an old joke (with moral overtones) that doesn’t start out with a
man walking into a bar. He’s already there and talking to a fetching
woman who somehow got there before him.
He asks her
if she’d be willing to go back to his apartment for $10,000. “Sure,”
she replies. Then he asks “Would you come to my apartment for $10?
She indignantly says: “Of course not!” What kind of girl do you
think I am?” The man says: “I already know what kind of girl you
are – we just haven’t agreed on a price.”
I haven’t thought of that “joke” in years. Until the recent Secret
Service story appeared on the front page. It is a wonderful learning
experience in communication, local customs, terminology, acceptance
of reality and International Relations (of the worst kind). It may
even boost sales of Spanish language tapes.
“Hola, Isabel, Tráeme chocolate (sin vodka), por favor.”
The Late singer Nat “King” Cole, who regularly performed in Havana,
once recorded an album entirely in Spanish. One of the catchiest
of the tunes was: Tomo Chocolate (drink chocolate) quickly followed
by the second line of “pago lo que debe” (loosely translated and
probably misspelled) as “pay what you owe.” There was Absolut(ely)
no mention of vodka.
If the men involved in this story had taken Mr. Cole’s advice (both
the beverage and paying part) this incident wouldn’t have happened.
If both the self-described “escort” and the SS agent were drinking
chocolate, they would’ve probably been able to do the currency exchange
in their heads.
The widely ignored party in this scandal is the hotel where the
incident took place. It maintains its standards for decency (and
insuring the recommendation of the Columbian State Department) by
the policy of giving priority wake-up calls to certain overnight
The sign over the front desk reading “The Management asks that all
prostitutes (and / or escorts) vacate their rooms by 7:00 a.m. might
be enough, but the hotel took the extra step by instituting a 6:30
The Columbian police, who wisely advised the Americans to “pay what
was owed” and (were probably thinking “If you had only been drinking
chocolate…”, also kept their balance while walking the cultural
tightrope of questionable behavior.
In all farness to the Secret Service, the escort admitted that she
didn’t know that the men were travelling with the president (and
she knew it even less in English). Therefore, they were, in fact,
keeping it a secret.
For an agency called the Secret Service – this “transaction” has
been played out in front of “toto el mundo” or (my translation)
in front of the whole mundo. The mundo is not amused – or else it
is amused very much.
While the Dean of Boys of the SS might not be able to perform a
nightly bed check for his little rascals – he could take a page
out of the oldest travel guide – (A Chinese tome called The Art
of Travel) and always carry a lot of small bills. Or in this case
– large ones.