This Office Supplies Store in Mexico seemed disproportionately concerned with theft
In 2008 I was travelling overland from Argentina back up to Canada and managed to get all the way back to Vancouver without taking an international flight.1 Along the way, I didn’t have any idea how I was going to get through Mexico, so I bought a 2007 Roadmap, which assisted in getting me all the way home more or less in one piece.
And so on my most recent trip to Mexico, which lacked any kind of itinerary, I dug up the trusty old map from a shoebox under my bed, and set off.
It may not surprise you that a paper map that’s over a decade old often requires repairs, which necessitated the purchase of tape.2
So one day in San Cristobal de las Casas, I wandered by Papelería Santa Lucia. It was a considerably large stationary store, and promised to offer decent prices and a good selection.
Now, I’ve bought things in Mexico before, so I didn’t think I was out of line in assuming that I could just pick up the thing I wanted, pay for it, and leave.
Not so, at Papelería Santa Lucia, the highest security stationary store I’ve yet to encounter — You can’t actually pick things up there. Everything is in a glass case, and a lot of stuff is just ‘at the back.’
So I tell the lady behind the counter what kind of tape I want. The first thing she shows me is a bit too thin, but her second try is the right tape for my needs. She tells me it’s 12 pesos, and I move to give her the money, but she shakes her head and wags her finger. Once she confirmed that I indeed wanted the roll of tape, she wrote the price and item description on a carbon paper slip and sent me to a man in a little booth (behind bars and glass, as I remember) where I gave him the slip, and paid him. Then he returned one of the carbon copies and sent me back to the lady, where i exchanged the slip for the tape. And then I left.
It seems like a lot of bureaucracy, for 12 pesos and a little roll of tape. I imagine that the system of ‘getting things from the back’ was a response to theft from customers, and the whole carbon copy slip and the separation of the person accepting money from the person providing goods was a response to theft from employees.
Indeed, it would be hard for patrons to steal stuff from the shop, but how hard would it be for employees to bypass this system? All it would really take is for the lady behind the counter and the man inside the booth to become friends, or even just ‘acquaintances that are willing to cooperate for mutual benefit.’ As long as they agreed to destroy the same slips, they could split the money. Based on the size of the place, I suspect they weren’t keeping careful inventories, which would make any such nefarious activities difficult to trace. I’d even hazard to say that making it a little bit tricky to steal from their company might even incentivize them to embezzle from their employer.
We might therefore conclude that these security measures are disproportionately inconvenient and inefficient compared against the degree of security that they produce. I mean, they’re paying a whole extra person to deter the theft of very low cost goods that I almost certainly have low profit margins. How many rolls of tape would have to not be stolen to pay for the salary of the guy in that booth? HOW MANY??
The point is: it seems like a lot of security to protect some basic office supplies from theft, considering that only a few weeks before I’d had the opportunity to purchase butterfly knives, switchblades, and tasers, protected by nothing but a strategically placed blanket.
1. I ended up taking a domestic flight to get from Puerto Obaldía to Panama City. I crossed the Darién Gap by taking a series of motorboats from Turbo, Colombia to Puerto Obaldía, Panama. What I didn’t realize is that cargo ships (my original plan) can be expensive and sporadic, while (at the time, at least) Puerto Obaldía did not have any (secure) road access (but luckily had an airstrip). It is also perhaps worth noting that this route to getting from Colombia to Panama required me to deal with customs/immigrations on four separate occasions over the span of a few days.↖
2. I did this quite reluctantly. I was hoping to run into someone else that was already travelling with some of tape so I wouldn’t have to buy a whole new role and carry it around indefinitely. But alas…↖
Photocredit for prison background of topmost picture: Jimmy Chan (Pexels)