By the time we walked into the Bra Bar that night, we were already well “into our cups”. That’s how writers explain it when they don’t want to say they were just plain drunk. Which was probably what made us easy targets. Drunk people are the easiest to rip-off, and drunk gringos on vacation in exotic locations are probably even more so.
The Bra Bar is a cute dive bar with all manner of bras hanging from the ceiling. It’s right next door to a strip bar, where a number of our group went first before descending on this place. There were maybe 20 of us there and then another group of us also came in, so maybe 30 total.
We were there a while, and I’d already been served a beer once. I was really enjoying myself, and we were all pretty loud and obnoxious I’m sure, but that’s to be expected in a dive bar like the Bra Bar.
Rather than wait for a server to come around again to get my drink order, I decided to go up to the bar instead. As I stood up there, waiting to be served, I started talking to a young couple from Mexicali who were down for the weekend. His English was far better than her’s and his Spanish far better than my Gringlish so he had to translate between us all. I’ll call them Jon and Lily because I was too drunk and stupid to remember their names, and I don’t want to make up anything that might come across as stereotyping.
As I stood there talking to Jon and Lily, the bartender came up, and I ordered another beer. A few moments later she placed the beer on the counter and took my 500 peso bill (about $25 USD). Then she gave me my change – 165 pesos (about $8 USD). I counted out my change again. Certainly that had to be wrong? No way had that beer cost me 335 pesos ($17 USD)! It should have been about 35 pesos ($1.75 USD).
I called the bartender over, and explained to her. She shook her head at me so I asked Jon to explain the situation to her. She listened to his explanation, then shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes in my direction, but went back to the register and brought me another 300 pesos. I chalked it off to a mistake and continued on my conversation with my two new friends.
Maybe five minutes later, one of my American friends came up to the bar. I’ll call him Erick. Both because I knew him before I was drunk and I also still remember his name.
Erick ordered a beer from the bartender and proffered his 500 peso bill. Now, even drunk, it’s easy to figure out he should have received a few bills amounting to 400 pesos and then some change. But again, the bartender did the exact same thing – she gave him 165 pesos change.
I explained to Erick that this exact same thing happened to me but she gave me back my correct change. We called her back over and she again acted like she didn’t understand and then walked off. Okay fine, she doesn’t speak English and our Gringlish is worse because we’ve been drinking. Erick asks me “Can you get your new friends to help me too?”
“Oh sure!” I respond and then ask Jon to explain the problem to her. My new friend is a superhero here, saving poor, stupid Gringos from being ripped off in dive bars.
The bartender listened to Jon’s explanation, then looked sideways at me and then Erick, squinting her eyes. “Oh okay.” She seemed to say, nodding, as if she agreed. Then she walked over to Erick and took the 100 peso bill from under his beer. We thought she was going to replace it with two 200’s but she just put it in the register and moved on to serving other people.
We were flabbergasted, and began to laugh a bit. Surely she wouldn’t be so blatant. So we called her back over and got Jon to explain to her. “No.” she said. Just “No.” She gave a little half-shake of her head and set her mouth into a scowl. No, she hadn’t just taken all Erick’s money right in front of our faces. No, she wasn’t wrong. No, she wasn’t stealing from us.
Out of options at that point, there was no way we were going to stay in that place. It’s really too bad because it was such a fun place. Our only option was to leave, and that we did, clearing out the bar of everyone except my Mexicali friends, Jon & Lily.
When I posted about this to others in our group, one person responded “Welcome to Mexico” as if to imply that everyone here are thieves. But you know, I wholeheartedly reject that sort of cynicism. There are so many friendly, kind, people who haven’t stolen from us. Also, it’s not unknown for this to happen in Canada and the US and other parts of the world. To accept that sort of cynicism is to brand all Mexicans as thieves and that is just plain false. For all we know, the bartender may have been confused by the situation and thinking we were trying to steal from her. I find that explanation very doubtful, but it’s far more likely than believing all Mexicans are thieves. Realism tells me that everyone who touches my money may be out to rob me, and to keep a good eye on how much I give and get back. Regardless of country, place, or race. Always be aware. But don’t turn that into stereotyping and racial profiling.