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Yucatan Mailman

He shows up mid-morning on a noisy casi-vintage motorcycle, his pouch between his thighs and handlebars. He wears a helmet now, ever since they enacted a law requiring it for all motorcyclists here. And he blows his whistle very loudly.

We’d always heard that the mail in Mexico doesn’t work that well. And it does take longer for things to get where they are supposed to go when you use it. But we like the idea of supporting our local mailman, or cartero.

Last week was the Dia del Cartero. A week before, the mailman came to the door and handed us this card. It announces the day, and then says how nice it would be if you gave your mailman a tip. Well, actually it says, Gracias por su Estimulo, which in our Spanish/English dictionary translates into “thanks for your stimulus, incentive or encouragement”.

So on the big day, we had our envelope waiting. We could hear him coming from down the street, the high-pitched whistle stopping at each door. And the motorcycle rumbling along the sidewalk; yes, he rides his motorcycle down the sidewalk… Finally, he comes to our door and whistles. We open the door, thank him for the day’s mail, and ask if we can take his picture. “Claro que si!”, he says. He poses. We show him the picture. “Muy guapo!”,  we say. “Very handsome!” He agrees, thanks us profusely for the tip, and continues on his way.

And as we go back to work at our computers, bringing the Yucatan to the internet, we can hear the mailman as he continues along his route, with his little whistle sounding “far and wee”.


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7 Responses to “Yucatan Mailman”

  1. I was visiting in Merida for a few weeks last year. When I wanted to mail some cards home, the nice people at Hotel Trinidad Galleria told me that the mailman only DELIVERS mail, he doesn’t pick it up. I had to go all the way to the post office downtown to put some cards in the mailbox as there are no postal boxes on the street corners like in the US. This didn’t really seem to me to be an efficient method. Does it really work this way?

  2. Hola, Meredith. We think the people at Hotel Trinidad Galleria are nice, too, and the hotel is so unusual that we think we should do an article about it some day. (You know what we mean, we bet.)

    There are bright red, drive-up mailboxes sprinkled about where you can drop off mail, but you have to know where to look for them. They are usually in the modern areas of a city because the rural and indigenous people seldom use mail. You can find a mail slot at airports and bus terminals, as well. Although, these are often difficult to find, so you have to ask.

    Mexican culture is complex and difficult to generalize, but here we go: There is no “culture of mail” in Mexico like there is in the States. We have not encountered any corruption first-hand, but the history of Mexico has fostered distrust in the mail system (and many other government institutions), so Mexicans seldom use mail.

    It’s true that the mailmen here are not authorized to accept mail. It’s a security policy to prevent corruption in the mail service. A similar cultural feature can be found in many privately-owned shops and stores where only one person, usually sitting in a caja (booth), is authorized to take payment and make change. This person is almost always a close relative of the store’s owner.

    Mexicans would never send a check by mail (and many Mexicans don’t even have bank accounts). Bills are paid in person. Many small businesses, like ours, hire a part-time, free-lance worker to deliver invoices and receive payments in person from clients. This worker also goes to the telephone company, electric company, water company, etc. to pay those bills, in cash, in person. It’s just the way things are done here. While it may not be efficient, it does reinforce the value of personal relationships.

    However, there is always a “modern” cultural overlay to everything in Mexico, so when we really need to “mail” something, there are several reliable delivery services, such as Estafeta, DHL and Fed-Ex that offer “servicio a domicilio”, which means they pick up.

  3. Thank you– again… seems I’m always thanking you for another informative post-ing. These were all thoughts– inklings, really– about the mail ‘system’ (as it were) that have been chirping around in my head for a while now. I’m glad to hear it said out loud and with some authority. Yes, we in the US suffer from the assumption that everyone has a “culture of mail”. Gracias.

  4. I have a question.
    My business involves lots of packages being mailed and recieved. I’d definitely use fedex. Is the cost of shipping things with these private companies through the roof because of the lack of reliability? Or comparable with shipping it from where I’m at in California?

  5. Hi Faith,
    There are very reliable shipping options from here: Fedex, DHL, Estafeta and more. The costs are going to be more if you are shipping to the States, because you will be paying international rates. Also, I don’t know what you are shipping, but there is Customs to deal with (called Aduana). They have some strange rules. You can’t ship used clothing into Mexico, nor any sort of chemicals, medication or candy. There are some rules about what you can or can’t ship out as well. It’s best to check with someone like Fedex. They know what all the rules are and will share them with you.

  6. Thanks for the reply.

    I ship handmade crafts and jewelry. I’ll check with Fedex!

  7. Yo estuve en Yucatan en julio 2008 y me encanto, soy de Monterrey. Mexico pero vivo en San Antonio, Texas. U.S.A. es un gran pais pero se vive muy encerrado en los suburbios , la verdad que me encanta ver la vida que hay en las calles , como este personaje el cartero que anda en su motito por la banqueta, ya me imagino el ruido de la moto y lo orgulloso de que le tomaran una foto.
    La verdad que ganas de vivir ahi….tal vez en un futuro…

    Translation (our best shot….feel free to correct us!):
    I was in Yucatan in July 2008 and I love it. I am from Monterrey, Mexico but I live in San Antonio, TX. The US is a great country but I live very shut away in the suburbs. The truth is I love to see street life, like your mail man who rides his little motorcycle up on the sidewalk. I can imagine the sound of the motor and the pride he had when getting his foto taken.
    The truth that one gains by living there… maybe in the future…

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