Nothing upset me more as a child than being told we were going out to eat whenever we were in Mexico. I dreaded encounters with waiters and street vendors, shouting the virtues of roast lamb and goat-on-a-stick in rapid-fire Spanish.
You can’t imagine the joy I felt upon discovering that in Mexico they had pancakes. And not only that, but—thank the Lord Almighty—French toast.
Finally I could sit at a table with our Mexican and missionary friends and actually feel like I belonged. Nothing broke language barriers faster than a hearty meal, but to a picky eater meal time was anything but a bonding experience. In fact, I had learned that refusing food meant alienating neighbors and potential friends. To counteract this I developed an elaborate charade, feigning stomach sickness during mealtimes to avoid being the only one at a table not participating.
That all changed after I found out about the French toast. The morning after I knew, I swaggered into the hotel where we were meeting friends for breakfast and sat down amongst them, for the first time an equal. The waiter and I greeted one another with a warm smile and an eager attitude.
Our naiveté was our undoing.
“French toast, por favor.” I rolled up my sleeves, pleased with my grasp of the local language.
“…French? Toast?” The waiter squinted at me, no doubt wondering what fresh hell the gringas were unleashing upon him now.
“Por favor.” I wiggled my eyebrows for emphasis. He shook his head at me, but wrote the order down anyway.
“What is this?” I said, when he returned with my plate.
That day I learned this: Mexicans are nothing if not literal. Lying there, wobbling a bit on the plate, was a charred brick of garlic bread. Or as he saw it: French toast.
I ended up eating garlic bread for breakfast and bonding with my new friends in a way I probably never would have if the waiter and I had initially understood one another. Even so, the next morning I was very careful to learn their way of ordering food properly. I’m proud to say I have never had to eat garlic bread for breakfast since.