When an American hears “corruption,” he might think of macro-corruption cases like Rod Blagojevich and Jesse Jackson Jr. Or you might think of smaller fry like Joseph Miedzianowski or the cop they based Training Day on.
After a while in Latin America, I stopped seeing things through lenses like “crime” and “lying.” I just lump all of it under “corruption” now. And in addition to macro vs. micro-corruption, you also have intentional corruption vs. accidental corruption.
Intentional micro-corruption is the obvious stuff. I needed a copy of my key. I went to where the key copiers work and found a guy with his little machine in the sidewalk. I asked him how much for the key. He charged me five soles ($1.57). I left the key, came back, picked up the original and a copy, and paid the man. I went home and, as you’ve guessed by now, the copy didn’t work. I went back to the street and the guy was gone.
Intentional corruption is relatively common and you hear about it before coming to Latin America. Or when the blender gets stolen, or the bicycle, or whatever.
But then there is accidental corruption.
I moved into a new Lima apartment in March. I left two months’ rent as a deposit. The fully furnished apartment has a washer/dryer. The first time wifey used it, it started jumping on the floor. It made so much noise we couldn’t run it at night because it would wake the baby, who slept in a room separated by two earthquake-safe concrete walls and two closed doors. That’s how loud this machine was when set to dry clothes.
I tried weighing the washer/dryer down with seven-liter bottles of water, but it still jumped up and down making a huge racket. I Googled the model and found the possible causes of shaking. Maybe the transit bolts were not removed. I found where the transit bolts are inserted, and I didn’t see any bolts. But I wasn’t sure.
Worried that this expensive name-brand washer/dryer whose safekeeping insured by my deposit could be ruined, I told the landlord about the excessive racket it makes every time it is used as a dryer.
The landlord, who I will call Cristiana, said she could call the name-brand technician. It would cost 70 soles ($22). She said I should pay that. I had just moved in and this washer/dryer was already in its current state. And having a gringo’s ethics, also called a “sense of right and wrong,” I refused to pay it.
Cristiana called my wife while I was away and explained that she was calling the technician anyway and we would have to pay him. Wifey did not argue because … well I don’t know why.
I made a scene at the front door of the building when the technician arrived. I told him I wasn’t paying him anything. He called the landlady on her cell phone. He passed the phone to me and we started arguing over the phone. With all the righteousness of a nun, she honestly believed I should have to pay the technician to fix the washer/dryer. I told her she could take the washer/dryer out of the apartment. She changed her mind and told the technician she would pay.
It turns out one of the legs of the washer/dryer was not leveled, not even close. The technician had a special wrench which adjusted it to my floor. He said the washer/dryer was probably moved from the original destination where a technician installed it, and left me with the special wrench needed to raise or lower the leg.
So just as that issue had mostly blown over, the landlady brought a new electric bill. The previous month, she handed me one worth almost $200. I pointed out the line item showing the consumption since we moved in as well as the line item which said the equivalent of “Pending Balance.” She clearly hadn’t settled up for a while because my part was about $60, and the apartment was vacant for months before we moved in.
And what did the new statement show, the statement that came after the washer/dryer incident? Cristiana had paid exactly what I had paid to her, letting the balance float again.
Is she trying to confuse things so I ultimately cancel the entire balance?
Is she going to cite the pending light bill in not returning my deposit in full?
I honestly don’t think either one is the case. As my nickname for her implies, she is a born-again Christian. When she came over after the washer/dryer incident, she told me with complete incredulity that she was not trying to take advantage of me. It was so dramatic it couldn’t have been faked.
I think this really is a lack of understanding of what one’s responsibility and obligations are. In a society where the “rule of law” and institutions aren’t so strong, people grew up settling disputes differently. Right and wrong weren’t so clear.
I think this woman thought, in regards to the washer/dryer, “These tenants say there is something wrong with the washer/dryer. If they want to use it, they should have it fixed.”
And the light bill, “I didn’t live there. I didn’t use the refrigerator or washer/dryer. I don’t have to pay the light bill.”
So we have four possible quadrants of corruption (although it’s difficult to believe macro-accidental):
Sounds like a typical limeno! I had similar crap happen over those cheap shower water heaters that use that live wire. Lady tried saying i owed some ridiculous amount of dollars. I left that place fast and left the c u next tuesday a nice parting note. The next place i was at, that stupid heater broke in a week. I didnt mention a thing about it. Cold showers it was. Love how they heat water in aqp. So much better
Good article Colin. I did not know you were back in Peru. I have always enjoyed your work and look forward to your commentary on living in Latin America. I hope you can give some insights on your reasoning for moving back. I hope to move down in 2 or three years.
Indeed the scenarios that you have described above are corruption, and each and every one is no accident. It’s more of a Coincidental Corruption, the coincidence being you (El Gringo) showing up in a situation where your host believes you to be naive or ingenuo.
It could also be considered Cultural Corruption, whereby you (The Consumer) engage in negotiations by coincidence with a Latino who believes you to be genuinely naive while simultaneously being Gringo.
Finally, it could be Casual Corruption which is the result engaging in financial transactions in a Culture of Corruption while Coincidentally being Gringo. This is also know as Sport.