Sunday, May 15, 2005


Everyone’s familiar with the old maxim: “When in Mexico, don’t drink the water.” Well this goes not just for gringos but for Mexicans, too.

The fact is that nobody drinks the water here, not even the locals. You get your drinking water in big 20 liter jugs called garafons which are delivered door-to-door, and anytime you need to use water in a way that it’ll end up in your mouth – like cooking or brushing your teeth – you use the purified water from the garafon. This week in my Level 1 class we started learning the modal verbs can and should, and in one practice exercise the students wrote sentences advising tourists what they can do when visiting Mexico, what they should do, what they shouldn’t miss, etc. They had a little trouble coming up with things that tourists shouldn’t do, so I told them the classic advice: “you shouldn’t drink the water.” They looked at me in a baffled kind of way, as if I had told them that gringos tell each other that you shouldn’t drink out of the toilet in Mexico or that you shouldn’t eat the dog doo off the sidewalk. Well, of course you don’t drink the water, morons, was the generally bemused reaction. They were quite startled, then, when I told them that in the U.S. and Canada and Europe people can drink water from the tap without problem and that foreign tourists have to remember not to do the same in Mexico.

But as careful as people are with the tap water here, you still can’t avoid ingesting it on occasion. You might eat off a plate that hasn’t been completely dried, or if you go to a restaurant, who knows whether or not they’ve used the tap water in preparing your juice or your soup stock or whatever. So minor bouts of stomach trouble are quite common . If you call in to work and tell them that your having some stomach difficulty, there will be no questions asked, just “oh yeah, of course, better take the day off.” El estomago serves as a great excuse that way in that it’s never questioned and completely understood. A week ago I went to a surprise birthday party for a woman who works in the office at the Centro de Idiomas, and while we all lay in wait at her house, her husband went off to pick her up from a class and bring her back to the party. Problem was that she was dilly-dallying pretty badly after the class, chatting with friends, wanting to run some errands, things like that. He said he tried a number of excuses to get her to hurry home, but nothing worked until he said “you know, my stomach is starting to gurgle – I think I’m going to have some pretty severe diarhea real quick. We better get home to the bathroom.” And that worked like a charm – she got right in the car and they rushed home to the awaiting surprise.

(A brief afterward: at the party, like all Mexican celebrations, they served pozole, a traditional meat stew. Of course, I was pressured into eating it, despite my insistence that I was a vegetarian. And lo and behold, the next day, there were some pretty unpleasant estomago-related occurrences.)

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