Courtesy: FreeTanic

In Mexico, where we live part-time, we’ve noticed a very un-American phrasing. It goes like this: You’re late for a meeting, you had every intention of arriving on time, but you spent too much time pretending your watch was fast or you wouldn’t have to rush. You finally arrive for your rendezvous, breathless and clearly late. Rather than say, as we’ve all been taught in the land of the free and personal responsibility, “I’m sorry, I screwed up,” you say instead, “Se me hizo tarde,” “It made me late.” No apology, zero ownership: “it” was the problem.

Similarly, you break a glass at a party – clearly a valuable glass, a really nice glass. In the States, you’d be falling over yourself in your embarrassment and awkwardness to make it up to your host, “That was stupid of me,” you’d gush, “I’ll get you another one as soon as the store opens in the morning, I’m so very sorry…” and on and on. Not in Mexico. “Se rompio el vaso,” you’d casually announce, “The glass broke itself.” And that would be that.

It all sounds, as I say, so un-American, you might wonder how this can possibly work. But we’ve found, in our marriage, this sort of passive, blameless construction, avoiding direct blame or responsibility, actually serves our relationship rather well. One of our typical circumlocutionary* phrases is, “As a general rule of thumb.” Louisa might say, “As a general rule of thumb, it might be good for the dishes to be done before I get home.” So much kinder, less confrontational – and actually, more efficient, when results are called for – than, “Jeez, how many times have I asked you and asked you…???” Of course, the “general rule of thumb” construction carries with it a tacit “or else.” (Or else what? I’ve never had the nerve to find out.) 

Here are some more “general rule of thumb” thoughts that come to mind: 

  • As a general rule of thumb, it’s good to do the dishes before my beloved gets home
  • AAGROT, advice is better not offered, even when requested
  • AAGROT, barefoot feels better than shoes
  • AAGROT, food off a china plate tastes better than off a paper one
  • AAGROT, physical labor maketh one feel better
  • AAGROT, building a shelf is a solution for stress
  • AAGROT, it best not to lend money to family members (to give, OTOH, is another matter)
  • AAGROT, it’s academic whose right of way it is when you’re crossing 4th or 5th on foot
  • AAGROT, it’s more interesting (and noble!) to be the first one to apologize
  • AAGROT, it’s better to try and fail than not try; to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all
  • AAGROT, nothing happens until you leave home
  • AAGROT, diet books and magazines are best left unread
  • AAGROT, walking is better than cycling, cycling than driving
  • AAGROT (if at all possible) it’s better for soul and wallet to pay a Visa bill, in full, the day it arrives
  • AAGROT, short airport names are better than long ones
  • AAGROT, thumbs make terrible rulers.

* I’ve been waiting 20 years to use that word.


Barry Evans gave the best years of his life to civil engineering, and what thanks did he get? In his dotage, he travels, kayaks, meditates and writes for the Journal and the Humboldt Historian. He sucks at 8 Ball. Buy his Field Notes anthologies at any local bookstore. Please.