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You Call it Tomato, I Call it Quasi-Legal




Writing in the local paper. Local issues with a global take. I never translate literally and the editor trims at will to make it fit. Here's my version, then theirs.


My wife and I spent some time living on the banks of the Mekong in a country that is known to most Spaniards as Roldan’s hideout. Back then, the first traffic lights were just going up and life moved at a pace that was reflected in that great river. I worked at a University, helping young Laos prepare to study abroad and also provided training for public school teachers. The Lao are some of the friendliest people on earth and my wife and I quickly built up a solid network of friends, both local and foreign. Our social life was either spent by the river drinking beer with icecubes, an acquired taste in the heat and humidity and absence of refrigeration, or having improvised barbeques under the mango trees of our courtyard. In a context as foreign as south-east Asia, you are bound to come across cultural differences and these barbecues were no exception. We would invite our friends over and without fail, the locals would arrive, not only with food but their own little barbecues too. To make matters more awkward, while the foreign men were standing around discussing various techniques to speed up the charcoal process, the local women would have already got their embers sizzling and would be serving food. While this particular custom always struck me as strange, I quickly got used to their way of doing things and adapted my thinking even though I was never entirely comfortable with people bringing their own food to a barbeque I had invited them to. It had been awhile, but I had a similar feeling in my stomach the other day when I walked up the Calle Amargura to my polling station here in Caceres and saw people bringing their votes with them, readily sealed in their little envelopes. But here I wasn’t standing on the banks of a mighty Asian river, and yet this cultural difference struck me just as strongly. I’ve since heard tell of well-meaning patriarchs handing sealed envelopes to their adult children as they head out to vote as a family and of course there is the recent case in the papers. A case where, surely equally well-meaning people who happen to be associated with a particular party on the right, have taken on the burden to assist the elderly to exercise their democratic rights, previously sealed envelopes in hand. When confronted at the polling station, the befuddled pensioners were unable to say who they were voting for. While I was able to get used to and even enjoy the wonderful food that the Laos prepared, I’m afraid that this particular puchero español will never seem quite right to me. 

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