Saturday, December 28, 2013
I understand that an expatriate needs to deal with the language barrier, but it would help if the barrier would stand still.
For example, you'd think that ordering a breakfast of fried eggs should be no great trick regardless of where in the world you might be. And even if it's not so easy the first time, you'd think you could get it right on the second or third.
Well, if that's all true, put us in the slow learners class. We've been coming to Mexico for more than eight years and living here the better part of the last two, but we're still having trouble getting waiters to bring us the sunny side up eggs we thought we asked for.
I finally asked an English speaking mesero how to order the dish he'd just brought me the next time I had breakfast in a Spanish-only establishment. He told me "huevos fritos" should do it.
Well of course it didn't. I knew very well that "huevos fritos" only means "fried eggs," which even a truck stop waitress in Omaha wouldn't automatically understand as eggs up. All the same, I tried it out at the next opportunity and wasn't too surprised when my eggs arrived over hard.
I described what I'd really wanted to the friendly girl who was refilling my coffee cup, and she said what I should have ordered was "huevos estrellados." That looked to me like eggs "starred," which made a kind of sense for what a pair of sunny side up eggs is supposed to look like. The sun is a star too, after all.
But when I ordered it in another restaurant a few weeks later, I was pretty sure I saw a blank look flit across my waitress's face. As often happens, she thought it best not to betray confusion or trouble me with questions. My eggs arrived over hard.
I checked Google Translate at this point. Google says "huevos estrellados" are just fried eggs.
But just a couple of days ago we sat down in a small cafe just across the street from the big Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a stone's throw from where we live. When I picked up the menu I saw what I thought was proof that both Google and my last waitress needed to brush up on their breakfast Spanish.
The menu was English on one side and Spanish on the other. The Spanish side offered "huevos estrellados." This appeared on the English side, plain as day, as "eggs sunny side up." I ordered them.
My eggs arrived over hard.
Baffled, we interrogated our waitress as to how we could have gone wrong by believing the translation on her restaurant's own published menu. The lady at the cash register got interested and joined the conversation.
They concluded that the reason I was eating the wrong kind of eggs wasn't anything to do with their menu. It was that I should have ordered "huevos tiernos."
Google plays this back as "tender eggs," which makes the same kind of sense that "starred eggs" did. I will certainly try it out next time, but I think the odds are no better than even that I won't get eggs over easy, closer but still no cigar.
I have noticed throughout that "huevos revueltos" is always and everywhere scrambled eggs. I may switch my preference just for the sake of certainty. Mornings are challenging enough without turning breakfast into a game show.