Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Of Condoms and Pink Onions

Some random observations about Mexican culture:

Every time I go into a restaurant, I am served a little side dish with condiments. One, which previously had been unidentifiable, is little pink crunchy vegetable slices. Finally I asked a waiter. What? The mystery solved: they are pink onions. And how did they get pink? They are soaked in beet juice. This isn't just one restaurant, but restaurants all across Mexico. Me? I'm perfectly happy to take my onions in plain old white. But pink must be considered something extra fancy here.
In the U.S., we say it's "black & white." In Mexico, it's always "white & black." Why? I don't know, and I'm not going to do any linguist anthropology here.
Last night, bored, I turned on television. It's a real treat to have TV, since my hotel in Campeche was TV-less. Here, it's not cable, but just local stations (in Spanish). To my SHOCK, I happened to turn on a COMMERCIAL. In the commercial, a mouth, speaking into a microphone, was reading off a list of veneral diseases. All of a sudden, a hand places a condom over the microphone, and the list is silenced. made its point. But it's a commercial that would never, ever, be allowed to air in the U.S.
Since I enjoy wandering around in bookstores, I've done that in Mexico, too. Some thoughts.
1. There are many fewer bookstores in Mexico. Only in larger cities, or near universities will you find bookstores. Reading for pleasure is done at a much lower rate than in the U.S. or Western Europe.
2. Most are independent bookstores. Nothing is like the big U.S. monsters, Barnes & Noble and Borders
3. The selection here is much more limited. Fewer books and fewer titles.
4. Surprisingly, the Mexican bookstores always have a much richer assortemnt of poetry titles. Those romantic Latins!
5. And the most frustrating--Whereas in the States, booksellers do everything they can do to get you to thumb through their books, including allowing you to take them into the instore cafe and browse over Mexico every book is shrink-wrapped in cellophane. What are they afraid of: that by looking through a copy you might actually want to BUY a book? Duh!
6. Think maybe #5 and #1 are correlated?

In U.S. department stores, women's fashion is always placed near the entrance on the first floor, men's stuff on the second floor. In many stores in Mexico, I've noticed the reverse. Men's on the first, women's upstairs. Probably the remnants of the macho male-oriented society.

A year an a half ago, I had an astrological reading done by an astrologer based in Utah. She knew nothing about me other than the time and place of my birth. In our conversation, she (unprompted) said, "do you know Merida, Yucatan? It's a very good place for you to be." And here I am. Hmmm...

When I was here in Merida two years ago, I met a guy at the American Library who had a Mexican friend who runs a tourism school here. I took down the name and address and walked over to ask about teaching English there. Fast forward 2 years to today. After checking in and getting settled in my hotel (which I found on the Internet), I went out for a stroll. Directly in front of the hotel, across the street....the very same tourism school. Chance? Maybe.