Phoning Home | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Phoning Home

Telephoning has recently become easy in Mexico, but it wasn't always so. A shortage of lines and switch gear meant long waits to get a phone installed in your new home. Entrepreneurs made deals with Telmex officials to "buy" blocks of lines on the rare occasions that they became available, which they then sold to homeowners and businesses at a substantial markup. This of course only made the problem worse.

If you didn't have a phone or couldn't afford one, you borrowed a neighbor's phone, or you went downtown to use the Caseta Telefónica—the phone booth.


A caseta telefónica in Tancanhuitz de Santos.

Casetas provide phones for making local, long distance and international calls. "International" means "USA." It's not like campesinos have a lot of correspondents in Tokyo.

More importantly, casetas are a place where you can receive calls. Telmex, a monopoly, charges exorbitant rates, so campesinos rely on their stateside relatives to originate calls. That way, they only have to pay for booth time.

An explosion of land lines and cellular networks is reducing the need for Casetas Telefónicas. But you still see them in remote areas. For some reason, they're usually painted blue and yellow (when they're painted at all) just as tortillarías are traditionally painted green and yellow.

A typical caseta contains a row of private booths, in each of which is located what Lily Tomlin called, an instrument. You sit in a row of chairs waiting for your call. When it comes in, the attendant routes it to an instrument in a booth.

Note that in the picture above, the lady in the chair is not waiting for a call. She is selling used clothing. (After you've lived here for awhile, it all kind of makes sense.)


A caseta telefónica in Xilitla.

It all seems so inconvenient. But Mexican people tolerate inconvenience like Norteamericanos wouldn't. I saw a sign by the highway that said "Teléfono 300 Mts." It pointed to a narrow dirt path leading straight up a steep mountainside. No way to drive there; you had to walk. I don't know about you, but I'd have to be pretty desperate to walk uphill the length of three football fields, even to phone home.