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11 years



Not the worst

Working at a Mexican restaurant in Spain


Seville, Spring 2001 —

Eugenia talked a lot. Tended to assume I knew what she was saying. We worked together at Mex Rock restaurant mexicano in Seville in the Spring of 2001, and we became friends. When we met, I did not speak Spanish. Eugenia did not speak English, as neither did Juana, another dear woman who was also a cook at the restaurant.

Only Mauricio, the owner, had reasonably good English. He told me on the day that he hired me that the staff all spoke English pretty well, so it shouldn't be a problem. Although they did not, it was not. We cooks figured out how to work together, because we liked each other.

As it turned out, the problem was that Mauricio did speak English (and understood what I ended up saying to him.) Every restaurant story has its end, doesn't it? Some better than others.

Sometimes I can't hold my words inside. Sometimes I do hold them inside, and then when words come out, I say something too general, and too condemning. I told Mauricio that I really didn't like the way he treated his employees. He didn't like that — of course. What could he do with that? It's not the kind of criticism that he could take and incorporate into his business.

Eugenia left soon after I did. Juana was still working at Mex Rock when I left Seville, and I can't expect she was too happy about it. Mauricio has a reputation about town among workers — that he's an "explotador.*" And he is. Employing unpapered workers from about the Spanish-speaking world. There was a certain ultimatum over several abusive practices. Take it or leave it.

I was earning 550 pesetas an hour, about two-and-a-half dollars US. That's not a miserable rate in Seville hospitality, to be fair to Mauricio. But there were unpaid hours; an hour and a half per shift was not unusual. Paid to 2 a.m. and worked until 3:30. (Unpaid hours are not atypical in Spain, either, from what I hear.)

While I was there, Mauricio decided that employees could not eat from the menu. A number of items were specifically off-limits, and what was left was meager. He said if anybody eats from the menu, the cooks are in trouble. It was kind of a rotten feeling. Of course I could eat as much as I wanted, standing over the grill as I was. But I was supposed to help enforce the rule.

The "no meals" rule also just pointed up how mean was Mauricio, that he wouldn't let us make decent food for his employees: A restaurant, where the employees are not allowed to eat. Sadly, that's not as unusual as it sounds.

And that's what it was like — not the worst job I've ever had. There was a good ol' buzz in the kitchen when Juana, Eugenia and I worked together, say a Friday or Saturday evening. We made a lot of food, worked together brilliantly, and had great laughs. Afterwards — yes, at 3:30 AM — the night was young, and we'd often go up the street for drinks.


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* I don't know too many Americans who have been exploited by a Mexican employer.

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