I am starting to feel part of my neighborhood.
On Tuesday afternoon while I was walking back from the beach, I noticed a Mexican barbecue grill on the sidewalk in from of La Rana, my neighborhood restaurant. The grill they use to prepare their barbecued pork ribs.
I stuck my head in the kitchen simply to say hello. Before I could launch into my small talk, the wife of the owner and their daughter excitedly invited me (in a torrent of Spanish) to the owner’s birthday party that afternoon. At 3. Or 4. Or around there.
Of course, I was pleased. So, I headed back to the house and started getting ready for my Mexican social event of the month.
Because they were so flexible on the time, I didn’t want to show up at 3 and show my NOB infatuation with the clock. Instead, I waited until 4 and walked over.
To my surprise, I was obviously late. Everyone was sitting at a long table. From the look of their plates, they had finished eating long before I arrived.
But my hosts grabbed me, gave me a great seat in front of the fan, and brought me a heaping plate of sausage, steak, and grilled onion. The tortillas, salad, guacamole, and beans were on the table.
Then I committed my second faux pas. I have eaten in plenty of homes throughout the world. One of the first rules of a good guest is to take a look at what other people are doing – and follow their example. I didn’t do that.
Instead, I looked at the table, found no fork or knife, and asked my host for utensils. He didn’t bat an eye. Off he went. After all, I have been a good customer – and I always have a knife and fork at my plate.
When he returned, I started eating. While chatting with people at the table, I noticed they kept looking at my hands. By that point, some of the other guests were having a second plate of grilled meat.
And then I saw it. No one else was using utensils. They were using their hands to eat. By that point I had finished eating. I quietly apologized to my host. Who graciously said it was fine. But my utensils quickly became a part of the table conversation.
Once again, I wish I could have spoken better Spanish. But I held my own with a chef, a hotel owner, and other assorted middle class family members. An 8-year old girl even asked me to help her with her English. Her father is coming back from The States in a month, and she wanted to impress him with what she had learned.
The experience was a lot like having Thanksgiving with another family. Everything was pleasant enough. But as a non-family member, it was often hard to keep up with the family tales. Even though some of them were hilarious – one including a burro and a bull.
I stayed for three hours – there never being a seemingly good time to bid adios. When one group of relatives got up to go, I took it as my cue to exit, as well.
A year ago, I am not certain I would have attended – knowing that English would not be a conversation option. But I am glad I did. The owners asked me back to show them my photographs of my cruise.
And that I will do – soon.