Lessons in the art of patience
When you move to another country with a new culture, it's surprising how ordinary everyday activities suddenly require you to put aside your preconceived ideas (the expectation that they will be the same as back home) and get used to doing things a different way. Like filling your car with petrol in Mexico City. This ordinary task, relatively simple and quick back home, becomes a major day-trip and a lesson in the art of acquiring patience.
The first thing you notice here in DF is just how few petrol stations there are and just how many vehicles are clogging the streets. The second thing you observe, with that sinking feeling in your stomach, is how long the queues at the paterol pumps are. Now this is not entirely the consequence of the very disappointing "Petrol stations-to-vehicles" ratio. There's another reason too. Let me explain how it works.
Phase 1: Queuing. You need petrol so you find one of the scarce petrol stations and join the queue you think is the shortest, which inevitably turns out to be the wrong choice. The next step is to arm yourself with loads of patience and, if possible, a magazine or two to read while waiting for your turn. Tip: Make sure you never go with small children or dogs in the car. You constantly scrutinize the cars in front of you to see what on earth is happening and why your line isn't advancing at all.
Phase 2: Filling up. When your turn finally comes around, you drive up to the pump, wind down the window and without getting out of your carro, open the petrol cap from inside and ask for Premium, lleno (a full tank of Premium). Now at this point, if your Spanish isn't too good, you may be completely lost when the man mumbles something. You politely ask him to repeat it. He mumbles again. Actually, he's asking you to checar los ceros (check the 000s) on the pump. He's being honest. Because some corrupt characters have been tampering with the pumps and give you less than you asked for. Wow! You sigh with relief. Carlos, the pump attendant, sticks the nozzle into the tank and leaves it to fill up.
Phase 3: Checking levels. He then proceeds to check the air in the tyres and lifts up the bonnet to checar los niveles. He takes the dipstick out of the oil tank, cleans it meticulously with a cloth, dips it in again, and comes round with it to the open window to show you the scandously low level. You nod your head in resignation, "OK, top it up then". I've never quite understood why but it seems my car needs oil almost every time I fill up with petrol. Off he saunters to get a can of oil, takes off the cap, shows you that the seal is untouched and then proceeds to fill the thirsty tank up. Next he repeats this process with the battery. Los niveles son muy bajos.." "The level is very low..." but this time I wave him away. I'll do it next time.
Finally he comes out with a real winner. Necesita anti-congelante "What? Anti-freeze? Are you kidding? In this heat?" He seems to get my point and goes on to clean the front windscreen. Then it's time to remove the nozzle, replace it in the pump, and screw on the petrol cap. He peers triumphantly through the window, offering a mental calculation of how much it's all going to cost you.
Phase 4: Paying. "Ticket o factura?. Basically, he wants to know whether you need a receipt or not. Bear in mind you will have to produce all the details, and hand him your card or cash. This procedure will undoubtedly take another 10 minutes as he goes off to swipe your credit card and hand-write your receipt. If you pay in cash, it's highly unlikely that he has the correct change on him so you watch him chase around the forecourt, in search of someone who can help him out. You are embarrassed as the car is still parked idly at the pump and the steadily growing queue of cars behind is also blocking the road so no-one can move anywhere. Patience wears thin, horns begin to scream, and you're rolling your eyes. Finally, you cannot believe your good luck as he re-appears, hands you the receipt and card, or your change, and hovers by the car for a moment.
Phase 5: Tipping. Yes, you've got it - he's expecting a nice tip for all his hard work!
Final tip: Fill up early on Sunday morning!