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HELL HOUSE: The Untold NASTY SECRETS About Buying Property in Merida, Yucatan, PART TWO

December 13, 2010






Abandon All Hope...

Anecdote Number Three: You Are Welcome to Swim Naked in Our Pool

The elegant and European-educated child of one of Merida’s more genteel real estate agents took pity on me and invited me for cocktails at the Hyatt where, when tipsy, this child grew weepy and confessed:

“My parents want me to sell real estate to gringos for a living because I speak English so well. But I can’t do it because I could never stand to treat people that way. My parents even tried to pressure me by having one of their friends talk to me. This friend, who’s made a lot of money selling real estate, said, ‘Look, it’s so easy to sell houses to gringos. Americans are ashamed of their money. All you have to do is charm it out of them.’ Can you believe he said that?”

I could and can.

This weepy child’s parent offered to help me find a place to rent while I looked for something to buy, and took me to see a small studio attached to a once-grand home in a not-so-nice part of town.

The small studio’s owner told me with a straight face that the monthly rent was $1400US and that I could use the pool on those weekends when he and his family were away.

When I guffawed and told the small studio’s owner and the weepy child’s parent that I could rent a nicer, much larger place in Santa Monica or the gentrifying parts of Brooklyn for $1400US per month, they looked at me as if I were trying to compare the small studio to an igloo in Antarctica or a yurt on the Mongolian steppes.

The owner pursed his lips and, I swear to God, said, “Well, if you can’t afford it, I’m sure there are other Americans who can!”

In a bid to salvage what was left of the afternoon, the weepy child’s parent took me to another rental, a very small shack-like studio beside a pool in the garden of a colonial home swarming with thousands of A. aegypti mosquitos.

The owner, who said he wanted $700US per month for the very small shack-like studio, let me see its rustic outdoor bathroom made of corrugated metal, and its stylishly spartan open-air kitchen that had an old, splintery piece of particle board for a roof.

He couldn’t let me see inside the very small shack-like studio because its current resident was still inside and was afraid to leave, “Because she’s afraid of the mosquitos.”

As if on a cue, an ancient Spanish woman emerged from the colonial home and, waving her fan in the air like a big red warning flag, warbled at me, Dengue! Dengue! Dengue!

Not to be outdone, the studio owner’s wife cupped my elbow in her palm as I was leaving and smiled at me and, I swear to God, in a raspy whisper, said, You know, if you rent the studio, you are welcome to swim naked in our pool.”

Anecdote Number Three: Useful Tips

In Merida there are two distinct real estate markets, the Mexican and the gringo. The two only very rarely overlap or intersect. The same holds true for Merida real estate agents.

Often a home for sale or rent will appear simultaneously on the Mexican and gringo markets, but the rent or sales price for a home appearing on the gringo market can be 100% to 300% greater than the rent or sales price for the same home on the Mexican market.

Unless you take time to learn adequate Spanish, and spend enough time in Merida to understand the feeding patterns of the predators, and the nesting behaviors of the prey, endemic to the local real estate market, you will be like unto chum cast upon a South American river roiling with starving piranhas.

Also, if you’re looking to rent a place in Merida and you’re a fat, old, despairing Jew with poor eyesight and bad nerves who doesn’t fancy flashing his naughty bits to wild-eyed middle-aged Spanish nymphomaniacs, then there’s a certain colonial home in the Centro with a tiny shack-like studio for rent that you’d best avoid altogether.

Anecdote Number Four: In What Way Are Jews Like Argentina?

Jews are hated everywhere. I know this. Every Jew knows this. Everywhere a Jew may go, there are people, few or many, who hate Jews.

I have no reason to believe Mexico is an exception.


In the almost half-century I’ve visited Mexico, I’ve never encountered the ardent Jew-hatred you’d find in, say, Tehran, or certain remote Paraguayan villages founded by Friedrich Nietzsche’s cheeky little sister, Elisabeth.

Your garden-variety Mexican, which is to say any Mexican outside Mexico City’s testy Israel-loathing middle-brow intelligentsia, usually reacts to meeting a Jew with the amused curiosity of someone who’s stumbled upon an Ammonite or Moabite or another of the Bible’s seemingly mythical peoples.

But here in Merida, Yucatan, of all places, I was finally met with something other than amused curiosity.

When searching for a place to rent while looking for a place to buy, I came across what seemed the perfect house in Aguilas de Chuburna.

Since the house looked as though it had been vacant for several years, and since the “FOR RENT” banner across its front gate, which advertised a real estate agent’s phone number, looked weathered and worn, and since Aguilas de Chuburna isn’t exactly one of Merida’s most fashionable and desirable neighborhoods, I thought the house’s owner would be glad to have at long last a quiet, responsible, and promptly rent-paying tenant.

And things did go well. At first. The real estate agent whose phone number was advertised on the “FOR RENT” banner was quick to show me the house, and quick to contact an attorney who charged less than average for drawing up a rental contract, and quick to request a (sizable) deposit as demonstration of my goodwill.

Everything seemed fine and dandy…

Until the night before I was supposed to meet with the real estate agent and attorney to sign the rental contract. At around 10:00PM, the phone rang. It was the real estate agent, speaking in a croaky, tremulous voice as if she’d been weeping.

“Hugo,” she said, “I just got off the phone with the owner of the house. And… And…”

“Yes?” I said.

“And she told me… She said… She said… She said…Well… She said that under no condition did she want to rent her house to Jews.”

There was a long pause.

I and the real estate agent considered the silence.

I had to ask the real estate agent to repeat herself three times before I was convinced that I’d truly understood what she’d said.

Jews,” I said. “Jews? How did the owner know I was Jewish?”

“I guess it was your name,” said the real estate agent. “I guess the owner of the house lived in the United States for several years and can recognize Jewish names.”

“Yes,” I said. “I see. Of course. But what does my religion have to do with my renting this house? I don’t want to marry the owner’s daughter, nor do I want to turn the house into a synagogue.”

“Yes. Well. I was curious about that, too,” said the real estate agent. “So, I asked her, ‘Why no Jews?’, and she said, ‘Because Jews are like Argentina.'”

There was another pause.

More silence.

“Jews are like Argentina,” I said. “Is this a riddle? Please, tell me, in what way are Jews like Argentina? I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“Yes. Well. I was curious about that, too,” said the real estate agent. “So, I asked her, ‘How are Jews like Argentina?’, and she said, ‘Just as there is no God in Argentina, Jews do not believe in God. And I would never rent my home to anyone who doesn’t believe in God!‘”

“There is no God in Argentina,” I said. “And I do not believe in God. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that I didn’t believe in God. I see. Yes. Of course.”

“Yes,” said the real estate agent. “But, Hugo, please, I want you to know I’m from Mexico City.”

Not Buenos Aires?” I asked, hopefully.

“Ha ha ha,” the real estate agent laughed nervously. “No. Mexico City. And. Well. And. In Mexico City. Well, I don’t think this sort of thing would ever happen in Mexico City.”

“That’s very interesting,” I said. “But I don’t want to rent a house in Mexico City.”

“Yes,” said the real estate agent. “I’m aware of that.”

“Tell me,” I said, “Does the owner of the house suffer from dyslexia?”

“What?” said the real estate agent. “Dyslexia? Why? I mean, I don’t know. Dyslexia?”

“People who suffer from dyslexia sometimes get things confused,” I said. “They get things mixed up. Get information turned around. I was wondering if the owner of the house had read about Kristallnacht and maybe got the story so turned around in her head that she thinks it was the Jews who were running around breaking the windows of German businesses. Maybe she thought I was going to go crazy in some sort of Jewish way and break all the windows in her house.”

Kristallnacht?” said the real estate agent. “Ha ha ha. Yes. Well. Kristallnacht. I don’t think I perfectly understand what you’re trying to say. But. Yes. Kristallnacht. Crazy Jews breaking windows. Ha ha ha.”

I’ve endured few afternoons more displeasing than when I went to the real estate agent’s office in Colonia Mexico to get my deposit back.

The real estate agent was of course running late. So I had to sit there in her office for a good half-hour while her secretary grimaced and whined and mewled one apology after another, for what had happened, for the insensitivity of Merida’s closed-minded natives, for my having wasted my time. And when the real estate agent got to the office, I had to endure another half-hour of awkward apologies and treacly expressions of embarrassment and regret.

Magda Goebbels

To this day I don’t understand why the owner of the house in Aguilas de Chuburna needed to channel the spirit of Magda Goebbels in order to explain why she didn’t want to rent the house to me. Why didn’t she lie? Why didn’t the real estate agent lie?

Why did they need to insult me?

Why not just say something like, “The owner’s grandson is returning from the United States and needs a place to live, so the house is no longer available”?

More importantly, why drag Argentina‘s name through the mud?

I’ll never know.

Anecdote Number Three: Useful Tips

Article 1 of the Mexican Constitution states:

“…All persons shall enjoy the fundamental rights recognized by this Constitution, which may not be abridged nor suspended except in those cases and under such conditions as herein provided. …

Every form of discrimination motivated by ethnic or national origin, gender, age, incapacities, sexual preferences, status or any other which attempt on human dignity or seeks to annul or diminish the rights and liberties of the people, is prohibited.” (emphasis mine)

Furthermore, Mexican anti-discrimination law is so robustly written as to allow a victim of discrimination to report the incident to any employee of the Mexican government, who is then legally required to ensure that the matter is properly investigated and that the accused, if found guilty, is brought to justice.

Since Article 1 doesn’t reserve its protections only for Mexican citizens, I wondered what redress, if any, was available to me.

When I asked a local attorney who’s knowledgable in these matters if I could have the Jew-hating Magda-Goebbels-channeling crazy-ass no-account trifling shrew sent to an isolated and unhygienic Mexican prison, the attorney just slapped his chubby thighs and laughed and laughed and laughed, in the very same way that the taxi driver had slapped his chubby thighs and laughed and laughed and laughed when I asked him if Merida’s taxi drivers spied on unsuspecting gringos for real estate agents.

I’ve yet to determine if anyone who’s not a Mexican citizen has successfully used the protections guaranteed in Article 1 to bring a criminal complaint against a crazy-ass racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist, or Jew-hating Mexican citizen.

Until I learn otherwise, please remember that if a real estate agent refuses to work with you, or if a property owner refuses to sell or rent to you, because of your gender, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, political affiliation, or sexual preference, you’ve no recourse but to swallow your outrage and indignation, and then, if you wish, move forward.

Lasciate ogne speranza...


6 Comments leave one →
  1. philforrester1 permalink
    December 13, 2010 5:07 pm

    Thanks for relating that. I had no idea they were so anti-Semitic down in Mexico! Changes my perceptions a bit! Thanks again and I hope you find an even better place. Phili F

  2. December 13, 2010 7:07 pm

    Gods, this is absolutely riveting. Write more/faster/now. Go into the go-sees, the negotiations, the initial ice-breakings of reno, the rapid exchanges of SpeedSpanish… everything. I suspected that this was a labrynthine gothic novel AND IT IS. Thank you, now go back to peeling back the smooth, polite skin and show me the “good bones”.

  3. Hugo de Naranja permalink
    December 13, 2010 11:14 pm

    @ Phil Forrester

    RE: “I had no idea they were so anti-Semitic down in Mexico!”

    But as I said in the introduction to Anecdote #4, I’ve visited Mexico for almost FIFTY years and never encountered anything approaching overt, or even implicit, Jew-hatred or anti-Semitism.

    Now, I’m of course not saying that there are no anti-Semites in Mexico. Without question, there are people in Mexico who hate Jews. Without question, there are Jews in Mexico who’ve experienced Jew-hatred and anti-Semitism.

    My point is that, unlike a number of places in the world where anti-Semitism and Jew-hatred are reliably encountered, Mexico is a country where overt discrimination of this kind remains a surprising phenomenon.

    Jews make up such a tiny fraction of Yucatan’s population, and Jews and Jewish concerns and Judaism seem so very remote from the everyday concerns of peninsular life, that I was nonplussed to run across someone who not only strongly disliked Jews, but who was willing to put that dislike into practice.

  4. eric permalink
    December 14, 2010 12:22 pm

    Presumably la dueña would refuse to rent her house to Jesus, himself, who certainly was a Jew.

    Many thanks for the insightful look at Merida’s real estate market. Keep up the highly entertaining posts!


  5. Maria Cristina Llera permalink
    December 15, 2010 11:29 pm

    To avoid such contratiempos (mishaps) as Hugo experienced…I would recommend to anyone embarking on a serious search for Yucatán rental property owned or managed by locals…to first obtain irrefutable proof of limpieza de sangre (purity of blood). The process is simple: the candidate must go back 16 generations and show no trace of mongrel and/or infidel blood. Such a document will provide access to the threshold of the rental transaction, though it will not protect the bearer from additional requisites such as avals (guarantees backed by real property) and signed pagarés (IOUs).

  6. December 17, 2010 5:59 pm

    I have to re-evaluate my usual advice to gringos who tumble head over heels over Merida and want to buy a colonial ruin immediately. I have always said, Rent First. Check the place out. Wait six months. I see now the only solution is to rent from other gringos. What a strange situation. Or skip it altogether.
    As you know there are other evidences of anti-semitism here, such as the awful stuff printed on a local website recently that didn’t seem to disturb anyone but a few inconsequential Jews whose comments the webmaster would not print.
    And FYI, whenever the Yenta tells a Yucateco that she is Jewish, the usual response is, “Why don’t you believe in God?”

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