I write you over the sounds of war. The first time I heard the explosions, I thought they were bombs going off or maybe they were searching for oil in the hills. Day after day, I thought they might be imploding another building. Boy, I was mistaken. I”m just surrounded by TNT-happy Mexicans.

Paul Wong
Josh Wickerham

That”s right, faithful readers. I”m in Mexico for two months learning how to be an expatriate. And it”s a difficult job, what with having studied with a group from Tennessee for the last month. But now they”re gone and I”m finally alone with my thoughts. Though many of you would say being able to communicate at a third grade level doesn”t make an American alone, just normal.

I”m stuck in a culture war of some kind. As we seal off our borders and exploit our distant neighbors to the south with NAFTA-driven corporate governance, I never cease to be amazed at Shaggy”s “It wasn”t me” pouring out of every other Volkswagen on the street.

We get “Planet of the Apes.” Mexico gets “La Planeta de los Simios” (with subtitles). They get Catholicism, we get Puritanism. Out with the old, in with the new. We get whatever shlock the entertainment industry markets us and Mexico gets it six months later in Spanish packaging.

God I hate Americans. They think they own the world. Mostly, in fact, because, economically, they do. Case in point: The way the members of that group from Tennessee communicated with cab drivers who wanted to charge them 45 pesos to take them home after a night of getting sloshed. They used the finger and screamed at them in English. Mind you, 45 pesos is about $4.75, unless the dollar is sagging. Pretty cheap.

Boom.

Americans also seem to have a problem with the tip-as-you-go system at all-you-can-drink bars. Instead of using rudimentary math skills to pay the waiter in incremental sums, they give American patrons a bad name by requesting to speak to the manager. And when the manager tries explain that “that”s the way we do it in Mexico,” they have conniptions and end up not leaving any tip at all, saying that the service was bad and the waiters were rude. And then they brag about it the next day.

Boom, boom.

What do Mexicans do when a cab tries to charge them too much? They bargain. What do Mexicans do when the power goes out? They light candles. What do they do when an American smokes a cigarette next to them in the Internet Caf and he apologizes with the mindset that they”re going to get uptight like a pregnant American mother?

“No hay problemas, amigo.”

And what do I do when the power goes out after lighting that cigarette? I rewrite my column. No problem. What do I do when the control-s key combination in Microsoft Word doesn”t save, but underlines? I think you can figure that out yourselves.

I”ve found Mexico to be hospitable that way. When I ask someone for directions, they don”t look at me like some foreign goon who”s out to rob them. They invite me to the bar for a cerveza.

I suppose it”s partly due to the fact that Mexicans as a whole are a pretty powerless people. They don”t have that American ideal of rugged individualism or the pressure of the American Dream surfacing in the back of their minds. Instead they have an outdated Machismo thing that has given Mexico City one of the highest AIDS rates in the semi-developed world simply because Mexican men are too manly to use condoms.

My response to the Machismo is to hold hands and kiss my Mexican boyfriend on the street, regardless of our personal well-being. America”s response to the Machismo seems to be summed up by Britney Spears. “I”m stronger than yesterday” might be good for little repressed girls to hear, but that whiney brat is not the kind of role-model Mexico needs. I”d rather the borders be erased and culture swapped person to person than through illegally copied American CDs.

Maybe if we began to treat Mexico as we would have them treat us, Americans could learn to take it easy and Mexicans could learn to give up the patriarchy. Maybe we could share the prosperity. But there”s not much one person can do about it. I”m content humming American music and talking Mexican politics like a third grader.

Josh Wickerham can be reached via e-mail at jwickerh@umich.edu.

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