LIVINGSTON, Guatemala- I ordered a cheese burger — a quesoburguesa — at a restaurant in Livingston. I thought that my order was rather standard, that the lady behind the counter would know what a quesoburguesa was. I thought wrong.
This restaurant had hamburgers on their menu, but they did not have a cheeseburger option. I assumed that by saying that I wanted a quesoburguesa — una hamburguesa con queso — that I would be understood.
I assumed too much.
After waiting a half hour for my food to be prepared, it arrived. The burger that was placed in front of me looked a little weak. I opened it up: my cheese burger was missing the burger. It was just a piece of American cheese, tomatoes and lettuce stamped in between a bun roll.
What the f’ck?
Did this lady think that I was so stupid that I would not notice that my burger lacked a burger?
I brought the sandwich up to the cook.
“Where is my hamburger?” I asked in Spanish.
She tried to act dumb, “That is a hamburger,” she spoke in seriousness.
“No, it isn’t, there is no hamburger!”
“That is what you ordered!” the lady behind the counter spoke with an attitude.
“No, I ordered a cheeseburger, and this does not have a burger.”
“That is a cheese burger!” the lady roared.
My sandwich clearly consisted of cheese, but no burger was in sight.
“Can I have a hamburger?” I asked.
The lady agreed.
Two minutes later she returned the plate to my table. Inside of the cheeseburger was now lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and a thin slice of ham. No burger had yet presented itself. My wife Chaya jumped into the fight for our burgers. The cook said that if we wanted a burger on our burger that we would need to order something called a “mixto.”
We were being screwed. There would be no way that we were going to get a hamburger, we would either need to be satisfied with our scant ham sandwich or walk out without paying. Chaya and I debated the issue, we had the sandwiches, fried potatoes, and a milkshake in front of us. I calculated the value of the food that we had and subtracted it from the bill that we would receive. The total amount of our loss was around a buck.
We ate the fried potatoes, drank the milkshake, and, with a mocking laugh, made quick work of our “cheeseburgers.” One dollar was not worth continuing this intercultural debate on the definition of a hamburger, it was also not worth having this lady’s big black sons come chasing after us down the street.
We exited the restaurant, walked two blocks away to a different restaurant, and again ordered two quesoburguesas.
“Do your cheeseburgers have hamburger?” I asked the lady who took my order just to be sure.
She looked at me like I was nuts — of course the cheeseburgers have hamburger.
Our second round of cheeseburgers came, I opened them up with a touch of apprehension and found that, yes, the newly ordered quesoburguesas contained a hamburger with cheese on top of it, stuffed neatly in between a roll — just as I had been lead to believe it should be from 10 years of world travel.
The value of our loss was made up for with the joke that became our dinner: the cheeseburger that wasn’t. I can imagine ten years from now, in some other land, turning to my wife and asking, “Do you remember that cheeseburger that came without the burger in Livingston?”
And we will laugh.