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."
"No, GO BACK TO NORTH CAROLINA, WHERE YOU BELONG!"
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.
"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.