Monday, January 1, 2007

How Much Does a Beer Cost in Mexico?

My husband and I decided this was the year we’d learn Spanish. He is the only member of his Cuban family that doesn’t speak the language, and I, well, needed something new to frustrate me and prove once again why I’m not a member of Mensa.
With a Barnes and Noble gift card we bought 18 sessions of pure Spanish Fiesta on 10 CD’s. At the beginning, life was simple and joyous. Our language guides, Juan and Louisa, patiently held our hands through phrases like, Hola Senora, where is the Restaurante Bolivar?

In the following weeks we visited the Restaurante Bolivar many happy times with Juan and Louisa. On random occasions we were joined by their friends Carlos, Mrs. Gonzales and the mysterious “businessman” Mr. Sanchez (though no one knows his “business” and Juan says he has too much money). Those were the good ol’ days. I remember well Juan prompting me to ask Carlos how many beers he could drink in ten minutes and who could forget the time Mrs. Gonzales told us it was too early to buy good things in Chile, I nearly toppled my taco laughing.

In the golden era, when we only knew numbers 1-10, a beer and a cold sandwich could be had for a mere 7 pesos. Now, on lesson 15, the inflation has gotten so bad we can’t even get a glass of cold water for less than 64 dollars. And Mrs. Gonzales has a bad habit of leaving us with the bill, saying things like, “I would like to buy all the beers, but I only have 4 pesos, my husband has all the money at the Hotel Bolivar.” (I hated to tell Mrs. Gonzales that I’d seen her husband headed to the airport with Louisa earlier that afternoon. But, maybe she knew that already, and that’s why she had 14 beers and a shot of tequila lined up in front of her at the moment).

The rising prices at the Restaurante Bolivar and the Gonzales’ failed marriage weren’t the only distressing things as we delved deeper into the tangled world of Introductory Spanish. Missing the days of simple pleasantries and five-peso beers, my husband and I began to strain and struggle, attempting to sputter out sentences such as “My wife doesn’t have much money, she bought many things in Los Angeles, many good things.” Also, Juan and Louisa were growing impatient with us. They moved quickly now and incessantly demanded to know the time.

I definitely knew something was up when Juan asked, “Do you have 17 minutes to talk with me about buying a time share in the Caribbean? If not, could I have 347 dollars and 5 pesos?” It slowly came together in my head, the dinners, the mysterious Mr. Sanchez, the “good” things from Chile, Mr. Gonzalez skipping town with all the pesos. Serves me right for trusting people who sit around all day drinking 45-dollar beers and eating cold sandwiches at the Hotel Bolivar. But my reply to Juan was only, “I want to eat something now, something cold.”

We were trapped and frustrated. We tried to reason with Juan and Louisa. We yelled at them and rolled our eyes. But it was no use, their sentences grew more complicated, their beers more expensive (last lesson I paid $92!) We were swimming in difficult phrases and the fear that Juan and Louisa would show up at our door demanding to know what time it was and how many dollars we had.

As we drove around trying to think of how to escape this world, we found ourselves taking our frustration out on other motorists. Shouting choice Spanish phrases at every car that cut us off or went to slow.

“I like Mexico!”



We couldn’t bear the thought of returning home to Juan and Louisa demanding our time and our pesos. We were backed into a corner. We had no choice but to walk in our home, take our places on the couch and threaten Juan and Louisa that if they didn’t shape up, we’d leave them for new friends. Here they come now, Bonjour Pierre and Madeleine!!