Mexpatted waxes philosophic about her ambiguous address in Mexico City. This is a repost from a few years ago, and in the time since then the mystery has only partially been resolved.
Rarely a day goes by when I am not asked this question – ‘What is your address?’ Seems a reasonable enough question when you are trying to get furniture delivered, have cable installed, or open a bank account. And it should be a no-brainer to answer.
After all, addresses are by their nature references to some fixed point in space, a static marker of place. Typically, addresses are discrete – one point in space has only one referent, and there is a general consensus about what that referent is. Granted, street names change, towns merge into municipalities, and city limits are redrawn, necessitating a change in the way an address is defined. If you go looking for #1 Old Street you could yourself being driven mad by the fact that your map says you should be standing on it even though the street sign says New Street, but if you ask a passerby, he might tell you, “oh, New Street used to be called Old Street, you are looking for the old, out of date address.” The point here is that addresses can change, but the old one is supposed to be put to pasture after some appropriate transition period. Addresses are not supposed to be layered on top of one another in some sort of crazy post-modern play of signifers.
Ok, so that brings me to the mystery of Mexican addresses – I have lived here for a month now, and I still don’t quite know what my address is.
When we were getting ready to move, I gave everyone who needed it a forwarding address that I copied directly from our lease agreement. The folks renting the building seemed a pretty reliable authority on the matter, after all. Then I didn’t think about it again. Until, one day, I tried to call up a street view on google, and found that the address on the lease was only vaguely related to the address that google popped up when I dropped the pin. Hmmm…
In my former incarnation as a professor, one of the constant questions I got from students is what style of referencing and citation I prefer. I told them that I don’t really care about the style they choose, and I won’t freak out if they mistakenly put the comma inside the brackets instead of outside, or forget to underline the title. Bad form, I told them, a bit sloppy, but my main concern was that they gave me the basic information I need to find the same information they did. I need an author, and title, a publisher, year, and page number. These things won’t change no matter what style of referencing you choose.
If you think about an address in these terms, then the basics are street name and number, an apartment number maybe, a city, and a postal code. In Mexi-terms, because this is such a huge city, addresses include all of those things but add two additional bits – the colonia, and the delegacion. So, when you give your address in Mexico, all of this information would be considered the vital stuff. Other stuff is often added (and it took me a while to figure out just what all this other stuff was), like the closest major intersection – consider this an annotation on the address.
Here is the problem – although there seems to be no ambiguity about my street name and building number, the rest is apparently free-floating. Consider this – my lease says that my colonia is X, my bank says it is Y, and Cablevision says it is Z. This is like saying that a book has three different titles at the same time. Or like saying that the book title is different depending on whether you use Chicago Style or MLA referencing. That’s the thing I don’t get – it isn’t like my colonia used to X and now it’s Y and my landlord just hasn’t updated the files…it seems to be X, Y, and Z simultaneously.
Ok, may as long as they know what they think our address is, and mail actually gets here, it should be OK. It is too early for us to have received mail, but I think if mail does reach us, it is because the Postal Service has some sort of Rosetta Stone to translate all of these different addresses. (People complain about mail service here, but to me it seems miraculous.)
But here is the challenge – as I mentioned at the outset, our ability to access services here seems always to hinge on our ability to provide an address. And this is where it becomes almost farcical…
This really happened:
DH and I went to the bank to open accounts about a week after we arrived. Predictably, in addition to asking for our passports, they wanted proof of address. We pulled out our lease, but were told that this would not do the trick. Did we have a cable bill?
We explained that we did not yet have a cable bill, or anything utility-like to confirm our address. But, we said, we live in the very same building as the bank, right upstairs. The bank staffer asked us if we know anyone in the building who would let us use their cable bill.
To emphasise – the bank was willing to accept, as proof of our address, not our lease, but a cable bill from someone else who lives in the building.
So, I ran upstairs, borrowed the cable bill of someone we know in the building, and brought it back to the bank. So now the bank has proof that we know someone at that address. Huh.
Now, cut to last week. We were trying to activate our shiny new ATM cards and online banking, which requires an online conversation with a bank dude so that he can verify our identities and send us through to the PIN menu. Of course, he asked for our address. I remembered in the nick of time that our address isn’t actually our address at all, and so we gave our friend’s address instead. DH was told that the information he provided didn’t match the information they had on file.
Back to the bank.
The same staffer was there, and opened our file. It turns out that the address they have on file isn’t our address (we knew that), but not even our fake address, but some other apartment number altogether. So now we have a real address, a fake-real address, and a real-fake address to keep track of. We cannot change any of this until we have a Cablevision bill, but of course that has a different address again.
The other thing we were told is that while we would eventually be able to update the real-fake address with the real address, that real address would have to be fake-ified by the bank. As it was explained to us, the bank computer system doesn’t recognise our postal code (I don’t even know what that means) and so it just gives us another one. I should point out that we live in the very same building as the bank. The very same. This means that the bank system doesn’t recognise the address of its own branch, and just makes it up.
Real good, then.