Nickeled and Dimed

Most truths that are obvious don´t need to be learned, right?  And yet, every once in awhile, the obvious can smack me up alongside the head.

The first few months I lived here, I remember being very frustrated with every grocery store trip.  Often I´d forget to bring change with me–and change is crucial for any Mexican grocery store visit.  Ironically, not for paying groceries–large grocery store chains are the one business that always has change.  Never have I had a cashier at a large grocery chain ask, as I hand her a $200 bill, “do you happen to have change?”

100_5208  No, the change at the grocery store is for the baggers.  They all work on a volunteer basis– baggers are not paid by the store.  It used to be a job reserved for school kids.  The job market in Mexico being what it is, it´s next to impossible for students to get jobs.  The students that work as baggers have to have very good grades and they have to prove that they are maintaining those grades.  However, by only “hiring” students, baggers were thin on the ground during school hours.  Which is why we now see an army of senior citizens manning the bagging counters.  These senior citizens have been referred for the job though government social services.  They need the job, because their government pension either isn´t making ends meet or is simply nonexistent.  Therefore, whenever I show up at the grocery store without change and accidentally stiff the baggers, I feel terrible.

In many parking lots, men will rush up to help load the groceries into the car and to take the cart back to the store.  The parking lot attendants may be on the official roster of the grocery store´s baggers, or they may just hustle the parking lot, looking to pick up a few tips.  After already tipping the baggers, I began to resent tipping the parking lot attendants, as well.  It came to the point that I´d clutch onto the shopping cart in the parking lot and start yelling, “NO–I DON´T NEED ANY HELP!” as soon as I saw an attendant coming in my direction.

Then, one day when walking down Guadalupe Victoria, perspective smacked me up alongside the head.  On any given day, there are a number of people playing accordion, sitting in their wheelchairs, or holding babies and asking for handouts between the Alameda and the Plaza de Armas.  Now, I´ve heard all the pros and cons about why people should or shouldn´t give handouts.  Those stories wouldn´t be spread so widely if there wasn´t a bit of truth to them.  But sometimes I give handouts.  Sometimes I don´t.  I´m not looking for judgement here.  But on this particular day, I had quite a bit of spare change, and happily tossed a bit into someone´s cup.

That was the difference–I happily gave the panhandler the change, whereas a few days before I had been grumbling about the cart attendant.  Wait a minute!  That cart attendant was providing me with a service and working for his tip.  While there may be many reasons for the panhandler to be on the sidewalk, suffice it to say that she was not working.  My attitude transformed dramatically when this reality dawned on me.  I no longer grumble about the cart attendants.  Instead of cheefully tossing coins to the lady on the sidewalk, I now happily–without the least bit of resentment–tip the baggers and cart attendants.

And maybe I do still toss some coins in the panhandler´s cup every now and again.

But more often, I´m saving them up so I can tip the baggers and cart attendants well.

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