The Joys of Bartending

by Gina Sigarelli

Perhaps you’re still in Xela because the stench coming from your backpack screams mildew and you’re in an air-out phase. Maybe you never got to the end of a XelaWho and realized there is a way out. More likely, after several months of only withdrawing money from your bank, you’ve decided to check out what’s behind a deposit slip. Whatever the case, you’re here, broke, and need an income.

The easiest paid job you’ll find in this city is waiter/waitress. After working in bars around the world (yes, I’m proud), I’ll point out the obvious – it takes a “special” type of person to work in a bar: long hours, drunken patrons, and a certain self-esteem that ensures against suicide.

At first glance, your new job will seem lax. Endless streams of customers, minimal sanitation rules and you can get tipsy (if not altogether wasted) on the job. As a foreigner, however, this initial comfort will probably wear off after the first paycheck. If you survive this disappointment (you may need to work a full year before you can replenish enough dinero to visit El Salvador), you can consider yourself employed.

From here you’ll adjust to eighties hits and reggaeton at very high decibels. You’ll realize Spanish is even harder to comprehend when you can’t hear it. Enter your next disappointment: Guatemalans are not impressed with your language skills. They, of course, will be slurring and speaking without proper grammar (yeah, they’re drunk). Add in the music factor and you are lucky to catch one word in three. Hopefully this amounts to some semblance of “quiero… botella… XL…” and even more hopefully, your bartender will have it so you don’t have to swim back through the crowd bottleless. You will not expect tips. You will excuse customers for whistling. Half the time the whistler won’t be making a lewd gesture. Otherwise you will pretend not to see it. Ass grabbing and incessant hugging will pick up towards the end of the shift, as will the amount of locals who toss out any number of specific phrases in your native language. These little catcalls may cause hair to rise. You will equally pepper your Spanish. Most importantly you will remember this: if it weren’t for us, nobody in Xela would be getting drunk. And I, personally, feel good about that.

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