The other day we were working on a website for the Mexican artists at Artists in Mexico. While reviewing the titles of their paintings, we saw one called “Cual de Los Dos” (Which of the Two?). The painting shows two abstract human figures, each with a watermelon on their head. Our employee, Fernando, who is from Merida and who is a frequent source of interesting cultural tidbits, chuckled and said, “es de una chiste” (it’s from a joke). We asked him to explain, and he proceeded to tell us the following story, translated here into English.
Which of the Two
A man goes to the market to buy a hen. He meets an old Indian woman who is selling one white hen and one black hen.
“Do you want to buy one of my hens?” asks the old woman.
“Yes, that is what I want,” says the man.
“Which of the two?” asks the woman.
The man considers the two hens and asks, “How much do you want for the white one?”
“The white one costs forty pesos.”
“And how much is the black one?”
“The same”, replies the woman.
“Well…”, hesitates the man, “how much does the white one weigh?”
“One kilo”, says the old Indian woman.
“And the black one?”
“It too weighs one kilo.”
Thinking a bit harder, the man asks, “What was fed to the white hen?”
The woman replies, “It was fed corn.”
“And the black one? What did it eat?”
“It was fed corn, as well.”
The man scoffs and says, “Look, if there is no difference between the two hens, why are you asking me to choose?”
“Because the white hen is mine,” says the old Indian woman, “and the black one is too.”
We think this story is an apt illustration of the occasional misunderstandings between us foreigners and Yucatecos. When we first experienced it, we just thought it was only the language barrier, but as our Spanish improves, it is becoming plain that even Mexicans have similar frustrating encounters. Are the chickens the same or not? Is the woman in the story being obtuse or patient? Is the man complicating the transaction or just trying to get the best deal? How do their different cultural assumptions differ, exactly?
We have had long conversations with plumbers, painters, street vendors, clients and friends where most of the time was spent negotiating assumptions so we could arrive at the most basic of understandings. It is undoubtedly one reason why things take longer to accomplish here.
In the story above, we think the woman asks the man to choose simply because she is selling more than one chicken, following a tradition of the Mercado where the buyer is always allowed to make the selection to avoid any complaints. The man’s more modern idea of shopping assumes that if a choice is offered, there must be a meaningful difference in the product on which to base his decision. If there isn’t a difference, why doesn’t she just hand him a chicken and be done with it? After all, he is undoubtedly in a hurry (unlike most indigenous people, who never seem to be…).
What do you think? Have you ever had a “cual de los dos” experience?