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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Latin Americanisms: Oi Gringo!

One of the more intriguing encounters I’ve had the pleasure to simultaneously bear witness to and partake in was a tequila-fuelled kerfuffle between a British bartender, a New York tourist and yours truly. The scene was a Mexico City bar in the Condesa neighborhood — a part of town known for its neo-bohemian ritz but yet not entirely devoid of the stabbiness that characterizes after-hours drinking establishments in the city — a few days before the ringing in of the New Year.

The bartender — whom I knew from prior visits — was an expat from London who freely and rather frequently expressed his profound love for his newly adopted homeland — a real patriot. On previous occasions we had made the sort of small talk you would expect from two strangers who happen to share the grand burden of the Queen’s English — he was an Arsenal supporter; I gave him grief for their recent run of bad form, real basic shit.

This time around was different. It might have been the fact that he was visibly intoxicated (part of Mexico’s bar-scene charm rests on the fact that the person behind the counter often joins in on the fun), or that he was simply sharing in the general feeling of national malcontent in a country that for all intents and purposes had gone through a really shitty 2012.

Anyhow, fast forward, a few drinks in — I’m standing outside with a friend smoking a cigarette, when we hear a booming voice yell out “I’m an American!” followed by some British niceties and the sound of a chair falling over.

Intrigued, and somewhat worried that our non-smoking friend — who had chosen to stay behind — had fallen victim to the flying chair, we hurried back into the bar whereupon I was immediately called over by the friendly British bartender. “Who, me?”

He pours me a drink (top-rate bartender I tell you) and recounts the events leading up to the fracas. He first admits to being somewhat pedo (Mexican slang for shitfaced, which oddly enough is also used to describe the act of passing gas), blames the throwing of the chair on this fact — but claims that the intended target (the New Yorker) fully deserved it. His sin? “He called himself an American!” The bastard.

“Doesn’t he know America is a continent? Mexico is America, Argentina is America. The nutter doesn’t understand reason so I threw a chair at him.” Interesting.

The New Yorker, who had begun to stumble out of the bar — resolved to file a criminal report with the local authorities the next morning, presumably after curing his certain hangover — waved one final goodbye and disappeared amid chants of U.S.A! U.S.A! U.S.A.!  from sarcastic bar patrons. Our hero responded in kind: “Oi Gringo! Piss off!”

While I continued ‘listening’ to his increasingly erratic story (at this point as a potential criminal witness), did my best to play the part of cultural counsel to a slightly overzealous Brit and secretly wished that bars back in the States could be half as fun as this, I got to thinking about what the term American meant. Was he wrong to be angry?

Sure the chair throwing was a bit much, and this whole situation might have been avoided were it not for tequila, but Americans — er, United Statesians (it’s got a ring to it, right?) — do have a reputation for arrogance abroad which might certainly account for the furniture violence witnessed that night.

More to the point, America would seem to hold a much more nuanced meaning than we are typically aware of as residents of the U.S. People in the rest of the continent don’t normally envision the Statue of Liberty when a reference to America is made. They may in fact resent the implication that Americans are a people confined to the Northern sector of the continent. The fact that a British bartender would feel the need to stand up for the use of proper demonyms should give you pause about what you choose to call yourself the next time you find yourself abroad in America.

If you would like to hear more crazy bar stories or recount your personal traumas with furniture violence you can reach JORGE JUAREZ at jnjuarez@ucdavis.edu

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