I was 21 – newly married – my new husband and I were so excited to see the white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and super-friendly people! Neither of us had been out of the country (outside of day trips to Niagara Falls, while living in New York), so it was an adventure!
Now, 27 years later, we’ve been blessed to visit almost every continent (Antarctica is still on the Bucket List), but Cancun, Playa del Carmen and the rest of the Rivera Maya holds a special place in my heart. Plus, from Chicago, it’s so easy (and inexpensive!) to get to! In fact, in 2017, we took 3 trips to this gorgeous region.
However, although the sun is usually brightly shining, there seems to be a disturbing trend in this area lately.
An increase in scams.
And, an increase in prejudice against Americans.
Let’s talk about the scams first.
The most common one is giving the wrong amount of change back, especially when converting dollars to pesos. Bank rate exchange on our last visit was over 19 pesos to the dollar. Exchange places were offering 18.4. OK, I get it, they need to make money. But, these arbitrary exchange rates (which in stores ranged from 16 to 20 pesos to the dollar in December), meant if you purchase something at a store and pay with US currency, you often get a handful of change that doesn’t even come close to even the low 16:1 rate!
Similarly, rates when given in dollars were significantly higher. For instance, we were told by our taxi driver back to the airport that it would be $25. However, I asked how much in peso? 300 pesos. Which comes out to less than $16 US! Even in our very nice all-inclusive hotel, when purchasing an emergency pair of sunglasses (after mine broke), the price tag said 600 pesos. The shop worker told me – “$50 US”. I handed over my no international fee credit card and said, “No, please charge me in pesos.”
She looked disappointed.
Of course, this was also the same shop worker who didn’t give me my credit card back and just handed me my receipt. When I asked for it, she said, “I gave it to you.” I said, “No, you didn’t.” And then saw that she had set some papers on top of it. Now, I don’t know if that was purposeful or not… but, I definitely never walk away from anyone without double checking I have my credit card – just in case.
In Playa, giving the wrong amounts continued.
We were at dinner, on 5th Avenue, and they had a tour operator there. We had planned on visiting Xel Ha and his rate was what I knew was the published Internet rate, so was happy to give the cheery, friendly guy the business.
It was a $102/person, for 4 people… “$508″ he said.
My husband, “That should be $408.”
“Oh! I’m sorry! I misadded!” the tour seller replied chagrined as he quickly changed the paperwork.
We didn’t have to pay the whole thing upfront – but needed to pay a $64 deposit.
We handed over $80 as we finished off our meal. The tour operator said he’d be right back with the change.
He came back… with $12.
I said, “I’m sorry – but that should be $16 change. We gave you $80, minus $64, that’s $16.”
“Oh! You’re right!” he said, as he reached into his pocket and pulled out exactly $4 folded up.
Even something simple – like a 10 peso fee to use a bathroom, giving a dollar – and being told that was the correct amount for 10 pesos.
It happened so many times, in so many different places, it actually made me sad that I had to be so wary and so skeptical.
But, it was the prejudice against Americans that I think is the most disturbing (and new) trend. Being pale and blonde and speaking very poor gringa Espanol – I stick out like a sore thumb as an American. But, I’ve never been so blatantly prejudiced against. From servers completely ignoring our table or refusing to even refill our water glasses (yet, filling the table next to ours numerous times), to even the port authority coming in through Chetumal moving all Mexican citizens to the front of the line, it was very apparent Americans were second-class in this region.
Even at the hotel, where you kind of expect a service-oriented staff to all guests, we experienced it. From bartenders who pretended they couldn’t make certain drinks to staff that wouldn’t even point us in the right direction to our room. The staff would be super-friendly to Mexican guests, but assisted us with disdain.
Now, when I say Mexican guests, I truly mean Mexican nationals – not just Hispanic. Our second trip was with good friends of ours, who both are of Mexican heritage, and they experienced the same prejudiced treatment. Our friend, Miguel, noted, “I’m sure they can hear in my accent that I’m an American.”
I truly hope this changes.
I miss the warmth of the people I first met there nearly three decades ago. I would hate to think our favorite quick getaway destination has been forever tarnished by scams and prejudice.