A tempest in a shot glass

David Bartal
David Bartal - [email protected]
A tempest in a shot glass

With the Absolut Vodka controversy already just a memory, David Bartal gets tongue-tied in LA as his return to Sweden draws ever closer.


The furor earlier this month about an ad campaign by Absolut Vodka which depicted sunny California as part of Mexico was a tempest in a shot glass. The ad campaign was quickly shut down after chauvinistic hotheads in El Norte threatened to boycott the Swedish brew.

The adverts headlined “Absolut Mexico” were controversial because they showed a map of how America looked prior to 1848, when California was still part of Mexico. I have no knowledge of how California looked 150 years ago—though I imagine there were fewer shopping malls--but during my recent three-week sojourn in Los Angeles it seemed obvious that the culture of Mexico has enormously enriched California. The Latino influence is everywhere, and I have a hard time viewing that as a bad thing.

Take food, for example. Where would California be without its tamales, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, carne asada and burritos? Mexican eateries offer spicy fare that most Swedes can only dream about. There are also nearly 14,000 mobile taco trucks (Taquerias) registered in LA County, and as many as 28,000 that operate illegally.

Spanish is unofficially the first language in many Los Angeles neighborhoods, primarily on the east side of the city. Understanding that lingo is a great asset, especially if you want to watch European soccer matches which run mainly on Spanish-language channels. My own sketchy knowledge of Espanol helped a bit, but I was confused enough just trying to speak English.

During the four years which passed prior to my latest visit to America, the English language evolved, making me feel outdated. When I last visited my home country, everything was “awesome.” Not any more. In my absence, awesome has been replaced by “amazing,” “sweet” and that good-old stand-by, “cool.” Nobody says “delicious” in today’s USA, by the way. People are in such a hurry that they only have time to utter the first two syllables.

It doesn’t help either when you forget how to express yourself in your own native tongue, but remember in Swedish. At one point while speaking with my sister, my brain refused to conjure up the word “overwhelming.” I was forced to make do with “övermäktig”; that did little to advance the conversation.

Another chat with a Swedish buddy epitomized my linguistic confusion. While at Los Angeles International Airport (widely known as LAX) waiting to catch my 15-hour flight back to the land of Vikings, I placed a phone call to a pal in Stockholm.

“Hi, I’m on my way from LAX,” I said.

Anders: “Lax? Are you somewhere where they have salmon? Great, but I thought you were in California.”

Me: “I’m in California, getting ready to leave. I didn’t catch any fish, but I did go to a deli where I feasted on some great smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese.”

Anders: “Cream cheese? That sounds weird. I like lax with Philadelphia.”

Me: “Philadelphia is cream cheese.”

Anders: “What do you say? (Laughing) Next thing, you probably tell me Boston Gurka doesn’t come from Boston.”

Me: “That’s right. It’s just a relish. It has nothing to do with Boston.”

Anders: “I think you got too much sun on your head in California. Maybe you should come back to Stockholm.”



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