Two Beers, or Not Two Beers

When I trained to be a short term missions trip leader to Guatemala last year, one of the key pearls of wisdom I gleaned and subsequently hammered into my college students’ globetrotting little brains was that under no circumstances should an international guest openly pass judgement or disdain on the new culture–at least within earshot of the hosts. 

We were going to serve and love and be gracious guests, so cultural sensitivity was key. This meant that we would be expected to accept food, rides, and accommodations, that, perhaps, we weren’t accustomed to without making any rude, ungrateful, or condescending comments, grimaces, or otherwise malicious facial expressions.

I taught my students a handy little phrase to employ when they were tempted to gasp, grimace, or gawk in Guatemala.

The phrase: “That’s different.” 

For example, a woman popping out her breast to nurse her bundled baby immediately after you ask if you can take her picture is not weird or strange or rude. It’s different.
A chunk of still hairy goat meat bathing in a bowl of unidentifiable slime is not disgusting. It’s different.
Showing up to Bible study an hour late or not at all is not an affront. It’s different.

Piling entire families onto one motorcycle may be a tad dangerous to the safety-obsessed American, but within earshot of our hosts, it’s just different.  

Not better. Not worse. Just different.

I’ve been living in Guatemala for three months now, and, in an attempt to be a gracious guest, I have tried, at all costs, to appear unfazed by the foreign culture around me. I’ve done my best to employ the “smile and nod and remember it’s just different” approach.

But let’s face it, sometimes situations aren’t just different—they can be horrifying, delightful, even comical and beautiful. So I’m going to start a new blog category called, “Well, that’s different” where I can recount my collection of the best and brightest and differentest moments Guatemala has offered me thus far, and, believe me, I’ve wracked up a pretty delectable number of cross cultural cuentos.

I share these stories with the full understanding that I am a guest in this country. I don’t intend to pass judgment in any way. I’m just hoping for a little travelers empathy and to give you a glimpse into the life I lead here in this at times horrifying, delightful, comical, and beautiful country. 

Here’s a lighthearted tale of a girl and her beer to get the series started:

Two Beers or Not Two Beers

On a recent trip to the Ixil triangle of Guatemala, my travel companions and I found ourselves eating dinner at a quaint Guatemalan restaurant. The place wasn’t super fancy, but not shabby either. The tables were draped with only somewhat stained cloths and the chairs were adorned with shiny bows as if the decorator had spent time catering banquets or weddings in the States.

A young waitress appeared, poised to take our order.

My friend ordered a beer and was immediately told that the restaurant didn’t carry her beer of choice. But, the waitress, hurriedly interjected, they did carry Gallo, a national Guatemalan beer that you can often find more easily than purified water.

When the waitress turned her eyes and her order pad to me, I ordered a Gallo as well. Por que no?

Finished with our orders, the waitress dipped back behind the partition which, presumably, led to the kitchen.

So we waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, my friend went back to ask the waitress to bring out the drinks before the food. The waitress, looking a bit sheepish, followed my friend back to our table.

“We only have one beer,” the waitress apologized. 

“One kind?” my friend asked, confused.
“We only have one beer,” the waitress repeated.
“Well, is it a big beer?” my friend asked the waitress.

“Small, ” she replied. “We only have one beer.”

Finally, understanding dawns across the table. We both ordered a beer. They only have one solitary bottle of cheap, Guatemalan beer. There’s not enough for the both of us. 

“I’ll have a strawberry smoothie,” I ceded with a shrug of the shoulders, “and my friend will have the beer.”

Finally satisfied, the waitress snuck back into the kitchen. Minutes later, she returned with the much-coveted and elusive Gallo and a delectable strawberry smoothie, which actually paired much better with my dinner omelette.

Stay tuned for more “Well, that’s different” posts and please check out my friend’s much more comprehensive and less beer-battered account of our trip, in her recent post here.  

5 thoughts on “Two Beers, or Not Two Beers

  1. Susan Lewis says:

    Good choice! How funny! Remember the black bean soup in Costa Rica? I can still see it in my mind. Love the idea of this series!

  2. oi says:

    hahahaha… :))))) that was FUNNY and made me laugh so hard! please keep posting these awesome stories and thanks for sharing, Aly.

  3. Aly Lewis says:

    Oh my goodness. There are no words for how creeped out we were by that black bean soup. And that waitress was soooo condescending. Cross cultural fail.

  4. Aly Lewis says:

    Glad it made you laugh. I've got many more to come!

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