Friday, April 22, 2005

A Horrifying Trauma

Here's the scene: You are at an ethnic restaurant. It doesn't matter which kind, as long as the menu includes words that you cannot pronounce confidently. You are with a group of people you work with. The waitress takes some orders and makes her way to you. Looking at you expectantly, she asks, "What can I get you, sir?" You have a choice. Do you stumble through the difficult-to-pronounce italicized foreign words, thereby risking humiliation in front of the native-speaking waitress and, perhaps, your more worldly colleagues? Or do you stick with the convenient English translations helpfully provided after the foreign words, possibly revealing yourself to be a culture-less cretin who watches football and burps? What do you do? What do you do?

As difficult as it is to believe, I faced such a horrifying situation two days ago. (Condolences may be posted below.) It was a Mexican restaurant, but not a restaurant where your choices were "taco," "burrito," or "enchilada." No. The choices included words like "ceviche" and "cochinita" and "zarape" and "camarones" and … My god, I want a hamburger.

I chose English, ordering a "shrimp salad" instead of an "ensalada de camarones." Some of my colleagues fought gamely through the italicized foreign words. But here's the part that really struck me: Whichever choice the orderer made, the waitress would repeat the order back the other way. In other words, if you ordered the "pressed chicken sandwich," the waitress would say, "Oh, the torta de pollo con mole. Excellent choice." But, if you ordered the "en-chee-lah-duh duh poy-yo," the waitress said, "Oh, the chicken enchilada. Terrific."

Either way, her response was calculated to make us feel stupid. If we tried to say the foreign words, her English translation effectively told us, "You just butchered those words so badly that I must now speak to you like a small child. Good boy." If we used the English translation, her translation back to Spanish implied, "You dumbass American, can't you even try to respect the culture that created the foods you are about to shove down your super-sized gullet?"

So, basically, I was depressed for the rest of the day. Full of camarones, but depressed.


Blogger tequilita said...

it's impossible to be depressed while full of camarones!

7:47 PM  
Blogger Magazine Man said...

Same thing happened to me in a French restaurant, where they apparently imported the snooty waiters from Paris. Qu-est-ce que fuck, man?

Time to learn how to say "no tip for you" in Spanish, methinks...

9:49 PM  

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