My in-laws are very nice. They have welcomed me into their home for as long as we need until Cesia and I can move into our flat. There is a cultural misunderstanding, that has shown me what Mexicans think of Brits.
My in-laws are terrified that I will eat something spicy and die.
Yesterday I reheated some leftover chicken in a pan. I threw in some chopped up chili and tomatoes and sprinkled the whole thing with salt. I ate it with a couple of tortillas and it was good. I don’t know the names of the different chilis but this was green about twice as big as a jalapeño. It had a mild kick to it and was a bit sweet. In short, it was fine.
Later that evening Cesia told me that her dad had seen the pan I had used and saw that there were a few seeds in it. The seeds (or the membrane connecting the seeds to the rest of the chili – thanks, QI) are the hottest part of the chili. Cesia’s dad worried that I had eaten these, which I had, and suffered from the heat, which I hadn’t.
I’m not saying this as any kind of macho bravado. I know people that order the hottest thing in an Indian restaurant to prove that they can…provide for their family, I guess? Defend their home from intruders? I don’t know. I enjoy a korma if that’s what I’m in the mood for. I order the medium heat at Nando’s, but I’m not going to panic if they bring me a hotter half-chicken by mistake.
On one of my first days here we barbecued together. My in-laws showed me how to make salsa by grilling tomatoes and onions and chilis and grinding them together in a pestle and mortar. They made a regular salsa, and another one for me, devoid of spice. Cesia’s mum, and then her dad, both showed me which salsa was the none spicy one. Her dad said the regular one is very spicy, too hot, as though forbidding me from trying it.
It was spicy. Spicy enough to make me eat slower, but still barely more than a strong tingle – FYI, Strong Tingle is my signature wrestling move. On my next tortilla, I spooned a smaller serving of spicy salsa and enjoyed it very much. I tried a bit of the none spicy salsa and decided to stick with the regular stuff. This surprised Cesia’s dad. I imagine that he, and many other Mexicans, have this image of British people eating bread and milk, and cowering at anything with so much as a sprinkle of pepper.
I can’t tell whether Cesia’s dad thinks I’m trying to prove something. I made eggs earlier and had them with some of the same green chili I mentioned before. I had a cup of coffee with my food and he warned me against combining the hot flavour of the chili with the hot temperature of the coffee.
Along the same lines they bought a lot of 500ml bottles of water for me. Cesia’s mum was concerned that the water here would be bad for my system which is a valid concern. I made sure to Google it before I came. The last time I was here I drank that water and nothing happened. Nothing. Cesia’s mum has forgotten that, and rather than asking me or Cesia, sent her husband out to buy water bottles. This is after I had been here for two days so I don’t know what she thought I had been drinking that whole time.
Their concerns are kind-hearted but unnecessary. I expect that – in time – whether by experience, or by me learning how to better communicate with them, these weird trivial things will occur less and less. It’s hard to know how to react because if I say thank you I might imply that what they have done is needed, and that they should do it again. If I say nothing then I’ll feel rude. The best way I can think to handle it is to show off some macho bravado and start to eat the hottest things I can find in front of them. And wash it down with a tall glass of tap water.
Cesia’s dad and I can compete, like gorilla’s thumping our chests and bearing our teeth; teeth that will bite into green and red and yellow chilis, to see who is manliest. I could cook for them and claim that the meal is a traditional English recipe, but then load it with chilis and spices to see if they flinch. I won’t do that, but I could. And soon I’ll be out of their house and into my own, with as many chilis and as much tap water as I can handle. And if we invite them round for dinner, I’ll make them a traditional, British, vindaloo.