Culture Shock Strikes Again

Even after 7 years in Cancun, I still go through culture shock from time to time (as evidenced in the infamous sheet shopping incident a few months ago). These downswings used to last weeks and weeks when I first moved down here, but now they typically only last anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 days.

Today I went to lunch at Plaza Las Americas, downtown Cancun’s main mall. I was already frustrated that the ATM at work was broken (which seems to happen pretty much every payday… convenient) and I didn’t have enough money on me to buy lunch. The salad place at the food court informed me that they only accept cash. This wasn’t surprising, but it did begin a stream of curse words and arguments in my head.

  • “Why don’t most places in Mexico accept cards? They have the technology!”
  • “But wait… even the places that do accept cards always have problems with their machines not working.” (Starbucks, I’m looking at you.)
  • “If I were in the US, they’d let me buy a salad with a card. Heck, I bet they’d even have ATMs that don’t break down every 2 weeks!”
  • “Well now I have to walk aaaaaallll the way to the mall ATM just to get $100 pesos. FML.”
  • “Stupid Mexico with their stupid cash only policies.”

And then a miracle happened.

When I finally got back to the salad place with my cash in hand, the cashier gave me this with my meal:

That’s a free card worth 10 movie tickets at just $39 pesos each! (Just over $3 USD)

They may not accept cards at many places, but I’ll be darned if Mexico doesn’t have much better movie prices than the USA.

God bless you, Mexico.

14 thoughts on “Culture Shock Strikes Again

  1. For one people in Mexico aren’t used to using credit cards like in the USA and aren’t up to there necks in debt like in the states. In Mexico people don’t use loans as much as in the USA. Usually if someone has a house or has a car it’s paid for. Things are changing though but in Mexico it is harder to get a loan without collateral. Usually businesses tend to favor cash because of the fees the credit card companies charge the establishment(up to 10%). In 2009 the United States had an estimated 488 million debit cards and 686 million credit cards in circulation vs 12 million debit cards and 26 million credit cards in circulation in Mexico (Source: Euromonitor International, January 2010)

  2. That is not true Raymundo, Mexican people WE DO USE CARDS but it’s in Cancun where people is not used to and that seriously sucks big time, im from mexico city and i was used to pay everything with cards so i won’t have to carry cash but here seems like they hardly know them people even young people seems they don’t even know how to use ATM’s it’s like a huge monster that could swallow their cards and their souls within i can tell you that there are cultural shocks inside our own Mexican people.

  3. Hi Raymundo and Rey!

    My experience here in Cancun is that many people in the middle and upper class do use credit cards frequently, but usually only for larger purchases like at the grocery store, buying furniture, etc etc etc. Smaller purchases like a meal at a restaurant or an item of clothing and they’ll *usually* pay cash, especially considering many places don’t accept cards anyway.

    I also haven’t seen anyone I know pay cash for a home or car in Cancun… always with a loan, but usually with a larger down payment than we see in the US and it’s paid off much more quickly than in the US (5 – 10 years as opposed to 20 – 30 years for a home). Then again, this is just what I’ve seen in Cancun. I can’t speak for the rest of the country.

  4. I don’t know if this is true with all credit cards .. BUT .. the store has to pay the credit card company a percentage. So that could be the reason for not accepting the card.

  5. @Rey of course Mexico City is going to be modern (it’s the capital). Smaller towns in Mexico hardly have places that accept credit cards and in the USA almost every town gas station or restaurant accepts them. Even most of the mom and pop places . Yo tambien soy mexicano y no le encuentro sentido a usar tarjetas de credito o debito, es muy facil gastar de mas, en cambio si tienes unos billetes en la bolsa te das cuenta mas lo que gastas y controlas mas, solo para hacer reservaciones las uso yo o para comprar viajes .

    • This is true. When I lived in small town Yucatan there wasn’t a single place that accepted cards. We had to drive 3 towns over just to find a bank with an ATM. That was fine, and I got used to it 🙂

      And I 100% agree with your statement about debt. My (Mexican) inlaws have no debt. Most people that I know in the smaller towns don’t have a car. They get around by bicycle and motor taxi, or by bus if they have to go to the “big city” (Merida). Their houses are built piece by piece as they save up the money to buy the materials and pay for the labor. Hipotecas (mortgages) are pretty much unheard of. IMO it’s better to have to pay cash and not be 75 years old and still paying your house off or freaking out if you lose your job and can’t make your car payment. 🙂

  6. Hahaha another good one Laura!!

    I have to say my experience is the same as Raymundo’s…Most of my Mexican friends do not have , nor use a card if they have one. Unless absolutely necessary they pay cash for things. My hubby too…Now we have Canadian cards, better rates, etc… However, we still don’t use them. I am always shocked how many places do not accept cards, some are pretty good restaurants in Cancun. Or as you said, the machines don’t work, again. Hahaha. I just laugh, but do find that my friends also aren’t in debt like my north of the border friends.
    Merchant fees are ridiculous. Companies just don’t want to use them….However, they should have a sign “Cash Only” hahaha. That would save time for a lot of people. That would just make too much sense 🙂

    Oh and totally cheaper movies in Mexico!! Also, we have VIP!!!!

  7. Hi! I love your blog and I’ve been following it ever since I found it, which is after I vacationed in Cancun in January. I am sure these are questions that have been posed before but I couldn’t easily find the answers. I understand you are fluent in Spanish- does your Spanish extend to your thoughts as well (when you were thinking to yourself about the problems with the ATM, were you thinking in Spanish or English)? Do you and your husband communicate mostly in Spanish? What is his level of proficiency in English? Thanks for your time!

    • Hi Karen! Jorge speaks pretty fluent English, but we speak almost 100% in Spanish. (I’ve always heard that whatever language you speak in at the beginning of your relationship, that will never change.) My thoughts used to be all in Spanish when I was in school here, but now that I’m working at a job where I have to write and speak mostly in English, my thoughts tend to switch back and forth as well. During the work day I think in English, and at home I think in Spanish.

      But when I get mad or excited about something, I automatically switch to English hahaha

  8. That’s one of the reasons why I always try to have at least 100 pesos in my wallet, you never know when you may need the money …lunch, a cab, an emergency! I like how you always look at the bright side…you got cheap tickets!

  9. Hey Laura!

    I can tell you right now that I have the same card and it’s the most deceitful thing in the world! It’s only beneficial to you if you always go to the Cinepolis at Plaza Las Americas, since the regular price for an adult there is $65 pesos per person. However, if you tend to go to the theater in La Gran Plaza, the regular price for an adult is $39 pesos per person!! AND…if you like to go to the movies and watch all the mistranslations in Spanish just so that you can save yourself a few more pennies, you can even pay as much as $32 pesos per person at Cinepolis Las Tiendas (wherever that may be)! By the way, all these prices come from the same chain and you can even see them published on their website when you’re buying your tickets online. Have in mind that if you go to Cinepolis Plaza Las Americas you still have to pay for 3-hour parking (no longer 5-hours!) if you have your own car, or if you’re paying for a cab, you might as well always go to La Gran Plaza since every entry costs you the same as your “promotional card” and there’s no expiry date.

    Ps- Sorry for the long post! 😛

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