Friday, October 2, 2009

What We Tell the Tourists

You cahn't get theyah from heeah [You can't get there from here].
~What they tell the tourists in Maine

Here in New Mexico there are a number of ways to tell the tourists from the folks who have been here a while. Let me say right now that although I am not counted as a tourist, having lived here for several years, there is no way that any real New Mexican would mistake me for anything other than what I am--a displaced and sometimes confused Yankee person.

They laugh at the way I pronounce place names--Cochiti and Pecos, for example. They snort at my still-nervous questions about snakes. Much of the time when I talk with someone I've just met they have a certain bemused expression on their faces, until they finally just go ahead and bust out with it: I knowed you was a Yankee! (Remember, we live in eastern New Mexico, hence the cowboy patois, or lingo, as they say here).

I have to tell you that I am starting to catch on to certain ways that the people here seek to entrap unwary tourists. Take for example this passage in a National Geographic story about the Pecos River (The Pecos, River of Hard-Won Dreams, Sept. 1993), wherein a native New Mexican is talking to the young female non-New Mexican author of the article:

"It's going to be a snake summer," says Gloria Quintana.

"How do you know?" I ask edgily. Five brands of rattlesnake call the Pecos home.

"Wet year."

"I'll get a pair of snakeproof boots," I offer.

She looks at me with pity.

"Won't help. They aim high."

When I first read this article, I still lived back in New Hampshire. I wondered if I would have to wear something like hip-waders to protect me from the snakes when we moved to New Mexico.

Now that I have lived here some, I find this passage absolutely hysterical. Oh, that Gloria Quintana, what a card! She was having a good time, with her poker face, filling that young girl from away (as we Yankees say) with such fear.

Umm, wasn't she? I'm still not entirely certain.

Here's another example. In one of the tourist guidebooks to New Mexico that we bought by mail to pass the time while still in New Hampshire, we read all about restaurant etiquette:

If you walk into a Santa Fe restaurant and order a dish such as enchiladas, the waitperson will automatically ask you, "Want that red or green?" "Red" refers to red chile, "green" to green chile. Everybody knows this language, so the sooner you learn it the better.... If you can't make up your mind, just ask for "Christmas," and you'll get both. (Frommer's Irreverant Guide, Santa Fe, 1996).

Hahahaha, as my young Facebook friends would say. They just put that Christmas bit in there to catch the tourists, for sure. Any time you find yourself in a Santa Fe restaurant, just watch the action. The waitperson will certainly ask the red or green question, and then everything will get kind of quiet and diners at the surrounding tables will sort of lean in the direction of the tourists, just waiting, waiting... And then they hear it, from those sunburned folks wearing their brand new howling coyote neckerchiefs. Doing their very best to fit in, they triumphantly and proudly announce in loud eastern voices: "Christmas!" Diners all around the room try to smother their snorts of laughter as they turn away. And the entertainment continues...

I wouldn't tell you this if it hadn't happened to us. We did so much preparation, so much homework before coming to this new land of ours. We so wanted to be in the know. It was only recently that I read a discussion on the New Mexico Forum of the City-Data website, titled Have You Ever Said "Christmas" When Referring to NM Chile?, and the awful truth started to sink in.

Fooled again by that stuff they tell the tourists.

Oh, , we get these little fellas all the time


JC said...

My question is .. why did you move to New Mexico ?

I've been there 3 times. Always while driving to see Carlsbad Caverns .. nice to visit but I wouldn't want to stay.

Do you live in a big city ? I've heard that some of them are nice.

Inquiring ... people who have driven thru .. minds .. want to know ?

clairz said...

JC, thank you for your comment and your question.

Why did we move to New Mexico? The answer is far too complicated to explain here. I'll be running through some possible explanations (in my head) over the next few days, and will devote a whole post, and maybe more (you know how I do go on...) to giving you an idea of why we chose to move to this strange new land.

Glennis said...

This is a funny post, made me laugh. You folks have fun with those silly old tourists.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

lol! I've never heard that little joke about 'Christmas' before.

After living here for over 18 years, I still say 'Christmas, please' if I want both red and green. And most locals that I know that have lived here either all or most of their lives have said the same...with no joking or laughing being done.

Maybe we've all just absorbed that saying as part of the culture now? And it's just normal. I sure hope so, because I wouldn't want anyone to mistake me as a tourist! My 12 year old twins are born and raised here. They are more New Mexican than I am. lol!

I've never seen a tarantula up here in the mountains, thank goodness. But when we lived in Rio Rancho we saw tarantulas, scorpions and all sorts of snakes, including rattlers.
I suppose all those creepy dangerous critters don't like the colder temps and high elevation. (But we do have bears and mountain lions to make up for that.)

I still wouldn't choose to live anywhere else in the United States. New Mexico is our home...our Land of Enchantment. :)


Robin said...

Fun post. I've been living in Israel for 20 years now and I still get tripped up by cultural differences on occasion.