Monday, October 30, 2006

Service at Family-owned Restaurants in Chacala

I read a post on one of my favorite blogs a couple of days ago. About the blogger's experience in a small family-type restaurant that apparently serves meals for workers. Trajabadores. Apparently she and her partner weren't happy with their experience there: long, long wait, and reluctant service, and very small servings. I wrote her a note giving a possible explanation for what happened at the restaurant.

The gist of my note to her, was that cultural clues about appropriate behavior, and what is polite, and what is expected behavior, are subtle and difficult to see if you are not looking for them. If you aren't comfortable with how you were treated in a "foreign" setting, maybe the first thing to look at is your own behavior, and then to look for the clues you are being offered in response to how you are treating the other person.

My short experience with most Mexican people is that they are extremely polite, and they often don't understand why gringos act so rudely and disrepectfully.This is what I said to the poster about her experience in a small restaurant.

"My guess is that they didn't want to serve you. Perhaps they were out of food, or needed to close up, or don't like dealing with gringas. If I am right, they probably gave you several polite clues that they wanted you to leave, which you probably weren't looking for, or didn't recognize.

I help out, and sometimes hangout, at a lot of restaurants here in Chacala. I have noticed that small restaurants that aren't advertising for, or otherwise asking, for gringo customers generally don't want them. Many Mexicans find gringos to be rude and inconsiderate. I assume that's because the Mexican and gringo cultures are very different.
There seem to be alot of differences between what is polite for a person from the USA as opposed to what a person from the USM. (United States of Mexico) thinks is polite. It would be unlikely for a Mexican to tell a gringo they were closing, had no more food, or didn't want to serve you for whatever reason. They would consider it politer to ignore you, and give subtle or non-so subtle clues they don't want your business. Maybe for that day, or maybe in general. Many family restaurants here seem to find gringos rude, picky about food, demanding about service, and always in a hurry.

It's just something to think about. A different way of looking at the situation you experienced. Here, in Chacala, if you want a nice dinner, you go to the restaurant the afternoon before, or that morning early, and talk over the menu and plan with the owner about when you will be there. Asking them what's a good time. For a small family restaurant it's more like going to their house than going to a business. It's nice to come in, ask if they are serving, etc..... "
Oh well. I probably will get an unpleasant response to that email, and probably to this post. Whatever.


Jill said...

That was interesting and it made me pick my memory for examples of this and I couldn't really think of anything. Maybe because I live in a big city. Maybe because I mostly socialize with Hondurans. I don't know.

I don't know how it is in Chacala, but customer service where I live is SO BAD!! I don't think that it is a matter of being gringa, because employees are pretty mean to my Honduran friends too. I think it is probably because service jobs have not existed for as long and they need time to settle in. Funny though, I went to Guatemala with some Hondurans a few weeks ago and they all commented on how great the customer service is there.

As expatriates, I feel like out relationship with our countrymen and country can be kind of difficult. There are lots of embarassing gringos who come down here and I have a hard time hanging it with lots of my co-workers because they are pushy and embarassing. I am proud of my heritage, but it is hard to reconcile that with some of the people that our country produces. For example, why would you spend a considerable time living in a country if you are just going to hang out with gringos and not learn the language? How weird!!

Marie McC said...

Cultural differences have always fascinated me. Thank you for this insight into Mexican culture. It's extremely interesting, and I hope you write more on the subject.

Brenda said...

I tend to agree with you; although we haven't had any experiences like that. We have always had wonderful service with big smiles at any of the places we have gone. I lurk on a couple of gringo message boards and it seems like a lot of people have nothing better to do than complain, about the food,service,etc. I, for one wouldn't want to serve any of these people!!! A friend of ours runs a restaurant and I have heard someone ask her, "who cooked this", when she replied,"I did." Then it was OK; but I wondered what the customer would have said if she had said that one of the staff had cooked it. She has told me stories of some of the "ignorant"(in my mind)complaints.
The other day I was standing in line behind some "gringos" in the grocery store. They were friendly to the clerk and when they noticed me waiting behind them, they began to chat. I wondered about this, as most US people don't do this. I asked them where they were from and sure enough, they were from Canada. I am not trying to be ugly about US citizens; but it just seems that Canadians are more friendly and approchable. Maybe we are still not so over populated that we are not always looking over our shoulders waiting for someone to hurt us. OR maybe we are not as money/class concious. JUST MY OPINION and you can delete this if you like.

Paula said...

I am so glad you wrote about these customs. We often eat in the little family run establishments and I never realized that an early stop and conversation would be polite. However we have NEVER had a bad experience at one of these places. Seems to me the service is always very personal. We know from experience that we may have to wait while the owner runs to the store to purchase items to prepare, and know not to be in a hurry, EVER, at a meal. We love to engage the servers in conversation and stop in and tell the cook the food was "Muy Bueno" (hope that's the right thing to say! If not, any suggestions?) Anyway we have completely enjoyed several meals at Kokobongos and Tres Hermanos, in fact those are probably some of the best meals I've ever eaten. Thanks for the tip!

Bound for Ceiba said...

I appreciate the insight in this article. It never before occurred to me that ignoring a customer could be considered a polite option.

I must say this though: if I declined to serve Mexicans, or Hondurans, or Somalis, or whatever in my US restaurant, for whatever reason, I could be sued and lose my business. Back home it's called discrimmination.

I realize that Mexico is not the US, nor is Honduras the US, but everyone brings their unique cultural experiences and perspectives to the table when interacting with others, both at home and abroad. Perhaps that explains some gringos' expectation that they will be served, and not ignored, when patronizing a restaurant.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jill, Marie, Brenda, Paula, and Bound for Ceiba.

I was going to write separate comments to each of you, because I was really impressed with these comments today.

The whole world of cultural differences is something I haven't really thought much about, even here in chacala, so I have alot of thinking and observing to do.

Thanks alot for the comments. I am going back to make-up another post now. Andee

Bound for Ceiba said...

It is a complex issue. I have been trying to gather my thoughts on the subject for a really long time... that is to say: Northerly* Americans abroad, and how we interact, both with citizens of our host countries, as well as with each other *within* those host countries.

Every time I begin to write something about it, I find myself veering off into 50 different directions. It's certainly meaty topic, and I enjoy reading your posts about it.

*"Northerly" = my personal shorthand for Canadians and US-ians