Friday, June 21, 2024

The people ringing your doorbell in Mexico

I spend a lot of time these days ignoring my doorbell.

It rings a lot

Because of the wonders of new technology, and because my front door is now right on the street instead of behind a fence, I now have a door cam. Well, sometimes I have a door cam; it runs through batteries like nobody’s business. But when it’s up and running, it gives me the magical power of seeing who’s at the door without letting them know that I’m seeing who’s at the door.

I know this kind of thing has been the norm in the United States for a while now, but here, it still feels brand new and a little sneaky. After all, a lot of people depend on people answering their doors to earn at least part of their living.

But my, oh my, it can sure get tiring. I mean, I work at home, and I work a lot. The work I do — I’ve got like five different contract gigs, this being one of them — requires concentration, and the less interruption, the better. 

Unfortunately, that’s just not a possibility unless I outright ignore the people coming to my door.

Here’s a list of the usual suspects — that you probably have coming to your door, too! (As I’ve said before, if living in a place with plenty of peace and quiet is important to you, then Mexico is not the country for you.)

1. People asking for money. I’ve learned the hard way that helping someone out once or twice from your home means you may have them on your doorstep every day or two.

This can get pretty uncomfortable, especially if you’re a bleeding heart like me or have trouble drawing a line between being an occasional help and being someone’s main lifeline.

One of the most common scenarios is someone appearing, paper in hand, saying they need money for a medical prescription. It’s possible, of course, that they’re telling the truth: often at public health centers, the consultation is free, but the medicine they stock can be scarce, and medical workers will send patients out to buy it. 

Occasionally as well, someone will come saying they need money for bus fare to get back to their small town. Are these stories true? Maybe, maybe not. In my view, if someone is in bad enough shape to knock on a stranger’s door, that’s usually enough for me to offer some help. But if they make a habit of knocking on the same stranger’s door — mine — I stop answering and just sit inside feeling guilty about it instead.

2. The self-appointed neighborhood security guard. In my old neighborhood, the guy who (supposedly) walked around our neighborhood all night blowing a whistle and scaring the bad guys away wore a cool camouflage uniform. The one in my new neighborhood has opted for just plain gray, but he does wear a hat! 

This is not an official job that the person is formally hired for; it’s more like a position that they make up for themselves and begin performing — or say they are performing: I’ve never noticed this person when I’ve gone out at night. 

This person will then ring your doorbell at some point, asking for payment for doing this job. The ones I’ve had also usually ask for an aguinaldo (a Christmas bonus) around the holidays. There’s a suggested price on the little piece of paper they give you as your “receipt,” but when I answer the door, I usually just give them whatever’s in the little change bowl by the door. 

The neighborhood security guard I have now is incredibly persistent; he’ll ring the doorbell several times and stand there for quite a while before giving up, and his persistence, I’ll admit, makes me even less eager to get up from my work and answer the door.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses. There seem to be a lot in my city, as I’ve never lived anywhere in Xalapa where they haven’t shown up. Perhaps, the Witnesses we have are just particularly active and enthusiastic? In any case, they always find me, and it’s usually a group of them all at once. 

I’ve actually worked with quite a few Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years. Their training in presenting and talking to strangers makes them pretty excellent English teachers, and almost all the ones I’ve known have been incredibly friendly and personable. 

The ones I’ve met in Mexico, though, have not been quite as friendly, and I can’t figure out why. I’m not against talking to them, but I must admit that I’m a little intimidated when it’s a family of six. The ones currently assigned to my house also have the habit of ringing the doorbell and then waiting out there for a good five minutes, perhaps trying to out-discomfort me. 

4. The water guys. These are people that I’m happy to see at my door, as it means we don’t have to haul our five-gallon water containers (the garrafones) back to our homes from the store. Luckily they come somewhat predictably, so we can be ready for them.

5. The trash guys. Because our municipal trash service is not very predictable, a small industry has popped up of guys with trucks who offer to haul your trash off for you, rather than waiting for the cowbell call to take your stuff out. I took them up on it once, but they wanted to charge me so much that I never accepted again. For the most part, they’ve stopped ringing the doorbell, though they still come to my street and honk loudly, as does the guy selling tortillas.

6. Delivery and mail guys. These are also people that I want to answer the door for, and the main reason I have a door cam in the first place: I don’t want to accidentally ignore someone I’m waiting on. Delivery workers usually have our phone numbers, though, so it’s rare to miss them.

The list goes on, but these are the most common visitors, and it’s not unusual for my doorbell to ring five or six times a day. 

But you know who never rings my doorbell? Friends. They just text instead.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website,

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