Skip to content

Scoundrel time?

28 April 2010

Some of the tolls received this afternoon on the highway paved with good intentions…

With the tourist season winding down here in Mazatlán, those of us whose income largely depends on the tourists are starting to take stock of our seasonal takings and figure out how we’ll survive until October.

This time of year, our second hand book suppliers — hotel cleaners and chambermaids — are showing up with bags of paperbacks left behind (and some are “Left Behind” books).  Our suppliers can’t use them (very few of them read English, and have no interest in American murder mysteries anyway), but they can use a couple of pesos per book to cover bus fare and whatnot.  It doesn’t always make business sense to buy some of these books but more or less have to buy whatever they have to sell… even if, two minutes after paying them, we’re throwing the book away, or adding another half dozen Nora Roberts novels into the boxes piled half-way to the ceiling of other unsold Nora Roberts novels.

In this kind of business, public demand is fickle:  it’s not like there aren’t readers of Nora Roberts, and a run on Nora Roberts is always within the realm of possibility, so we’re pretty much committed to buying whatever comes in… both to guarantee inventory and to keep our suppliers bringing in the treasures and trash we need, even if we take in more loss leaders than I’d like (there’s only so much shelf space for Harlequin Romances, and how many copies of Dan Brown’s Deception Point does any bookstore really need?).  And, with the off-season upon us, we’re all in this together.  The book sales are to our mutual advantage.

Not really to our advantage, but simply because no one else will, we will buy the otherwise worthless U.S. and Canadian coins tourists leave the maids under the impression they are doing them a favor, or providing them with an extra income.  They’re not.

Most of the service businesses here will take U.S. and Canadian dollars as payment… but certainly not at the exchange rate.  Like other small businesses, we’re not set up to handle it.  We can’t spend it, or use it to buy anything here (except maybe meals in a tourist restaurant) and have to take it to the bank — which, for a small business, means closing during the day, and standing in line.  Obviously, we wait until there’s time and enough foreign currency to make the exchange worthwhile — in the meantime, pictures of the Queen or Abe Lincoln sitting around not as inventory, and not as income.  Not knowing what the exchange rate will be when we have the time to close the business and do banking, of course, we aren’t going to give the daily exchange rate, and are going to build in the hassle factor and carrying on the books what has to be considered potential sales.

But that’s not unusual for small businesses here.  The coins and small bills are another story.  We can’t exchange them at the bank (I can’t think of banks anywhere set up to handle foreign coinage) and turning them into currency means taking them to their country of origin.  As far as I know, we’re the only business that does take coins (and only from the hotel workers), and turning them into “real money” is an an ad hoc, informal thing depending on somebody with a pickup truck heading for the WalMart in Nogales Arizona (which might not be so common any more) or willing to haul a couple coffee cans the 4000 Km or so back to the Great White North.  And who knows when that will be, or what the exchange rate might be?

It just doesn’t do to screw your neighbors, friends and fellow toilers for the touristas over… nor one’s suppliers, but no way we can give approximating the exchange rate for the coins.  Even at about 60 percent of the (theoretical) exchange rate, we’re not making any money off the deal, just doing a favor for people who have been — unintentionally — screwed over.

It bothers me that some north of the border types still have the idea that because they can spend their money in places like mine, I can spend it at my local grocery, or use it to pay the bus fare.  I have no use for it.  And neither do the chambermaids.  What really sucks is when people leave tips in totally unredeemable coins.  There’s nothing at all I can do with One Pound, or 1.25 in Euros.  And how do I tell my neighbor that 20 West German Phenning or 10 South African whatevers from the early 1980s aren’t worth anything.  Not even part of a bus ticket.

Tips for those in the service industry are always appreciated, but they should be in the form of something a person can use.  Leaving foreign coins (even in a rare situation like ours) may be well intentioned, but thoughtless.  And leaving coins in a currency that doesn’t exist… downright cruel.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 28 April 2010 8:43 am

    The kids at the zocalo in Oaxaca worked out this clever little trick:
    1. Approach a tourist and ask him for a coin from his country as a souvenir or because you are “collecting coins” (this works far better than plain begging for pesos)
    2. Approach another tourist and ask him to exchange the Euro for MXN


  2. 28 April 2010 12:23 pm

    When I was in Egypt, we were repeatedly approached by locals asking us to change Euro coins into notes [bills], which they could then exchange. We did change some, and then we genuinely didn’t have any more paper money, but some locals followed us and were very insistent. I too asked myself what people thought they were doing giving useless coins as tips or whatever.

  3. steve permalink
    28 April 2010 10:40 pm

    I honestly think it’s a secret smugness on the part of the visitor. “Oh, these people are so poor, they will
    think my coins are manna from Heaven” and ,
    “Oh, I am such a good person.”

    We have our share of Ronald Reagan books left here in SMA by visitors, and by dead people. And also, I have seen some
    newer book, written by some Fox News anchor?

    (that can’t be right….)

    It must be standard fare for tourist and seaside cities throughout the world. But sometimes the behavior of the average visitor makes me want to eat my own brain.


Leave a reply, but please stick to the topic

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: