Tuesday, November 12, 2013

splitting the difference

Lewis Carroll must have had a hand in creating Melaque.  At least, some of the sub-cultures.

While walking to the village yesterday, this sign caught my eye.  My irony radar set off its high alert.  What kind of thinking goes into a sign that announces a business as "We are Mexican," and then spells it out in English? 

Well, you know the type.  We cannot get away from labeling ourselves -- even when we come to Mexico.  The "we" in that sentence are the expatriates and tourists who seem to thrive on these divisions.

The expatriate-tourist crowd in Melaque is not very large.  We come from a handful of countries.  Primarily, Canada with both English and French speaking contingents.

The rest of us are from The States, Ecuador, Colombia, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany.  I am certain there are more countries represented.  I just cannot think of them at the moment.

But the nationality labels are not what divides us -- though there is some of that.  Instead, we tend to coalesce around authenticity parties. 

Here's what I mean by that.  Everyone wants to have an "authentic" experience in Mexico -- whether they live here or whether they have come down for the short haul.

But people have varying expectations about that authenticity.  Let's take food as an example.

There are two major parties.  The Purists, who will eat only Mexican food prepared in a Mexican kitchen by Mexican hands.  And then there are the Bridgers, who will eat most any food without regard to the nationality of either the restaurant owner or the cook.

Like most reductionist theories, there are a lot of people who slop over into both camps.  I have not mentioned The Picky Tourist, who will eat nothing unless it looks, smells, and, tastes just like the early bird special at Denny's.  I didn't because The Picky Tourist is in the same category as the griffin and manticore.

If I had to wager on the provenance of the sign on the wall, I would put it down to clever marketing.  The proprietors are playing on the partisan spirit of the Purists.  Eat here.  We are Mexican.  Come be authentic with us.  We are not like those Canadians down the street.  Well, except for our menu.

It is a clever little ploy.  But I often wonder why we allow ourselves to be pandered to in this fashion?  Why do we divide ourselves up into two groups?

Maybe it is human nature.  We certainly do it in politics.

I just finished reading an article by Jay Nordlinger bemoaning the overuse of the word "establishment."  A word that had little categorical meaning, but has now become one of those terms used more as an insult than an analytical tool.  It was this paragraph that got me to thinking about our Purist-Bridger division.

In early 2003, a bunch of us were sitting around figuring out where we stood on the impending Iraq War.  A colleague said: "I know what the neoconservative position is, but what's the conservative position?"  In reality, there was no cupboard from which you could pluck conservative positions (or neoconservative ones).  You had to think: "What's the right thing to do, or least wrong thing to do?  What is the wisest or most palatable of the options?"
I wonder what our social scene in Melaque would be like if we simply asked: "Where's the best place to eat that will offer me a culinary adventure each time I visit?"

Of course, the sentence is loaded with my values.  So, what I will do is use that as my own guide.  And I will make a deal.  You don't tell me what to eat, and I won't tell you.

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, David Sedaris handles the most difficult division amongst Americans -- politics -- with his inimitable humor.  In the process of making fun of his opponents, he does a Veg-o-matic on his fellow believers.
In the last month of the presidential campaign, I tuned in to conservative talk radio and listened as callers considered the unthinkable.  One after another, they all threatened the same thing: “If McCain doesn’t win, I’m leaving the country.”

“Oh, right,” I’d say.  “You’re going to leave and go where? Right-wing Europe?”  In the Netherlands now, I imagine it’s legal to marry your own children.  Get them pregnant, and you can abort your unborn grandbabies in a free clinic that used to be a church.  The doctor might be a woman who became a man and then became a woman again, all on taxpayers’ dollars, but as long as she saves the stem cells, she’ll have the nation’s blessing.
I couldn't have said it better.  I wonder if David would like an "authentic" Mexican dinner on me?

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