Retrograde Uruguay

Mercury goes retrograde today, through 5 September, so beware travel plans, contracts, don’t buy electronics or vehicles, and expect communications to be fouled up. If you’re new to this, please do pay attention: read more here.

What does that have to do with my day in Uruguay? Well, Mercury, nothing, but the other — retrograde. Uruguay does sometimes does appear to be traveling backward through the universe. Take this latest marketing “innovation” at Tienda Inglesa:

Uruguay checkout stamps - onward into the '80s

At checkout, you get little strips of stickers that you can put in little booklets — aha! If you grew up in the United States in the 1960s or 1970s, you probably remember S&H Green Stamps. You would lick them and stick them into little booklets to redeem for merchandise from their store or catalog. Still can, in fact, even though they ended in the 1980s.

Well, at Tienda Inglesa, this little trip down memory lane is  only good for a discount on one brand of cutlery.

But it gets “better:” the little strip of stickers has to be counted out by the cashier. But every fifth sticker is gray, so this can be quick. You know, 5, 10, 15, 20…? No, in fact on our most recent visit, the cashier counted them out by twos. I kid you not.

Of course, this un-streamlines checkout considerably. In addition to the grueling process of counting, occasionally a customer in front of you will require an explanation of how the whole new-fangled thing works.


So, while we’re waiting for our stickers to be counted out by twos: you know what a checkout divider is — the little rectangular or triangular thing that makes checkout more efficient by separating customers’ items? You did know that? Congratulations! Perhaps not 1 in 100 Uruguayans does. In addition to having  always only one, and even when printed with Proximo Cliente (next customer), the cashier uses it simply to block the “electric eye” that starts and stops the checkout conveyor belt, and might get quite huffy if you try to use it as a checkout divider.

So it was with some pleasure that on that most recent visit, before watching the by-two sticker counting, we were able to get our hands on the checkout divider, and use it as a checkout divider. What a concept!.

So what did the Uruguayan behind us do? He waited until every single item of ours was off the conveyor and the checkout divider had stopped the conveyor, before he would put a single item on the now-empty belt.


I suppose you could make this stuff up. But you’d have to be in a retrograde state of mind, no?

 

Budweiser beer in Uruguay

I am neither a connoisseur nor regular consumer of beer, though I like it. In my callow (whatever that means) youth , I consumed various American too-cold soda-water-fizzy beers. I remember Pabst and Schlitz being shit, and maybe I favored Budweiser because my father did, and maybe settled on Michelob as the “good stuff” (cool bottles).

Michelob beer bottle

Fast forward, and here in 2017 the shit Budweiser from the U.S. (not the supreme Budweiser Budvar) is on display in Tienda Inglesa.

Shit Budweiser beer on sale, Uruguay

A standard six-pack of 12 ounce (.33 l) bottles rings up at just about USD 10.

Beer, Uruguay

A few meters away you can buy a 3-pack of Zillertal (.97 l each).

Almost 50% more of a superior beer for a peso more.

So who would want Budweiser? Maybe someone who thinks it’s a bargain because they advertise it in shopping points?

 

Barbershop decor

Last time I had a haircut — many months ago — it was by the Uruguayan husband of a German woman Katerina, who has a successful shop in Atlántida (calle 1 y Ciudad de Montevideo). He did a very nice job, and I was glad to make my (overdue) return.

But this time, the girly space had expanded to an additional room on the side, and he was waiting in what was clearly the man cave barbershop.

barber shop, Atlántida, Uruguay

This is the view from the chair. You’ve got to admit it’s awesome!

 

 

Graphic nondesign

Waiting for the car’s oil to be changed, I started looking through the freebie local business advertising mag. This not only occupies time, but challenges my Spanish vocabulary, and having some experience in graphic design, allows me to amuse myself by mentally redesigning ads.

But oh, an article about baking soda — always interesting.

Horrible typography, Uruguay

Unless it’s basically illegible because of garbaged-up type. And not because of  low resolution or image compression—

horrible typography, Uruguay
Umm, no, bicarbonado de “sodio”

— it really is that bad. So, OK, not I’m not going to read that article.


Below it on the page, a “spot the differences” image. Not my favorite, but worth a minute or two.

Uruguay newspaper

But immediately I am stopped by a quandary: is the fact that the two images are cropped differently meant to be one of the differences, or does it simply represent more design incompetence?

 

 

 

Moving money for cheaper

Living in one country and getting money from another can be expensive. The last time I did an international bank wire transfer, the originating bank charged USD 25 and the recipient bank USD 35. Since anything over USD 10,000 becomes a hassle, I have usually wired something less than that.

I have from time to time looked into alternatives, but they have always ended up being even more expensive.

Until now. I don’t know when it changed, but with Western Union I just picked up USD 500 cash locally for a fee of USD 5. It took, as promised, four days to get from my bank in the US to Uruguay. Had I charged it to a credit card, the fee would be USD 15 and the transfer instant. The maximum transfer without signing up for their FX service is USD 5000.

And I could have sent it in Uruguayan pesos as well. Sweet!

Western Union logo

Of course, I can’t quite make sense of their slogan, but who cares? It works. The service, not the slogan.

 

Free international shipping

I’ve posted several times about buying stuff from China with free international shipping (including a 99¢ money clip I used today). The latest is more of the same, with a couple of international twists: first, it came from India, not China.

Piezo lighter delivered to Uruguay from India for free

Here, exactly:

India map

Secondly, I thought of such a thing because a Romanian friend staying with us for a couple weeks in April, after watching me throw matches into the BBQ grill to get it lit (zzzzzht-toss-dammit! zzzzzht-toss-dammit! zzzzzht-toss-FOOOMP!), wondered if there was somewhere in Uruguay to buy a sparking lighter (piezoelectric; no fuel) to take back to his father in Romania.

Recognizing that such a thing would be, if not as exciting, probably a better approach for me, I thought about trying to find such a thing in Montevideo. Half a day at least. Chance of success? Under 50%, I figured.

Twenty minutes later I had ordered one on eBay for USD 7.

From India. With free international shipping. 27 days to arrive, and it works great!

 

 

The ANTEL Bill

Three months ago, some guy sputtered up to our rusting mailbox and delivered someone else’s phone bill. Sombunall companies (phone, electric, and water are gubmint) deliver bills privately instead of using the government postal servicee (some irony there?). I don’t know which, since we get ours electronically (sometimes excessively). But two months ago, when the same bill arrived again, I went to tell them that I did not want this to happen again.

Which of course it did.

I did make an effort to find out to whom this bill should have been delivered, but didn’t get too far into that before hatching an alternate plan.

So here’s how I have chosen to advise the misguided mail carrier that the only bit of info he had right was the Manzana, or block. (No, you haven’t forgotten your high school Spanish: manzana does mean apple. I just live here, OK?)

ANTEL bill Uruguay

Then came the presentation.

ANTEL bill taped to mailbox, Uruguay

Style-wise, I’m of the school that says you can’t go wrong with duct tape. But if you think placing the offending bill across the opening where lazy doofus would cram it into mailbox is clever, you’re only revealing your northern-ness. It will not surprise me at all to see the next bill inserted behind this one.

Stay tuned….

 

Worn out, burned out

While waiting for the repair guy coming to replace the heating element (resistencia) in our water heater, I took a picture of my flip-flops. They’ve lasted at least a year and yes, the grass is showing through the right heal.

Worn out flip flops and burned-out water heater element

I often have to wait outside to wave people down, since my telephone explanations of how to get here are remarkably and consistently misunderstood. Today’s communications snafu also started on the wrong foot, as I didn’t really know how to answer an incoming call on my new smart phone. Seriously.

handwritten repair bill, Uruguay

Here’s the bill: visit, heating element, and cablingactually for the toll, since he came from Montevideo (it should have been 160 pesos, but then he probably charged it to everybody this side of the peaje).

1,000 pesos is around USD 36.

And if that 1,000 on the bill looks like 7,000 to you, you might share my fascination with Uruguayan handwriting.

 

 

Tienda Inglesa: from class to trash

Tienda Inglesa: Lo bueno por menos

Classy may be too strong a word, but Tienda Inglesa has been for me the best of the handful of “large” (remember, Uruguay is small) supermarket chains in Uruguay.

Back in 2012, Tienda Inglesa sold LED lights imported by Renovables S.A., a wide-ranging and impressive Uruguayan renewable energy business. The owner, Rolando Ringeltaube, told me how carefully their company monitored quality control in China. And, he told me, LED bulbs should have a life of 20 years. Which, considering the history of incandescent light bulbs, seems an unlikely prediction. Still, they have to last longer than these mercury-laden compact fluorescents that seem to last about a year, no?

So imagine my surprise when an LED light bulb I bought there died after three weeks. They have a “no refund” policy, but thought about it a couple days, and gave me another. Which also died after three weeks. Once again, they reminded me of the “no refund” policy, but gave me a credit after a few minutes. Meanwhile, I walked to the lighting section to examine the packaging. Sure enough, they are now imported from China by Tienda Inglesa. No middle man. No quality control.

LED bulbs are great (10X more efficient than incandescent), but the Tienda Inglesa LED bulbs are now officially trash. Consider yourself warned.

Extremely poor quality LED bulbs sold at Tienda Inglesa in Uruguay

Walmart wisdomcomes to Uruguay.


Update 5 January 2017: the latest Tienda Inglesa garbage LED light, acquired 3 December 2016, has started overheating and malfunctioning today, after 33 days.