door and singing; well actually chanting, a peculiar little refrain that apparently is a recreation of Mary and Josephs quest to find shelter when their little baby Jesus was going to be born, back in the day.

I managed to corral one of these small packs, roving through the Cordemex neighborhood with about 30 other groups, under the watchful eye of two mothers who maintained a healthy distance while their offspring attempted to collect some money at each stop. To me, this resembled a great deal the North American Halloween tradition when one goes door to door shouting Trick or Treat, except here it was at Christmas and the theme was religious; in addition, the desired outcome was to receive some coins while the offspring of our neighbors to the north are on a quest for sugar.

When I asked the group if I could record them they looked back at their Moms and then again at me. The Moms nodded and smiled, and I told them to pretend I was just another house. They acceded and began their little song.

The song itself presumably had a melody at some point, but this small detail was lost on this particular group (and all the others I suspect, given the level of musical education and appreciation available for this socioeconomic group in the public education system in the Yucatan) and they had repeated the verses so often that they were in a rush to get through them all. As the song progressed it became a rushed jumble of words as each member of the group tried to arrive at the end first.

In the ensuing silence the homeowner either ignores them or comes out and gives them some coins and so, thankful for their cooperation with my little recording project, placed a 50 peso bill in the shoebox that contained the evenings haul up to that point as well as some plastic Christmas-y figurines that I assumed were Mary and our man Joseph. Their eyes widened at the sight of some paper money amongst the coins and they looked furtively back at the Moms and sang part two of their little song, faster than even the last few words of the previous chant and eager to get back to the adults and show them their newly-acquired wealth.

Here is the recording:

Part 1 – http://www.soundcloud.com/lawson_william/la-rama

Part 2 – http://www.soundcloud.com/lawson_william/la-rama-ii

And, since you probably won’t understand what the heck they are chanting, especially at the end when they’re racing to the finish line, here are the lyrics:

Part 1:

Me paro en la puerta
me quito el sombrero
porque en esta casa
vive un caballero.
Vive un caballero,
vive un general
y nos da permiso para comenzar.

Naranjas y limas
limas y limones
aquí está la virgen
de todas las flores.
En un jacalito
de cal y de arena
nació Jesucristo
para Nochebuena.
A la media noche
un gallo canto
y en su canto dijo:
“Ya Cristo nació”

Zacatito verde, lleno de roció
el que no se tape
se muere de frío.

Señora Santana,
¿por qué llora el niño?
Por una manzana que se la ha perdido
Que no llore por una, yo le daré dos
una para el niño y otra para Dios.

La calaca tiene un diente,
tiene un diente.
Topogigio tiene dos.
Si nos dan nuestro aguinaldo, aguinaldo
se lo pagara el señor.

Part 2 (this is the “hurray we got some money!” version:

Ya se va la rama
muy agradecida
porque en esta casa fue bien recibida
Pasen buenas noches, así les deseamos
pasen buenas noches, nosotros nos vamos.

Lyrics from http://www.navidadlatina.com/mexico/larama.asp

La Europea – Nada Que Ver

Today I was shopping in Walmart City Center (because there’s nothing like doing some grocery shopping on December 23rd, right?) and decided to walk over to the newly opened La Europea store.

La Europea is the well-known wine and liquor shop in Cancun that also has gourmet food items and a sandwich bar featuring fine hams and other cold cuts. They just opened their Merida location in the City Center mall, where a food court was destined to be but never materialized.

Walking in, you are looked at, walked by and generally ignored by each and every employee you come across. There are boxes all over the place and plenty of paper strewn on the floor. An employee in “Ignore Client” mode, pushes a broom lackadaisically ignoring you as she meanders past. The shelves are somewhat sparsely populated; in particular the chips were one bag to a shelf, indicating a last minute attempt to fill retail space with something – anything. I was pleased however, to find some jars of white asparagus that was NOT from China (see earlier post on Superama) but rather imported from Peru.

The whisky selection seems a little more extensive than that found at COVI, with a greater selection of Kentucky and Tennessee whiskies on display. All the other brands of Scotch, vodkas and rums are ones you will find elsewhere in Merida, from Costco to Walmart to Sams to the aforementioned COVI.

Like Superama, this is a store that is marketed to appeal to a clientele that is interested in quality. However their service, just like Superama and from what I witnessed today, is nowhere near anything resembling good or even mediocre. It sucks.

With employees completely indifferent to your presence you will be much better served and enjoy a much more pleasant shopping experience at the store whose name begins with a C and ends with an I which I am hesitant to name again so as not to be accused of owning stock in the company, which I don’t.

Home Depot Less Than Homey and Superama Far From Super

While I thought I had already ranted about Home Depot and Superama, a quick search on this collection of neurotic writings confirms that I have not.

Oh joy!

I feel particularly inspired as yesterday was a shopping kind of day and I found the customer service on my forays into the two stores mentioned in the title to be far from deficient; it was downright awful and would provoke at least a meeting at the head office, if they cared enough to monitor these kinds of trivialities.

Home Depot

First, it was exchange time at Home Depot. The items I had purchased the day before were the wrong size (stupid of me I know) and I arrived at the inappropriately named customer service desk and patiently waited for the one individual manning the 5 computers there to acknowledge my existence.

While completing the enormous amount of paperwork required for a return and subsequent devolucion of money, I watched his gum chewing, unshaven face as he moved, turtle-like, from one computer to the other, hoping to perhaps catch his eye and therefore initiate what would be in most places a conversation something along the lines of “I’ll be with you in a minute”. Alas, this was not to be and when he finally finished with his Herculean task he looked around indifferently and asked “quien sigue?” Meeting his gaze, I motioned to the couple across the way and off he went, at his jackrabbit pace. During the entire time, many Home Depot employees came and went, joking with Mr. SallowFace and completely ignoring the growing crowd around the counter.

Finally, it was my turn and admittedly the operation was completed in a quick and painless, no-questions-asked fashion. But the complete lack of friendliness from each and everyone of the employees I had (sort of) contact with was amazing.

Superama

Later on that day, towards the evening to be exact, when the xkaues return to the trees on Prolongacion de Montejo creating a racket that any Meridano abroad could immediately identify and would miss wholeheartedly, I entered Superama.

For those who don’t know, Superama is an offshoot of Walmart (yes, another one) and is supposedly geared towards an upscale clientele, as evidenced by their displays and the selection of gourmet products available for purchase. The human resources department, however, did not get the memo and the service of the unfriendly cashiers and employees in general (with the exception of the bag boys who are smiley and eager to provide one with good service) is downright shameful. The announcements over the PA system are identical to those of any supermarket with that sing-song tone and the fact that there are advertisements all over indicating that the prices are better than the Comercial Mexicana make one doubt about who the supermarket is trying to attract. Price is not that an important factor for an upscale clientele who look for service and quality along with their imported Danish cheeses.

In any case, I approached the fresh meat counter and, after waiting for a woman covered in blood (her apron) to appear from the dark netherworld of the meat locker. When she saw me, she nodded upwards and said “Que va a llevar?” If you have lived here for any length of time you know this head-nod greeting; you walk into a store or office and the clerk who was up to that point engrossed in his work (rare), a TV program (more common) or a torta (more common than you would think) in a desk drawer, will look at you and, raising eyebrows and head at the same time in a questioning gesture, may or may not actually utter a word.

In any case, to the bloodied meat lady I said “Buenas noches” whereupon she repeated her question, a little more impatiently this time “Que va a llevar??

Realizing that I was getting nowhere with social niceties, I pushed the envelope a little and asked her if she was in a bad mood or something. She said no, and again asked me what I wanted with a look of exasperation creeping into her expressionless face. A moment later, when a coworker stopped by to chat, I was surprised to see her cracking a smile at some probably excellent gossip. But, following the Superama Customer Service Code, when she turned back to me, the customer, aka the enemy, her smile evaporated and was replaced by her grim, stoney face

To answer her at last and feeling that it might be more appropriate, I decided to switch to a simpler, more Tarzan and Jane monosyllabic conversational style. I said “Pierna” (leg of pork) to which she replied, catching on quickly “Cuanto?” to which my answer was “3 kilos” and in a few more moments, with no more unnecessary pleasantries exchanged, I was on my way.

After buying this and that and checking some product labels which enlightened me to the fact that all the white asparagus, no matter what brand,  comes from China, I proceed to the checkout and met my sneezing cashier, who was spreading her germs in the most carefree and alarming manner. I asked if she had a cold or an allergy to which she shrugged, expressionless. Again, the Superama Customer Service Code at work!

At this point I gave up trying to be sociable and was therefore pleasantly shocked when the bag boy, a lad of no more than 14 actually smiled, looked me in the eye and said “gracias!” when I tipped him in such an enthusiastic manner that it reaffirmed my faith in humanity and proved that not everyone is destined for a future in Superama.

Far from an upscale shopping experience, shopping at Superama is no different (except for the price) than shopping for your groceries at Super Willy’s in downtown Uman.

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I would love to hear your comments and opinions on customer service at either of these not-so-fine establishments and also, what market segment Superama is trying to attract, as I can not figure it out.

You’re Safe in the Yucatan – A Real Life Example

Let’s see the North American newspapers print something about THIS.

Yesterday, when returning along the Cancun highway from Izamal after a hard day of eating tacos at Wayan’e, visiting antique shops and visiting the yellow city of Izamal, I passed a car parked on the side of the highway just in front of a state police truck, lights a-flashing as usual.

Glancing back in my rear-view mirror I noticed two white people and a pile of suitcases next to the car and thought to myself “these folks could probably use a little assistance” and upon returning to the scene, found a mother and daughter pair of Canadians who were stuck there and had been for the last 3 hours.

SPV heroes taking care of our visitors thank you very much. Publish this, CBC!

Turns out their rental vehicle – a crappy little Nissan Tsuru – had caught fire (literally, there were flames coming out of the motor) and they had to abandon the vehicle before a good Samaritan in a BMW stopped with an extinguisher and put it out. Also, villagers and passers by offered water for the now red-faced (from the sun) Canadians. Things were friendly enough but the state police folks wouldn’t let them go until the federal police showed up to take over the situation (the Cancun-Merida highway is a federal highway) and make sure everything was hunky dory. The state police had already contacted the feds, but three patrol cars had already driven by and none had stopped; meanwhile the rental folks back in Cancun had told CanadaMom and daughter that someone was coming, but of course as they had no office in Merida, this might be a while. Needless to say, Mom was a little tense but they were good sports about it and had been talking about food and recipes with the policemen who were reluctant to leave the scene or the ladies.

After talking to the rental agent in Cancun and telling him where his rental car was and where his customers would be to get them another vehicle, and then the police assuring them that everything would be fine and the ladies were coming with me, I loaded them all into the car and away we went.

They assured me that they at no point felt unsafe or threatened in any way; just frustrated with the pace of the resolution of their situation. Let’s see the North American newspapers print this story!

Lessons learned:

1) Rent your car from an agency that is established and has offices in both Merida and Cancun in case something like this ever happens to you. It’s an unlikely scenario, but it can happen.

2) If your rental car catches fire in Mexico, make sure you are in the Yucatan, the safest state in the country.