In Spanish, or at least in Mexican Spanish, the letters B and V sound the same. If you are spelling a word to someone and it includes one of them they will likely ask you, “V Chica o B Grande,” which means “Big B or Little V?” And it is very common to see these letters switched. Venda (bandage) becomes Benda, Abeja (bee) becomes Aveja, and Voy (I go) becomes Boy. Depending on my mood, how I might be feeling about the person making the errors, and my expectation of their level of education it can be amusing or very annoying.
In the four kitchens I have worked in I have experienced 3 different ways of tickets coming back. In our restaurant and the one in Gainesville we had printed tickets from the POS system that we would hang above the line. At the steakhouse everything is digital, the tickets show up on screens above the line, but at the restaurant in Cornelia they write out all the orders by hand. Among my challenges when I went to work there was trying to learn a new menu, how the items on that menu were abbreviated on the tickets and reading the waiters’ handwriting. The fact that their spelling was not good did not make it any easier. Taco Suabes, Berduras and Cevollas just made my job that much harder. I shook my head at the chicken scratch that I was trying to decipher. I might have also made a few disparaging comments about the Mexicanos and their spelling. I should have been more sensitive.
According to NationMaster the average years of schooling completed in the United States is 12, while the average in Mexico is 7.2. But my bet is that among Mexican immigrants to the United States the average is more like 4. I am amazed at how many of the people I have met, from dishwashers to business owners, only finished the fourth grade. My eight year old is in third grade and she is an atrocious speller. And as my mother reminded me recently, when I was in elementary school I was too.
And we are talking about averages. I am still blown away by the fact that there are still people getting no education at all. The woman from Guatemala who did dishes at our restaurant had never been to school. As a child instead of being sent to school she was sent out take care of sheep. She is completely illiterate and has no interest in being taught. I am not sure what percentage of people who can’t read wish they could. The lady who helped me with my house in Mexico also couldn’t read, but she wanted to learn.
I don’t know if it was because he heard me comment under my breath about spelling or if he just happened to bring it up but one day one of the waiters shared a bit about his reading and writing. He told me he had worked at the restaurant for 15 years (he is probably about my age, late 30’s). He told me that when he had first come to the US he hadn’t know any English or how to read or write in English or Spanish. The restaurant gave him a job as a busser (which requires no speaking, reading or writing) and then taught him enough of all three so that he could be a successful waiter. And it seems that he is a very good waiter. He was definitely the friendliest. He was the only person in the whole restaurant I could count on to answer my questions patiently and with a smile. He is the only one there I wish I could have said good bye to. When I am tempted to think less than nice thoughts about the owner and management of the place I remember that they took the time and energy to teach him. Someone who does that cannot be all vad. 😉
Mexicans and their mordidas are world famous. Mordida literally means “bite” but it is the name given to the bribes that are common in most parts of Mexico. Whether trying to get out of a speeding ticket, getting away with adding on without a building permit, or trying to get anything done at City Hall, mordidas are just part of how things are done. When I lived in Mexico I was alternatively fascinated and frustrated by their existance. There is an art to negotiating one and I only attempted to offer one once at the very end of my time in the country. It was accepted, but my form had to be mildly corrected by the officer involved. But currently I have been observing and puzzling over the predominance of literal “mordidas” amongst the men I am working with.
I think it is fairly common knowledge that Latin men are not as scared to be physical with each other as your average straight white American man would be. Generally speaking two Mexican men are going to have no problem giving each other a nice big hug while two American men are going to shake hands or if forced to hug it will be an awkward side hug. I remember when we first moved here and joined a church group Sebastian was given a lesson by our leader on how to give a hug with stiff arms so to properly avoid any bodily touching. I would say this has to do with 1) American men being overly afraid of seeming gay and 2) with the American sense of personal space.
I could probably do a whole post on personal space and the differences between what we Americans need in comparison to our southern neighbors but I have noticed that people’s eyes tend to glaze over whenever I attempt to discuss it. I guess no one else finds it as interesting as I do. So we’ll move right along back to my male coworkers and their surprising displays of affection.
These guys that I am working with at the Mexican restaurant are all over each other, really. They don’t just rough house and give each other the occasional hug, they at times hang all over each other. One night I watched the young dishwasher (I believe he is 16) come up behind the youngest cook, put his head on his shoulder and then scratch his head. It would not have been strange to see two teenage girls being affectionate like that, but young guys? I must admit I was a bit taken aback, but I am a pretty open-minded person and if I had thought they were actually flirting with each other I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought. But these are straight young men. The young cook is a quiet Guatemalan who has asked several times to meet my sister, and the dishwasher is of the type who isn’t afraid to greet a passing girl as “mamacita” and let her know that he is the macho she’s been looking for.
But what is most surprisingly to me is the mordidas. They actually bite each other and often. Not every shift, but almost every one, one of my coworkers will come up behind one of the other ones and bite him in the back, usually just between the shoulder and the shoulder bone. It appears that they bite hard and the other will try and get away or flinch and then they both laugh and work continues. Even the owner of the restaurant does this to the employees, both the kitchen staff and the waitors. From their reactions it would appear he bites the hardest. They all think it is hilarious and no one seems to think it is weird but me. I am baffled by it.
I have asked my husband and brother-in-law about this and they say it is not something they are familar with. They say it is not a Mexican thing and certainly not something “classy” folk would do. They have never heard of the custom and said it sounded to them like a gay thing. And yes, when I did a bit of internet searching on the subject nothing came up except gay porn, but there really doesn’t seem to be anything sexual about it. I guess it ‘s just another version of manly pain-as-affection, like punching each other in the arm, or a titty twister? Maybe there are frat boys across America biting each other and I just don’t know about it? I would like to know if this is a common occurance or if it just happens in this one particular restaurant. I would love to hear any antecdotes or insights about the subject.
Tonight when I got home from work I sat down with my brother-in-law, his wife, and daughter to talk and drink and talk. He drank wine, they sangria, and I tequila. My brother-in-law put on Radio Quelite on his computer which plays Mexican music from all different regions and times. Huapango, danzon, rancheras, chachacha, I love it all. There wasn’t a song they played that I didn’t enjoy. There really is something about Mexico that touches me deeply. I really hope that I have the chance to live there again someday. I want to go back, not to Cancun, but to the heart of Mexico, to live in a colonial town or city and really be able to soak in the culture completely. How odd is it that the thing that most keeps me from being able to do so is my Mexican husband.