With less than two weeks until Christmas, I am running out of time to find the perfect gift for my wife.
I’m not sure what the perfect gift would even be because whenever I ask her what she wants for Christmas, she replies with a cryptic two-word response: “You know.”
Which I clearly do not or I wouldn’t have asked the question in the first place.
Anyway, I’ve been doing a lot more shopping the last week or two — well, really just walking around and looking at stuff, but you know what I mean.
During one of these walks through a store near my home in the Riviera Maya (for you geographically challenged folks, that’s in Mexico), I glanced at a price tag and I was suddenly reminded of my high school Spanish teacher back in New York, Ms. Arroyo.
I don’t remember much from her class, and judging by the “D” she gave me on my report card that year, I didn’t remember much back then either. Nevertheless, I do distinctly recall learning that when writing numbers and prices in Spanish, the use of commas and decimal points is opposite of how we do it in English.
For example, $1,200.30 in English would be written as $1.200,30 in Spanish.
It wasn’t until I retired and moved to Mexico that I learned that not every Spanish-speaking country follows this pattern. In fact, there are several that write numbers just like we do in the United States, and Mexico is one of them.
Which Countries Do What
While we’re on the topic, let’s take a look at which countries follow which format.
The countries that follow the U.S. pattern are shown in blue:
Canada is shown in dark green because it’s officially a bilingual country. In English, numbers are written in the standard pattern (e.g. $1,200.30), but in French, the order is reversed (e.g. 1 200,30$).
The countries shown in light green follow the pattern I was taught in my high school Spanish class (e.g. $1.200,30). Spain and most of Latin America fall into this category.
Doing It Wrong Can Be Costly
Due to the inconsistencies in how numbers are written in Spanish, it stands to reason that someone — especially someone who moved to Mexico from a country where numbers are written differently — may reverse the order. Mistakes happen, right? What’s the big deal?
Well, if it happens on a price tag or advertisement for a product or service in Mexico, the provider is required by law to honor the erroneous price — no matter how ridiculous it may seem.
Here’s a recent example from a Walmart in Mexico City.
During Buen Fin, some 32-inch televisions were marked down to “$3.788.00 pesos”. That’s way too many decimal points, and clearly an error, but that didn’t stop some shoppers from demanding that Walmart honor the price of about 19 cents USD. Walmart obviously refused and responded by correcting the sign.
Unfortunately, as I wrote above, Mexican law requires businesses to honor posted and advertised prices.
In this case, the affected customers made a complaint to the government agency tasked with enforcing consumer laws, la Procuraduría Federal del Consumidor (PROFECO), and Walmart was required to sell the televisions for less than four pesos apiece.
Let’s Wrap This Up
Since I haven’t attended a Spanish class in a few decades, I have no idea how teachers are handling the topic of punctuation when writing numbers in Spanish. Hopefully, they are teaching students that the correct answer varies by country.
I’d hate to see any of those students get fired from a retail job in Mexico someday for using incorrect punctuation. 😉
Well, that’s all the time that I have to play on the blog this morning. I have Christmas shopping to do. Hasta luego.
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