Saturday, June 2, 2012

Communication Skills


In about October of 2006 we purchased a lot in a beautiful wooded area above Patzcuaro called Los Tanques, for the large water tanks maintained in the colonia there. Our lot was in what used to be a huge peach orchard and would one day be a gated community. The development was called Corazón de Durazno, heart of the peach, or the peach pit as it came to be affectionately labeled by those of us who lived there.

The house was planned to take six months to build, although it actually took ten, and we were renting one of the few other houses in the development so that we could be close to the project. The founder of this project was an architect by the name of José González Alcocer. He was a very nice man, and a talented architect with great vision and versatility, but his interests lay more in art than business. He left that end of things to his foreman, a young man called César. César was a happy, smiling, likable young man that quickly became the bane of our existence.

It was truly impossible not to like César but to be frustrated with him was very easy. At one point during the building of the house we went to El Paso Texas for one week, just seven days, and when we returned there was a brick wall where a window was supposed to be and the foundation for the garage had been laid in the middle of the back yard. If the weather in Los Tanques had been amenable to it, we might have turned it into a swimming pool, but we did eventually turn it into a patio with a French drain underneath which was ultimately more suitable.



The Solution


By this time our one on one language skills had improved and if people spoke slowly enough we could understand. We had also purchased an English/Spanish dictionary of building terms which was very helpful. Under these circumstances one would think that communication with César would have been relatively easy. However, this was definitely not the case, as is evidenced by the ongoing struggle that ensued to have a window put in where a brick wall now resided.


No window

Still No Window


Each day César greeted us with a huge smile and a “¿Cómo están en este buen día?”, how are you on this fine day? We greeted him in kind and said that it was, indeed a fine day and perhaps today he could begin hollowing out a space for a window in the dining room. His response was, “ oh, you wanted a window there?”, or “ are you sure you want a window there?”. This repartee continued for three to four weeks and we were beginning to think that either he or us was completely crazy. We just weren’t sure which.

Then one morning we arrived at the building site to see a hole in the wall where the window was supposed to be and just stood staring with our mouths hanging open. César greeted us in his usual happy-go-lucky manner and explained that he thought this was a good place for a window. I simply agreed and said “ what a good idea César”.



Good Idea César, What a View!


I have since learned that most Mexican men will never admit to making a mistake. Even the language works that way. For example, mi vaso se cayó. This actually translates as my glass fell itself, or spilled itself. I certainly am not responsible for that! I am continually seeing these differences in our cultures and with each new example that I discover, I realize how far I still have to go to really understand them. I am still far from fluent in the Spanish language but I can carry on a conversation, in person or on the phone (which initially was very difficult) and yet from time to time I still have trouble communicating. Luckily the Mexican people are very open and willing to discuss these differences and to try and help me understand.


  1. Shannon, I have to congratulate you on the house in Patz. The design, layout, and decoration was fantastic ( from what I saw on the internet). REALLY interesting to see the photo of the construction. It is absolutely unbelievable what the final results are of the local craftsmen in this area. Keep up the story.. It is very interesting, and educational! Thanks!
    Dan in NC

  2. It really is interesting to watch something being built here Dan. The only time there was ANY kind of machinery it was the day that they were pouring cement for the roof. Even that was a portable sort of cement mixer, not a truck or anything. They level everything with old fashioned tubing and water. It's fascinating.

    Thanks for your input, by the way, I really appreciate it.

  3. Shannon,
    I love the story and remember from other pictures, just how lovely your place was (and I'm sure still is)...


  4. Actually Judy, the last time we visited we stayed with Doug and Kathy who live across the street from our old house. The new owners have whitewashed it from top to bottom and torn out the red tile from the upstairs bathroom. ??????

    1. Oh no! How horrible! I'm so sorry to hear that!!