Sunday, January 23, 2011

Nothing goes unnoticed (i.e. better watch it)

I am not a serious or heavy drinker. I do, however, like to have wine with dinner sometimes or a glass while I am reading. In Antigua, a tourist/expat haven, this is no big deal. I can go out for a drink with friends or buy wine at the supermarket and have a glass in the privacy of my apartment. Not quite so easy here in the highlands. First of all, no one sells wine (or at least not wine of the sort I would drink; I have been offered or told about some home-made brews that get labeled wine). I am not even sure that one can buy wine in Sta. Cruz del Quiché although I have not really investigated).  

Alcoholism and overindulgence in spirits are problems in highland Guatemala (as elsewhere in the world; I don't want to give the impression that this is somehow unique). During the fiesta patronal, one sees (and smells) a lot of people who overconsume alcohol; at one of the dances at the cofradia it seemed as though the only people dancing, at least at the beginning, were men, alone, in various stages of tipsiness (including the "passed out flat on your face in the middle of the dance floor" variety).  Although most of the people who were disturbingly inebriated were men (some becoming what Cubans would label "muy pesado" -- literally "very heavy" but more like "ugly and bad-tempered"), there were women who were clearly under the influence, including one or two older women who asked me to dance with them.

I am a bit circumspect or at least self-conscious of how people will scrutinize and evaluate my behavior. On the other hand, I don't want to give up all of my accustomed habits (news broadcasts, the New York Times, oatmeal, the occasional glass of wine). So I bought a couple of bottles in Antigua and brought them up and put them in the kitchen.  

However, as I do not have closed cabinets in the kitchen (I might have to invest in some!) the contents of my kitchen are open to public scrutiny. The other day I had 10 people over for a meeting and although the meeting was held in the living room, I went in and out of the kitchen trying to make coffee (in a separate post) and getting cups and glasses to serve water. People of course followed me into the kitchen, making comments about how big it was, how it was equipped, and then looking at and rifling through my supplies - most of which were open to public view. Two of the women fingered packets of Emergen-C and asked what it was ("A kind of vitamin supplement" I answered; there are a lot of vendors here and in the migrant communities in the U.S. selling various kinds of herbal potions so my interlocutors had a mental category ready for this). Then someone spotted the bottles of wine on the bottom shelf. A series of comments and jokes ensued, "Ah, que nos va a ofrecer un whisky?" (Oh, are you going to serve us whiskey?), to much laughter.

Then at the birthday party that I wrote about earlier, I decided to drink about half a bottle of beer. I don't really like beer that much but the options were soda and beer (I had brought a bottle of water with me but I had finished that up by the time I was less than halfway through my meal as the day got quite sunny and warm; there was too much commotion in the kitchen for me to go in and find the bottled water that the household surely had; nearly every household buys 5-gallon containers of agua pura). Oh, and I should mention the copious amount of hot sauce I consumed -- the steamed plain tamales are very plain (no seasoning at all, just corn-meal dough wrapped in a leaf) and so I broke mine into little pieces and dipped each in salt and then hot sauce (and received general approbation for consuming chilies ).  I had been observing whether any women were drinking beer and few did, so I got someone to open a bottle for me and poured half the contents into a clean glass and sipped as I cleared dishes off the table and ferried them to the sink.  No one made comments.

However, last night I went back to Dona V's house in the evening since when I left in the afternoon she insisted that I return to eat a tamal/chuchito. Her younger brother was there; he had been in Xela earlier in the day and had missed the earlier part of the festivities but had come to pay his respects. He was drinking a Gallo, and Dona V and Dona R (the latter an older woman who had been helping out all day), asked if I wanted one. I said no, water was fine, and I heard some comment about how I had drunk half a bottle at lunch. I remarked that yes, I had had some but I rarely drank beer except when it was hot and there was little else cold to drink.


  1. interesting...was it inferred so quickly that you were a regular beer drinker because you were white, or was it because of their own culture? I am aware that this question may reveal some of my own biases. But I had to ask.:)

  2. No, I think it was because I was seen publicly drinking a beer (well, in someone's home, but with about 30 other people around). I'm not sure what they think about white American women because there are not any others around here, not here in Chinique currently and not in the next few towns over in either direction.

  3. I'm curious whether perhaps the ladies sometimes drink when they are in a female gathering indoors. Thinking of the Dominican ladies and their cigars... in the immigrant Dominican culture in NYC (to which I became privy when I hired a Dominican woman as nana to my first daughter), the women don't smoke in front of the men, *except* in the kitchen, which is "owned" by the women.

  4. Oh, there were several women drinking beers the afternoon of the birthday party, and at least one drinking a beer when I came back in the evening for the small family dinner. I haven't yet seen any women drinking at an all-female gathering indoors, but I have seen women drinking in mixed gatherings. While most of the visibly inebriated (i.e. flailing around alone on the dance floor, staggering, falling on their faces literally, or passed out) people I saw at the cofradia headquarters were men, there were a few women who were clearly under the influence