Sunday, October 13, 2013

Hecho en Mexico

Back in the late 60s I spent a summer in Bologna, Italy, where my university had a satellite campus.

It was part of my international studies masters program. But it was such a low voltage academic experience that my fellow students and I pegged it as a boondoggle aimed at giving a couple of our professors a short paid sabbatical in the sun.

Education comes in many forms though, and the trip furnished some of us with our first glimpse of the weird ways of global merchandising. We were able to buy our beloved Marlboros at a fraction of the U.S. price. The fine print on the trademark red and white flip-top boxes said they were made in Mexico.

We noticed the first time we lit up that the cigarettes inside weren't actually Marlboros. They tasted odd, and the "tobacco" had a yellowish color. It appeared to include a far higher proportion of dried stems and floor sweepings than we were used to.

We didn't care. The smokes still served our purpose as fashion accessories. They tasted no worse and probably were no more lethal than actual Marlboros. We surmised that Phillip Morris had found it more profitable to license its name and package design to some sketchy plutocrat south of the border than trying to do it themselves.

So I should have been well prepared to become the owner of a kitchen full of not-quite-the-real-thing appliances here on the Bahia de Banderas.

Every morning I find the refrigerator has wet the floor in the wee hours like an incontinent tooth fairy. The dish washer leaves us puzzling daily over whether we forgot to turn it on; the state of the dishes inside is not much help.

The oven delivers heat that varies with each use, regardless of the selected temperature, and not in a consistent way that would let poor Pam adjust for the error. The microwave works okay but growls like a walrus.

The trade dress of these disappointing machines proclaims them to be products of Maytag and Whirlpool. I'm sure on some level they are, but unfortunately not on the level that determines quality and reliability.

It's not as if corners might have been cut with the aim of hitting price points more acceptable in a less prosperous market. Our appliances cost at least as much as their American cousins.

It's all a mystery to us. We console ourselves with the thought that at least our malfunctions provide regular employment to a squad of "technicos" who answer our calls for help.

As an added benefit, they allow us to model proper expatriate behavior for Elizabeth, who is paying close attention.

This morning I came upon her on the balcony outside our bedroom, the remote control to our iPod speakers pressed to her ear like a cell phone.

"Hello, could you come to our house," she was saying. "Our dishwasher is not washing our dishes. Thank you."

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