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What really constitutes a “car accident” in Mexico City anyway?

Yesterday marked my first car accident (if you can even call it that) in Mexico City. Frankly, I am somewhat amazed that it took this long for my car to come in contact with another car. Before anyone gets concerned (Mom), know that my car was moving at roughly 0.5 mph, as was the other party’s, through one of the crappiest intersections in Polanco. Rather than attempt to describe said intersection, I will set the stage through this truly-lifelike, high-res drawing done in Powerpoint, graphic design tool of the world’s finest illustrators… (click to make it semi-legible).
Intersection of Ejercito Nacional & Cuernavaca in Polanco. Left-turn lanes do not exist here (it's more of a pile-on approach), and the thought "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't go because the light will definitely turn red & I will be blocking 4 lanes of traffic" has never crossed anyone's mind.

Intersection of Ejercito Nacional & Cuernavaca in Polanco. Left-turn lanes do not exist here (it's more of a pile-on approach), and the thought "Hmm, maybe I shouldn't go because the light will definitely turn red & I will be blocking 4 lanes of traffic" has never crossed anyone's mind.

Here’s a quick loosely-recalled run-down of the incident for those of you perched on the edges of your seats with suspense:
(For realism, translate all statements said aloud into Spanish. Garbled letters/numbers/symbols signifies where I did not understand actual Spanish; does not signify obscenities.)

Julie, to self: I am never going to get through this goddamn light. ADELANTE, you rat bastards! Please, feel free to continue streaming in front of me despite ME having the green light.

[Inches forward more into intersection. Slight scrape-y sounds causes her to realize she has underestimated length of husband’s car]

Julie, to self: Crap. Great, he seems to have noticed & is waving at me. What does he want me to do, get out in the middle of the intersection? This surely is not an uncommon occurence. Do people even stop in Mexico when someone touches your rear bumper at 0.5 mph?

Dude with bushy hair: 3C(js93!. Do you have your license? Let’s go over to that street to look at the damage.

Julie: Yes, of course

Dude: Give your license to me so I know you will follow me over there. Otherwise how do I know you will follow me [repeat 3 times]

Julie: I WILL FOLLOW YOU. Trust me.   [we drive to street on other side of intersection]

Dude: See, there is a scratch. This is not my car, it’s my bosses. j2(S*@@ DK#$kaei@ 8i2 12MVNnw0. This will cost money to repair. Do you have insurance? Do you want to wait?

Julie: Of course I have insurance. Note that you were cutting in front of me when I had a green light. That intersection is crap. It looks like a minor scratch. I am FINE waiting for insurance. Do you want to wait for it over this scratch?

Dude: That is how things work at that intersection. 290DJK@0!)!  ehw%20s  &* 239Sbm 30S*@.

Julie: Hey, whatever, I am happy to call my insurance.

[Policeman arrives onto the scene]

Copper: What happened?

Julie: I barely touched his car while he was cutting in front of me when I had a green light. [essentially true, only detail left out was 0.5mph speed]

Copper: [looks at scratch on his car, looks at me as if to say “WTF? Is this really worth dealing with?”, asks Dude:] Is this really worth the trouble? The scratch is blue, her car is gray.

Julie: [wrings hands & rolls eyes supportively in agreement of cop’s assessment of frivolity]

Dude: sd##) sklQPO!)!! @*K  @()@*KJDA!#>.  This will cost money to fix, it’s not my car etc. etc. etc. You are just taking the side of the pretty lady instead of me. She’s going to call insurance. See, look how this rear portion of my car frame moves [when I vigorously pull it back & forth with my hands].

Julie: I imagine the other side moves the same way if you tried it on that side. Also, the scratch is blue. [ignores blue lettering on her license plate]

[Dude is not convinced, continues whining about how it is his boss’s car]

Copper: [sigh] Fine, call insurance.  [exits stage left]

Julie: [Calls insurance, who is surprisingly easy to interact with in Spanish. Apparently they will call back shortly to advise who is coming to assess & when assessor will arrive. Perfect! Informs Dude of status of waiting for impending call. Asks him if he has called his insurance; apparently not, just hers is enough. Julie is uncertain of validity of this statement, but whatever; it’s his problem if her insurance is mean to him.]  Sidenote: according to John’s similar experience, you in fact need BOTH parties’ insurance adjustors there to resolve the issue at the scene.

[Fill in waiting time with awkward chatter that I barely understand. Eventually resort to pretending something super-important is happening on my cell phone screen.]

[Insurance calls back! Yipee, someone will be here in 5 minutes! Que suerte!!  Julie informs Dude of impending arrival. 2 minutes later, Dude makes call to someone. 30 seconds after hanging up, Dude slowly ambles over to where Julie has retreated to sitting in passenger seat of car, to avoid angry honks of traffic who is hating us for blocking 1 of 3 lanes of traffic.]

Dude: Did you already call your insurance?

Julie: Um, did I stutter during the 10 updates I gave you about me calling them & them calling me back & someone being 5 minutes away?

Dude: Well, the thing is, I called my boss & told him the situation, and he doesn’t really care. So, I don’t know if you want to wait for the insurance, or if you can cancel it or what…

Julie: WAIT, you’re saying this DOESN’T have to be an official accident anymore? Um, YEAH I can cancel the insurance guy. Don’t give it a second thought. I can DEFINITELY cancel it. [tries hard to be polite and friendly during window of hope, despite wanting to yell “See I TOLD YOU it was just a stupid little scratch; we live in MEXICO CITY, pal! If part of your car isn’t dragging along the ground, it’s not worth even stopping for! And why did you wait for 30 minutes to call your boss??”]

Dude: Ok then, I will go.

Julie: [awkwardly offers handshake while seated in car. Dude shakes hand & drives off. Calls insurance to share the good news.]

After this interaction, I was able to see one of the many internal cultural shifts I have experienced after a year in Mexico. If my car had touched someone else’s car in any way in the US, I probably would have been slightly panicked & had my phone poised to call insurance ASAP. Unless the other party immediately waved it off, I definitely would have called insurance just to avoid any unknown drama. I would have been 100% up-front with any cops that had arrived on the scene. I never would have blocked 1/3 of a very busy street for 45 minutes.

In Mexico City, my first reaction was literally surprise that he wanted to get out and look at the scratch. Once we saw the scratch, I was just annoyed that we would have to do the insurance-calling dance. While getting death-glares for blocking a key lane of traffic, my primary thought was “I will be pissed if someone hits my car while I am sitting here.” I barely went around to look at my front left bumper, knowing that any damage retained from a 0.5 mph collision would likely be overshadowed by the next large-sheep-sized pothole that we hit.

The cultural evolution continues… 😉

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  1. alice says:

    badass graphic. this would make a wonderful dialogue in any spanish textbook.

  2. Joy says:

    This comes in handy so often, no?

    “I eventually resort to pretending something super-important is happening on my cell phone screen.”

  3. Lesley says:

    I’m glad it ended peacefully. Did you know that have insurance assessors just waiting at the Angel monument, in case an accident happens and they need to be dispatched? It’s crazy. And yes, echoing Alice, your graphic is awesome.

  4. That’s awesome.

    I had something similar happen here… twice in the same day… in the same hour. (I was a little fiesty.) Dude gets out of the car…raises his hands and just says “Slow down!”…. that was it. 2nd dude… didn’t even get out of his car.

    I heart Mexico.

  5. That story is classic, and I can completely understand what you are saying about the frustration. I live with 3 Mexican women Drivers, my fiance being the least experienced with Traffic and driving here, yet she’ll tear away at any moment to drive around and scare the wits out of me. I say here, your ‘huevos’ need to be made of steel. Culturally, you know that a bus twice its size wouldn’t dare make a U turn in the middle of a busy intersection for fear of reprisals and scorn, but here in Mexico…it happens on my trip home from Metro Rosario every day. Frightening really.

    Glad you liked the photo of the Lasagna. It could do 17 easy, really…we had leftovers which are still in the fridge. I couldn’t find Ricotta Cheese here in the ‘Comercial Mexicana’ and used Panela and creme instead…it came out great!

    I cannot make Tamales, at least not yet. We go to a stand that is only open at night down the street. I know you have had fear of street food, and I have had the same…but I wasn’t eating anything good, so I asked how do I know if the food is good and clean, and I was told by my family here that if others are eating it, its safe. Sage like advice…today I ate Tacos made of ‘cheek’ and ‘tongue’. Sometimes you just gotta try it all. Were going to the country for the weekend to stay at ‘Grandma’s Ranch’…full of goats, chickens and no electric. I get to sleep outside under the stars since the one bedroom won’t house us all. I heart Mexico too!

  6. Dave says:

    Nice post! We crashed while visiting a few years back, -my fault :o(( …my sister-inlaw’s favorite car :o((( A real learning experience… from my chilanga wife insisting we avoid the police to waiting for both the adjustors to arrive…the other guy’s on a hot bike wearing full leathers, my sister-in-law’s (her car) limping up much later in an old Beetle (my wife looks at me and says “I think she needs to get better insurance!”). No serious injuries or I’d likely still be there.

  7. Amanda says:

    Hillarious. I have been catching up on reading your blog … and remembered how much I love it! So funny. I almost fell off my chair reading your traffic “crash” incident! My best story has more to do with the Grua and getting my boyfriend´s work vehicle out of the compound lot … talk about bribes!
    Congrats on quitting – check out my blog entry on taking a year off for inspiration. :) I´m jealous. I´ve only been back to work for 4 months and ready to take off another year!

  8. Antonio says:

    I’ve seen that WTF face in cops so many times!!!!!!!!!! hahahahaha

    Well done!!!

  9. MariJose says:

    gotta [heart] our beautiful town, folks…

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