Waiting In Line | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Waiting In Line

Why are these people standing in line? Are they buying tickets to a hot concert? Are they waiting for welfare checks?


No, they are not.

They are waiting to pay their electric bills.

Hard to imagine, isn't it? Up north, the first time something like this ever happened, there'd be outraged editorials, lawsuits, and recall elections.

In the U. S., electric companies may be monopolies, but it's commonly understood that they exist to serve people. Utilities are expected to cater to their customers. When consumers are inconvenienced by monopolies, hordes of bureaucrats descend on them, and the situation usually gets corrected fast.

So what's going on, here?

First of all, many years ago, the electric companies were nationalized. So, power is supplied by a government monopoly: La Comisión Federal de Electricidad, or CFE.

Think of it as getting your power from the US Postal Service.

Next, Mexico's economy operates on a cash basis, by which I mean, most people don't have bank accounts. So they pay CFE in person—with cash.

It may not even be possible to pay by mailing a check drawn on a Mexican bank. I don't know anybody who has even bothered to try. Nobody in their right mind mails anything important because Sepomex, the Mexican postal service, is broken.

All electric bills fall due on a single day every two months. Mexicans are frugal electric power users; even so, they struggle to come up with the cash for that bimonthly bill.

So they pay it on the last day. They wait in line for hours while CFE's disinterested clerks process the incredible amount of paperwork associated with any government-related transaction.

They wait patiently, because they have always been made to wait, and they don't realize that in many parts of the world, citizens would find waiting intolerable.

Real power continues to elude ordinary Mexicans. Of the many reasons why this is so, one is that a national attitude of passively accepting bureaucratic abuse dissipates pressure for change.

Would you wait in line to pay your bills?

I have to pay an electric bill. But I don't wait in line. I send the bill via our cook, Rosario, to Lloyds (think Schwab) with the bill and they transfer money out of my account to CFE's. I have to pay my bill a week early, and Lloyds charges me 65 cents to make the transfer, and Rosario has to do all the work.

Sometimes I hate myself for this rich gringo stuff.

Then the bill comes. No way I'm gonna wait in line. So I give it to Rosario.

All Mexicans need Rosarios. Or a better electric company. Getting the former is more likely.