Restaurant tantrum exposes Mexican class divide

By Will Grant
BBC News, Mexico City


A tantrum in a restaurant in Mexico City made headlines this week - because it revealed so much about the country's struggle with class hierarchy.

Sometimes the story lands right on your doorstep.

Over the road from the BBC office is a trendy-looking restaurant with black decor and wooden tables outside called Maximo Bistrot.

Occasionally we'd go for their set lunch menu, although it is a bit on the expensive side.

Good food, though. The menu includes rib eye of organic pork with porcini mushroom puree, sea bass with carrot and macadamia nut salad and seafood-and-toasted-garlic ravioli, with fresh broad beans.

You could often spy politicians and starlets of Mexican society lunching alongside you.

It was in the Maximo Bistrot that the country's latest political scandal unfolded.

The place was packed, as it tends to be at the weekend.

In walks Andrea Benitez, a wealthy 20-something, looking for a table.

Told that the one she wanted wasn't available, she threw what can only be described as a tantrum and used the ace up her sleeve, her daddy.

Andrea Benitez is the daughter of Humberto Benitez Trevino, who happens to be the federal attorney general for consumer protection.

Faster than you can say "do you know who I am?" Andrea had called her father's department, which promptly turned up at our local neighbourhood bistro and closed it down on spurious administrative grounds.

She also took to Twitter to berate the restaurant staff for what she called their "dreadful service" and "no manners," vowing never to go back.

But it seems on this occasion Miss Benitez might have bitten off more than she could chew.

Twitter, the same method she used to besmirch the restaurant, quickly came to its defence as customers began to take photos of what was happening.

Once it became public knowledge, she was crowned "Lady Profeco," a reference to the state agency her father runs.

Most comments let the girl know in no uncertain terms that the rich and powerful should no longer consider such abuses of power a birthright.

Her father called off his agents, apologised for his daughter and gave the restaurant the green light to reopen.

The episode reveals a lot about Mexico's sharply stratified society. The haves appear to assume they can treat the have-nots as badly as they want, no matter how rude, disrespectful or abusive.

Lady Profeco was not the first to do so.

During the last presidential election campaign the eventual winner, Enrique Pena Nieto, made a gaffe at the Guadalajara Book Fair where he was unable to name three books that had influenced him other than the Bible. Cue a storm of criticism that the man who would be president apparently hadn't read three influential works of literature.

His 16-year-old daughter Paulina defended him, again via Twitter, insulting his detractors as "idiots" and more tellingly as "plebs". Her Twitter account was swiftly shut down by her father's campaign team.

image captionPresident Enrique Pena Nieto's daughter was caught up in an internet class row

But it's not just the offspring of the political elite who behave this way. Should you ever want to see these attitudes of superiority in action, I suggest you Google the words "Ladies de Polanco," Polanco being an upmarket neighbourhood in Mexico City.

There you will find a short video, shot on a mobile phone, of two apparently drunk women, raging against a police officer for having the temerity to pull them over after their car swerved across the road.

Amid the slaps and the volleys of abuse that they throw at the officer is another very revealing phrase, they call him "asalariado," meaning "wage earner".

Somehow in the minds of these women, one of whom it was later revealed had appeared in a reality TV programme, getting a fixed salary at the end of the month is something to be ashamed of. They don't need to worry about such trivial matters like pay.

Then there is the "Gentleman de las Lomas," as he has become known.

In another high-end part of the capital, the owner of a fashion company was filmed thrashing a parking attendant for saying he could not help him change his flat tyre because he wasn't allowed to abandon his post.

The man broke the parking attendant's teeth in the beating, and repeatedly called him a "damn Indian".

Despite the irrefutable video evidence against the so-called gentleman, he was nothing more than mildly inconvenienced by the bad press and the court case which followed.

A report came out recently which showed what most Mexicans had long suspected - there is almost no social mobility in the country whatsoever. If you are born into poverty the chances are very high that you will die poor too.

This week I meet two real gentlemen, decent, polite and kind, one picks fruit in the fields outside Mexico City, the other packs bags in one of the capital's supermarkets.

Probably combined, they earn in a week the price of a single meal at Maximo Bistrot.

Andrea Benitez would do well to remember that.

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