The Water Works | Mexico | Living in Mexico

The Water Works

My friend Sergio called me las week to cancel a lunch date.

"What's the matter, Sergio?"

"Well, I haven't had any water for a week, so I have to wait for a water truck delivery."

(Interruptions in the municipal water supply are frequent, so most houses have tinacos (tanks) on the roof or cisterns underground to hold a local supply for use during outages. When they run dry, you call for a water truck.)

"Sergio, did you forget to pay your water bill?"

"No. There's a leak in the main somewhere. SAPASMA hasn't found it yet."

Below we see SAPASMA workers diagnosing Sergio's water main. Confidence-inspiring ¿No?


All of the above is a set-up for me to bitch about the water department. But before I do that, I want to discuss some differences between the English and Spanish languages; in particular, where a horrible acronym like SAPASMA comes from.

(Sounds like a sneeze, doesn't it.





Spanish has twice the syllables and one-third the words of English. So you can't say something like San Miguel Water Department in four words and eight syllables.

First of all, you have to specify which San Miguel you're talking about. There's at least 30 San Miguels in Mexico.

Second, compound nouns are rarely used. So you can't just say San Miguel Water Department. You gotta say the Water Department of San Miguel... oops... of San Miguel de Allende, not some other San Miguel.

So now we're building up to a whole lot of words, and we haven't taken into account that SAPASMA is a bureaucracy, so its name needs just a little more spin.

The name of the water department, then, is the System of Potable Water and Sewers of San Miguel de Allende: Systema de Agua potable y Alcantarillado de San Miguel de Allende. Eleven words, 24 syllables.

Now, nobody can remember all that; at least not without effort. So here's where the Mexican pastime of creating acronyms comes in. SAPASMA is a whole lot easier to remember and say than Systema de Agua potable y Alcantarillado de San Miguel de Allende.

Acronyms are everywhere in Mexico. One of my favorites is ISSSTE: Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado. The Institute of Security and Social Services of the Workers of the State.


In the photo above, we see a sign informing us that SAPASMA workers are on the job. Let's look at it a little more closely. Here's what it says:

To give you better service
Thanks for your support

We'll overlook the shabby appearance of the sign. Probably just an artifact of the government ensuring funds are spent on stuff that matters, not on cosmetics.

But the slogan is a little hard to take. Better service? In Sergio's case, better service apparently means any service at all. Thanks for your support? Sergio's support is to provide his own water, saving SAPASMA the expense.


No one takes SAPASMA's fatuous slogans seriously.

Gangs have found a perhaps more effective use for the sign. The graffiti reads "Jotos los de la Cuesta. Por parte de los San Rafa."

"The Cuesta guys are cowards. From the San Rafael guys."

Apparently the boys who live in the neighborhood where the sign is located failed to show up for a fight, and they're being challenged anew by those San Rafa bullies.


So how is it that SAPASMA can't locate a water main leak, even after a week of looking? Consider this photo of a portion of the crew at the job site:


Yep. Everybody's standing around, telling jokes. Not working. In case you missed it, there are six guys in the photo. Look below the feet of the man with the orange safety vest.


That cowboy hat belongs to the only guy who is doing anything. He must have the lowest seniority.

Featherbedding crops up anywhere there's work to be done. And there's usually more of it when a department of a government is involved.

It's just that in Mexico, it's so blatant. You'll remember this post the next time you see a traffic cop with a can of coke in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, standing next to a double-parked car.