“El que no tranza no avanza.” That common Mexican saying basically translates into, “He who does not cheat, does not prosper.” If I’m being honest, this last couple of weeks have been rough, and a lot of it comes down to this saying.
Last Friday I had a bit of a freakout. I was ready, cash in hand, to buy a little motorcycle for getting around here in Leon. I’d been texting the seller for 2 weeks, and after he stood me up the first weekend, I gave him another shot the following weekend, only to be standing on the sidewalk for an hour, a second time. When it comes to selling a car or a motorcycle in Mexico, standard practice dictates that both parties meet in a neutral location, because nobody trusts anyone not to come and kill them and steal a $600 motorcycle. Sad but true.
Low and behold, I did not buy the motorcycle. Instead I just felt frustrated and defeated. At the same time, I had my manufacturing group drop the ball on sending preliminary invoices and estimates by end of week. I had a tannery make wrong samples again. I had another tannery forget to send paperwork. I had a foundry tell me that the 3-4 weeks to produce my hardware was now going to take 3-4 months. Another foundry took my order, and made me wait 2 days before telling me that the essential parts that the whole thing depends on, will take at least 2 months to ship in from Italy. All of this is normal frustrating business shit, but add to that the motorcycle debacle, and the fact that this asshole selling really awful tamales parks his cart outside my window almost every night, blaring the most obnoxious recording of a Mexican DJ hocking said tamales through a massive loudspeaker. I was fucking done. I lost it.
I yelled at the tamale shithead in a lot of words that he definitely did not understand. I tried watching a movie, but I couldn’t focus. I tried to just go to sleep early, but it was really hot, so I went to move my fan closer to the bed, but it started making this, “wok, wok, wok, wok, wok” sound. I then downed a couple of whiskeys (not because I like them, mind you – whiskey in Mexico is the equivalent of gas station sushi – they just help me crash) and a glass of red wine at sweltering temperatures that Malbec should never be consumed. I drifted off for a bit, but due to the heat and the fact that my overzealous mind wouldn’t just shut off for the night, I somehow had a bizarre sleep moment.
Somehow, I had a subconscious reaction to all of the stresses afflicting me, and involuntarily knee-jerked into the annoying “wok-wok” fan, sending it crashing onto the tile floor and exploding into a million pieces. At this, I burst awake, only to trip on the fan, and then accidentally drop kick my tool boxes across the room, trashing the whole place. My sleep-confused brain tried to pick up the fan, only to have whirling plastic blades of death come straight at my head, whereupon I hucked the fan away from my face, catching it up on the blanket, and creating an opposite of the desired effect, sending the fan base arcing into a magnificent display of self destruction.
My room looked exactly how my whole world felt at that moment, and I wanted to cry. Just like the room, how one mishap piled on to the next and kept elevating until it was a situation out of control, so to have I been feeling about trust when dealing with a lot of Mexican companies.
The first of many issues I’ve been trying to worth through, is compulsive tardiness. It’s a pet peeve of mine, even in the U.S., when someone doesn’t respect a scheduled meeting time. Here, it feels like a “laid back” atmosphere (translate, bullshit), and as much as I try to go with the flow, it’s something that drives me crazy. Missing deadlines is basically the same.
Which is something else. There is a general amount of bullshit when it comes to trusting what a vendor promises. If I say, I need parts A, B and C on this day, can you do that? And the vendor says, Of course, we can do that, but then calls me 2 days before delivery and says that part C will have to be ordered from Germany, and will take 2 months, then you fucked up my world, asshole. Plus, now I don’t trust you. Worse, is that everyone does it, so now I don’t trust any of them, and I have to micromanage every last part, because lying is standard operating procedure. Damn.
Another friend of mine told me of another saying down here, “Mierda de Puerco“. Literally translated, it means “pig shit”, but culturally, it means “Why work, when you can nap?” Or, in my case, why file paperwork and do your job, when you can do it tomorrow. Or never. Hey, if you can get a gringo to give you money without actually having a paper trail, why not? Let’s do that and go get micheladas.
NOTE – There are not a lot of contracts for vendors and commerce in Mexico because the legal system is flawed, and there’s really no way to try and recoup losses in court, so nobody bothers with writing shit down. Money is the only contract.
These are all cautionary tales for anyone thinking about doing business in Mexico. It’s not very honest or straight forward or timely. It’s a lot of trial and error frustrations and wasted time and effort. It can drive you insane. In the end, it’s a game of figuring out who you can trust, and who you can’t. You also have to learn to lie, just a little bit. (For example, I work with 2 competing tanneries, one of which saw my final samples from the other, and acted offended that I went with them instead of him. He said he could make the same thing, even better! He asked, how much do they charge? The honest answer is $3.35 a foot. I told him “a little under $3.” Hey, if he comes back with better samples for less, fine. I don’t owe him the truth, if that’s how the game is played down here.)
In my case, I found someone I can trust. I hope. It’s a rather small company, but has a lot of ties to some great folks, and does some wonderful work. They are wildly good at what they do, and their people are very skilled and very dedicated. They have a lot of the same sensibilities that I do, and have a lot of love for my same blend of vintage motorcycles and WW2 era class and all those things that just fit. The owner believes in my designs so much, that he waived all of the die casting costs (that’s a big deal) so that I would continue to work directly with him. He agreed to cover the finance costs up-front as well, so that we could run a tax-exempt operation without having to wait weeks to deal with all the excess NAFTA and eMEX stuff. The head of design and I totally get along, and her ideas are awesome – she’s just nervous to put them out there sometimes, but hopefully we’ll get past that, and she’ll be telling me all sorts of flaws that she sees in my designs, and we make a better bag.
There’s still some crucial milestones to pass in the next few weeks, and I sincerely hope that I’m not making a poor choice in trusting this group, because they are incredible and I could really use a win right now. I don’t want to believe that everything I just said about Mexico is 100% true, 100% of the time.