MEXICO CITY, Mexico- I get a hairy sort of eyeball every time I walk into the Lahuma cafe on University Avenue in the Coyocan district of Mexico City. I don’t let this bother me. I open up my laptop, connect to the internet, order some coffee, and go to work. Overt unfriendliness bothers me, the subvert I can handle without much care.
I woke up this morning to find no food in my room. My wife said she was going to go to the store to pick some up but played with the kid instead. I figured that I would just go to the Lahuma cafe and order one of their slightly over priced breakfasts and just start working. I figure I have to order something anyway, so rather than ordering 12 pesos cups of coffee I could just get a 45 peso breakfast that includes this all so necessary drink.
I am hungry.
I walk into the cafe and say a big hello to the kid working. He scarcely grunts. I sit down at a table, fire up my laptop, and wait for this kid to come and take my order. I watch him wash every table in the entire cafe, one, then another, then another, as he slowly made his way to where I was sitting. He washed my table, still not inquiring if I would like something to eat or drink or even if there was some reason that I was in the cafe other than to sit on my computer.
I waited, hungry, annoyed, but still working.
The kid finally arrives with the menu. I ask for the breakfast menu. He brings it. The breakfasts here work as such:
You get a main course, the choice of fruit or juice, and a coffee.
I order something. The kid tells me that there is not fruit or juice available — a value of at least 10 pesos. I ask him if the price is still the same for a breakfast missing one of its essential three elements. He said it was. I rephrase my question using a different Spanish construction. He told me that I would have to pay the same amount to receive less.
This cafe serves the same breakfast six days a week, and fruit or juice is always an option — how could they just have forgotten it this morning? What is the thought process behind this?
I suspect there isn’t one.
I say no way and order a cup of coffee.
I don’t like feeling ripped off or cheated. But I also don’t like feeling hungry.
Who won here?
I write this scenario not to whine or complain, but to show a minor social battle that all travelers who go abroad will face over and over again: getting the shaft.
I took the shaft this morning, I took the shaft yesterday during lunch.
My lunch yesterday contained a choice of a really crappy lettuce salad or rice. I was with my wife and Caitlin, our Canadian friend. The waitress told me that there was only salad. I requested rice, knowing that salads tend to be pretty lacking affairs in this part of the world. She told me that there was no rice and that our only choice was salad. I found this difficult to believe, but, very well, I accepted her words as truth. The salads came and they were as I expected: a mound of undressed lettuce with a sad slice of tomato on top. Very well.
I then hear another waitress offer a table of Mexicans rice.
Small beans. This is the stuff of travel that is truly not worth sweating over, but I know that, as a foreigner, I am an easy target for getting the shaft at every turn. It is too easy for a restaurant with an excessive stock of shitty salad to dump it off on a table of foreigners. We are too stupid to complain, we are the pencil neck geeks of a waitress’s social sphere, they know we will just take it — and more often than not we won’t be the wiser. No Mexican will accept a restaurant lying to them about not having any rice.
I will not pay full price for two thirds of a meal, anywhere. I will choose hunger over the shaft, as I know the former will eventually be satiated. The salad that I received yesterday because I did not bulk up and demand the rice that I know ALL Mexican restaurants have an overflowing stock of, well, in a very small and minor sense, that is insatiable.
But more than I hate getting the shaft is aways needing to be on guard against getting the shaft. I feel like a minority in the USA who grows up being told that whitey is going to try to trample them at every turn. The knowledge of perceived or imagined vulnerability breeds paranoia. I hate being taken as a soft target too dumb to know when I am being disrespected, someone who will take it with a smile. I would rather be the loud mouth American demanding — sometimes inappropriately and misplaced — to be respected.