It feels like a lifetime ago that I decided to move to New Mexico, but it really was only March of 2001 that I left North Carolina. The tale of that move is a long and sordid one, but there wasn't anything that was going to stop me, including the fact that I had no money, or even really a place to live when I got there.

One never really expects to experience culture shock when moving within your own country, but that's exactly what I went through when I got to New Mexico. Admittedly, it wasn't so bad. I mean, about half of the population speaks English. To some degree. But in any case, I went through my fair share of odd social situations due to my ignorance of New Mexico culture.

My first such moment occured pretty much as soon as I stepped foot in Albuquerque. I stopped at a restaurant on the corner of Montgomery and Juan Tabo, and attempted to call my friend to let him know where I was. The problem was, the street signs were out of view on the pay phone, and since I know exactly enough Spanish to order off the menu at Taco Bell, the Juan Tabo part was giving me some trouble. The fact that I had been driving on prescription amphetamines for the past 24 hours straight didn't help matters much either.

"Dude, where are you?"

"I'm on the corner of Montgomery and Jesus Toledo."


"Ummm. I'm on the corner Montgomery and Jose Julio."

"There isn't a street with that name in Albuquerque."

"Oh. One second."

I ran back out to the look at the sign, came back and mumbled something about Joseph Tattoo, and he finally figured out what I meant.

Later that afternoon, some guy came up to me on the street, and asked if I wanted some "Mota", which is Spanish for "smoke", and is slang for marijuana. I thought he asked if I wanted some murder, so I answered his question by immediately sprinting off into a nearby alley. I only found out about my error a few months later, when someone enlightened me on how to ask a Spanish-speaking person for weed.

Cut to a couple of months later. I had a job, and my own apartment. I went out to a trance party at a coffee shop called Insomnia, where I had consumed some mushrooms. Some guy with a noticable Spanish accent came up to me, and says "Hey, do you know where I can get any bud?"

"Do I know where you can get any mud? Huh?"

"Yeah, man. I'm down here for this party, I drove all the way down from Espanola," he says, referring to a city further north of Albuquerque.

I looked at him, and thinking I had found out why I had trouble understanding him, said, "I'm sorry, I don't speak Spanish." It took him another five minutes to convince me that he wasn't speaking in a foreign language, and another ten to convince me that Espanola was actually a place.

People of Mexican descent get very, very insulted if you make a joke about their mothers, even in jest. I learned this the hard way.

I worked in Albuquerque at a restaurant called Ragin' Shrimp. I worked there with a Hispanic fellow named Vinnie. Cool dude, pretty laid back, very, VERY proud of his heritage. A bit of an intellectual snob, but I forgave him for that. I had been in Albuquerque for about a year and a half when we had a conversation about my still obvious cultural deficiencies.

"Dude, just look at you." he said, grinning. "You can just watch you when you walk down the street, and you can tell you don't belong here. You're so white, it hurts."

"Come on," I said. "I've been here for a while. I can't be that bad."

"Yes, you are," he replied. "I'll prove it. What's the name of the river that runs through Albuquerque?"

He was intending for me to say "Rio Grand", instead of "Rio Grahn-Day", which is how the name of the Rio Grande River is pronounced. It's a classic mistake. Instead, I looked at him, honestly surprised, and said, "Whoa. There's a river that runs through Albuquerque?!"

"THAT'S IT!" he cried, frustrated. "Get out! GO HOME!" He began pushing me through the door.

"OK, I'll see you tomorrow then."


My worst moment during my stint in New Mexico, however, came at the first place I went to. My friend I was staying with wasn't going to be home for another seven hours, so I called an old friend of my brother's, explained who I was, and asked if I could come by. They were amenable, so I went there, had a few beers, and waited for my friend. With my just getting to New Mexico, they had to ask the quintessential question.

"Have you tried our green chile yet?"

That question stopped me in my tracks. Being from the south, I assumed that they meant, you know, meat and beans and tomatoes. CHILI. The idea of green chili was the most insane thing I'd ever heard of.

"Green chili?"

"Yeah, green chile."

"GREEN CHILI?! What the fuck?! Chili isn't supposed to be green, chili is red!"

"We have red chile too, but we like the green better."

I just looked at them, dumbfounded, and dropped it. The idea of green chili was so horrifying to me that I just couldn't talk about it further.

Boy, did I ever feel stupid the first time I went to The Frontier, and found out what they were actually talking about.

I still can't speak Spanish worth a damn.

Green chili (chili with an 'i' at the end, as opposed to chile with an 'e' at the end) might be one of a couple things:

1) A misspelling of green chile, which is a word for a New Mexican dish as well as a word for the principal ingredient in both that dish and many other New Mexican dishes.

2) Some kind of chili recipe which uses ingredients that lend it a green color. These could include chili having as an ingredient actual green chile (which ingredient is correctly spelled with an 'e', even as the recipe is spelled with an 'i' at the end), or, as is more likely the case with people who use the 'chili' spelling, having green tomatillo as an ingredient.

When people refer to "New Mexico green chili" they more often than not are making a spelling error. Or, worse, they mean tomatillo and they intend to inflict something on consumers that has nothing to do with New Mexico, and they are using "New Mexican" simply as a marketing buzzword, without understanding what they are promising.

And if they refer instead to simply "green chili" (chili with an 'i' at the end) and mean to indicate something that fits option number two above, a pot of chili having ingredients that make it green, then they are not talking about anything that is remotely a New Mexican dish.

We should clarify the distinction between "green chili" made with some green chile in it, and the dish called green chile, made primarily of green chile:

The dish called green chile consists of cooked green chile, often with onions and garlic, and can be either a sauce to be added into (not just onto) other food dishes, or a dish itself, as in a "bowl of green", in which case it sometimes also has beans and meat added. That last version, in the bowl, sounds a bit like what people mean when they say "chili" but the difference is that with chili, the beans and meat are a lot heavier and dominant. With the dish called green chile, the ingredient green chile is dominant, and beans and meat, if any, are a small part.

Finally we must also remove any confusion between a "bowl of green" as described above, and an entirely different dish in a bowl, Green Chile Stew, which is also properly made with green chile as an ingredient.

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