New York and Antigua – A Study in Contrast

 July 25, 2014

We arrived in Antigua on a sunny, Sunday afternoon. Because I had just flown in, I didn’t have any Guatemalan currency, waiting to exchange money at a bank where the rate is better. But I had my trusty credit card to pay for dinner. We dined in a lovely restaurant, surrounded by a jungle of greenery, hanging baskets and flowers overlooking the open air courtyard which was standard in Antigua. At the end of the meal I learned—if you want to add an additional tip to reward outstanding service, you had to do it before your server took your credit card, unlike here where the tip is added after your credit card is returned.

Fortunately a gratuity had already been included in the bill but I had wanted to add more because of the excellent service we had received. I fumbled in my halting Spanish as I tried to explain that I wanted to add an additional tip to the bill. She just smiled.

“This is Antigua. No es necessito,” she assured me. So, my first lesson about the gracious disposition of most Guatemalans. They even spoke Spanish distinctly and at a pace I could follow, unlike Caribbean Spanish which was one long ribbon of connected morphemes.

On my way home from Guatemala I stopped over in New York with my daughter and son-in-law. Sunday morning they took me to a local deli for brunch. We waited outside in the cold and snow for almost an hour, rather than join the crowd standing packed in throughout the small seating area. Routinely a gruff New Yorker would open the door and call out a name and number, “Jones, three.” If you missed your name or if all of your party wasn’t there to be seated, you lost your place and had to wait for the next open table.

“Murphy, four,” the door opened and we stood in anticipation, knowing it wouldn’t be long now.

“Here,” three people stated.

“Wait, where’s your fourth person?” he said, then proceeded to the next name on the list, “Sullivan, three.”

“That’s us,” we exclaimed. The man crossed off our name as the fourth member of the Murphy party came running down the street and slid into place.

“We’re here,” they said and cut in front of us.

“What are you doing,” the man demanded, “You know the rules, you’re killing me here,” he said but let them in anyway.

“Don’t worry, you’re next,” he said as he wrote our name back on the list.

When we finally got in we were squeezed into a small table, bumping up against other patrons on either side. Had I needed to get up for any reason it would have taken a phenomenal effort, not just on my part, but on the part of all around me. Fortunately I didn’t need to.

The waiter tossed menus at us and took drink orders. I looked over the menu, asked my daughter and son-in-law for suggestions then decided on a bagel with cream cheese and Salmon. Not quite the New York bagel and lox, but close enough.

“You want capers on that?” the waiter asked.

“What?” I asked not understanding his clipped speech.

“Capers, capers, you want capers?”

I paused, not sure what I wanted. “How many capers do you put on it?” I liked them but not that much. I could tell by the looks I received that that had been a mistake.

“I don’t know, seven,” he said, tapping his pen against his pad his gaze saying, “Oy vey, what did I do to deserve this?”

“Okay, capers,” I said. Was I about to be thrown out, I thought to myself? Sure it wasn’t the soup Nazi, but it definitely was New York at its best, like those restaurants where you pay to go and be insulted. If I had asked one more question maybe he would have said, “No bagel for you,” and kicked us all out.

I sat and ate my bagel with salmon and cream cheese and capers and relished every bite. As for those hungry throngs encircling the eating area—too bad for them. Now that I had a seat I wasn’t about to be rushed. New York was already rubbing off on me.

What a contrast I thought as I flew home later that day–New York and Antigua. Each was so different. Each was delightful in their own way.

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