Driving While Mexican; Today's "Hair"

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Jan 27 01:52:42 UTC 2000

Bob Fitzke wrote:
> My brother just retired as a teacher in Bogota after something over 35 years in that part of the world. He once told me that the "muerta" (bite; my Spanish is not atrocious, it's non-existent) is practically universal throughout Latin America. Maybe some
> of our cultural quirks do rub off :-)

1)  The word is "mordida".

2)  The custom is extremely widespread.  In its minor forms, it's not
regarded as corruption -- it's often evaluated as equivalent to a
special use tax.

In most of Latin Americam, people look to personal connections as their
points of entry to interactions with any bureaucracy.  ("I'm so sick
that I think I should go to a hospital.  Cousin Maria works in the ISSTE
hospital; I'll talk to her.") Government employees tend to get
unbelievably low salaries in much of Latin America, and thus are not
likely to develop enthusiasm for rendering prompt and effective
assistance to the public in general -- but the social conventions do
oblige them to help when the approach is through personal links.

Given these basic facts, government employees (and others!) have a
strong tendency to behave as if members of the public have no inherent
right to their services unless they have some kind of personal

That's where the mordida comes in. It's generally understood there are
lots of situations where an individual might not be able to mobilize
help on the basis of personal ties.  In such cases, someone who wants to
benefit from the services of a bureaucracy can reasonably be expected to
pay something to the individual whose services make the desired benefit

In practice, the typical mordida is more like a user fee (a fee for
services rendered) than it is like a bribe.

Please note that I don't like paying mordidas.  My understandings are
those of the U.S. middle class: the reason we have government programs
is to make them available to everyone who qualifies for them.  That's a
matter of right,  Government workers are MY employees, and they'll
answer to me if I'm not satisfied with what they do.  By and large, that
attitude works -- here.

Absent a personal connection, or the direct passage of money from my
pocket to
some functionary's pocket, I just don't expect to receive governmental
services when I'm in Latin America.  On the other hand, I'm not expected
to pay any official taxes to support those services.

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at niu.edu>

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