Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Devil's in the details

When I take a minute to reflect, it's occurred to me often that I've been constantly learning in my 10 weeks and change here. And although it's only 10:39 am, I've already learned something interesting today that I wanted to share: the majority of Guatemalans write the number ¨7¨ with a line through it, and read or write ¨7¨ with a straight cap as ¨1¨. Truth be told I've known this for awhile, but being neither an accountant nor math teacher, it never really had to sink in until today. Therein lies the heart of the real lesson: the value of experiential learning (that is, making stupid mistakes!).

Awhile ago, during training, my accountant host father warned me to always write my phone number on paper when going for recarga for my cell phone minutes. He once gave a recarga to a gringo who made a mistake when saying his number, and the gringo had to pay double to get the recarga to his correct number. By now I've got my phone number down, but I have this new gizmo, an Internet modem, and wanted to buy, for the first time, a month of Internet for it! Not knowing the number, it was a surer bet to just write it down, I thought.

This number, which I wrote in US-style on a scrap of paper for my local recarga-man, happens to be loaded with 7's. When the fellow in the store didn't ask me for clarification, I didn't think to give it, and it turned out he punched in all 1's. Thus, $19 down the drain. Bummer. That is like 4% of my monthly income. How interesting the small and seemingly insignificant details that can cause significant cultural misunderstandings! On the brighter side, they say that a recarga won't go through unless someone has that number; so I like to think that someone in need got a load of free minutes today. And at least I'll always remember how Guatemalans write their 7's and 1's.

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