Saturday, February 26, 2011

cow lips

Someone once said life is about the journey, not the destination.

That is not only good theology, it is also good travel advice.

My two prior tours to Guanjuato and Morelia were bus tours.  Not so the trip to Mexico City.  As pleasant as the bus was, it would have been a brutal ride all the way to the capital.

Instead, we took a bus to Guadalajara and flew from there.

With the exception of the Manzanillo airport (which is the equivalent of a regional airport), I have not been in a Mexican airport since the turn of the millennium.

And I was pleasantly surprised.  The Guadalajara airport is sleek and efficient.  Almost germanically sparkling.  With nearly every food offering you could find at the Dallas airport -- and some of the same.

I must have been in a retro mode because I decided to refuel at Burger King.  Who knows why?  Maybe it was the memory of the only time I would stop at Burger King in Salem -- when I took Jiggs to the veterinarian.

Now and then, it is as if life decides to amuse us with a play.  In Guadalajara, it decided on a three-act playlet.

I barely sat down when it began.  A smiling young Burger King employee came on stage delivering an order to a woman of a certain age sitting two tables away from me.

In an English accent (somewhere near Sussex, I would surmise), the customer abruptly said:  "Vinegar."

The Burger King employee answered politely in Spanish:  "No, señora."

English Woman:  "I didn't ask a question.  I want vinegar."

BK:  "No, señora."

EW:  "You don't have vinegar?"

BK:  "No, señora."

EW:  "Certainly you have malt vinegar."  [Perhaps thinking that if an entire category is not available that a subcategory might be.]

BK: "No, señora."

EW: "Intolerable. The Burger King at home has malt vinegar. Are you certain?" [With rising exasperation.]

BK: "Si, señora, vaca gorda."  [Delivered quickly, but with the same smile she had worn throughout the encounter.]

It was like watching Octavio Paz's The Labyrinth of Solitude appear in human form.  The Mexican smile covering resentment of the irrational demands of the powerful -- but with a well-aimed dart at the center. 

I suspect the Burger King employee had no idea by using "fat cow" she had chosen the very term that will deflate or madden any English woman ahoof.

I felt like jumping to my feet and giving her an ovation.  A first rate performance.

People sometimes wonder how places such as Egypt and Tunisia can erupt so quickly and overthrow their rulers.

The answer is easy.  Many people throughout the world are forced to wear similar masks.  And, sometimes, the masks crack.

But tourists will continue to make stupid comments.  The Mexican smiles will go on.  And the tourists will go home telling tales of how the Mexican people are so happy with their lot.  (Well, maybe not the English Impatient.)

And, as long as all that keeps happening, this blog will live forever.


Don Cuevas said...

Some people just need to stay at home. They can get all the malt vinegar they want for their chips.

Don Cuevas

francisco said...

Bravo! I enjoyed this post! I agree with Don Cuevas, some people should stay home.

Steve Cotton said...

Your comment about "center of the universe" reminds me of one of my favorite exchanes in Shaw's Saint Joan.

Joan of Arc has just been questioned. The English chaplain charges: "The Maid has actually declared that the blessed saints Margaret and Catherine, and the holy Archangel Michael, spoke to her in French. That is a vital point."

The Inquisitor: "You think, doubteless, that they should have spoken in Latin?"

The French bishop (sarcastically): "No. He thinks they should have spoken in English."

It never fails to get a roar from an English audience because they are willing to recognize their own failings. It is too bad the rest of us do not have a Shaw to remind us we all think that the world sees with our eyes and speaks with our tongue.

By the way, if I implied the English woman was hefty. She was not. She was one of those wiry types you see treking the moors with the speed of a pony.

Steve Cotton said...

Not to rub it in. But it is 70 here with a high haze. Perfect. And I am heading to the hammock. Writing can wait a bit.

tancho said...

One of the most entertaining situations I enjoy is sitting and observing visitors to Mexico.
Someone could write a book on the subject.
The more the visitor opens his mouth, the more professing their stupidity becomes.
I personally like the "make it louder, so they will understand you better".

Steve Cotton said...

Maybe you should read the piece again. The fact that it is devoid of ugly behavior is what gives the rest of us a good laugh.

Wit is how we get through this world. My compassion was for the waitress who continued to smile -- even when facing the same nonsense over and over again. Never once did she lose her composure. And she had devised a coping mechanism. Knowing full well that the nattering customer would not understand her, she was able to release her tension. And she gave the rest of us a good laugh. It was right out of an I Love Lucy episode.

Nita said...

How do you manage to "hit the nail on the head everytime?" Some people cannot travel without wanting things just like they are at home. Those I have to say, I pity.

Steve Cotton said...

I have intervened in situations like this to make the frustrated traveler feel more at home. Sitting down and asking how their day is going. That sort of thing. (Of course, I get a lot of: "Mind your business" responses.) And I might have done that in this instance if it were not for the second act of our little play.

I would suggest sticking around for it. But we are going to have a little poll tomorrow about an issue one of today's commenters raised.

LeslieLimon said...

I laughed so hard while reading this on my Kindle this morning, that Hubby asked what was so funny. When I handed him the Kindle so he could read it, he too, laughed out loud. :)

Thank you for starting our morning with a great laugh. :)

How are you feeling?

Stewartj said...

Jolly good post today Mr Cotton. If all this unpleasantness occurs at a Burger King I shall continue to avoid them for mental as well as physical health reason. By the way, please pass the vinegar.

Steve Cotton said...

Wow. A trifecta. You managed to work blog, Kindle, and laughter into one good morning.

Thanks for the compliment, Leslie.

Mexican Trailrunner said...

This post deserves the award for 'Blog Post of the Day'.
The really sad thing is she probably lives in Ajijic, which is why I don't.

Steve Cotton said...

I never even considered she could be "one of us."

Mexican Trailrunner said...

That's 'cause you've never been to Ajijic.
I've seen shocking displays of old-white-people-acting-badly and it's not pretty. Just like you described so eloquently.

Steve Cotton said...

I was at The Frog a few nights ago and witnessed an older American man treating the new waiter as if he had just been promoted to house slave from field slave. After the man calmed down, I went over to chat with him and his blushing wife. (She looked as if she wanted to climb under the table.)

It turns out he is not a new arrival. They have been coming to Melaque for almost ten years. But he cannot speak Spanish, has a hearing problem, and is completely ignorant of Mexican customs -- and proud of it.

When I see incidents like this, I fear I am looking into the abyss of my future.

Mexican Trailrunner said...

The key phrase is 'and proud of it'. Particularly when followed by the word ignorant. This is what I don't get, Steve, they ARE ignorant and proud of it. I see it every day, I live as far as I can away from them and only go into their territory to get provisions. Scoot in, hunt and gather, and scoot out. And STILL I see it.

It might be more prevalent during the time of the snowbird community. These folks, by their very definition, have no interest in anything but weather - and proud of it. Our two areas might be thicker with them than anywhere else in this country!

Bravo to you for standing up for the waiter.