Harvard. Stanford. Duke. University of Washington. Butler. Spelman. Americans proudly wear the names of the colleges they have attended, visited, or their children attend.
“You went to MIT?” I was asked several years ago by a relative stranger at the gym. He was studying my T-shirt. I could hear him thinking, I’ve heard this clown talk. He couldn’t have gone to MIT.
“Yep,” I answered.
“Really?” he pressed with disbelief oozing from his eyes.
“Yes,” I said with more insistence. I waited a beat. “To buy this shirt.”
He laughed and never acknowledged me again.
I once visited Houston’s Rice University, a school known more for its academics than athletic achievements. Therefore, not everyone has heard of Rice University. While there, I bought a “Rice” tank top. Weeks later, while wearing it at the gym, a regular approached me and asked, “Why do you have the name of your favorite grain on your chest?”
Americans also love buying T-shirts, tank tops, and caps advertising famous tourist destinations they’ve visited. Waikiki Beach. Cape Cod. St. Tropez. Machu Picchu. Hollywood. Rio. Stonehenge. And every major European city spelled in English instead of its native language. This practice, surely, is done purely from a business standpoint. Traveling Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Brits apparently buy these items by the giant-sized shopping bagful. “Munich” blares the memento from München. “Vienna,” not Wien reads the Austrian T. I admit one of my T-shirts from my Mexican travels exemplifies this business tactic. My shirt from the train ride through Mexico’s famous Barrancas del Cobre says Copper Canyon. Just this weekend I saw a man in Mexico, a Spanish speaking nation, whose T-shirt said “Spain” instead of “Espaňa.”
But in Mexico, the people don’t wear clothing advertising universities or travel hotspots. They do wear tops that blare high-end, expensive brand names, like many Americans do. American Eagle. Dolce & Gabbana. Armani. Calvin Klein. Gucci. Fendi. Prada. But, I suspect, most of them are knock-offs and don’t cost nearly what the authentic ones do. Real or fake, they serve as status symbols. Having those names across your chest makes the wearer appear wealthy, stylish, and cool.
I believe wearing clothes with English on them, in the form of a joke, pun, hip phrase, or idiom, is another status trend Mexicans use in dressing. It makes them cool. I often wonder if the wearer of these English adorned articles of clothing understands what the words on them mean.
For example, I recently saw a young man wearing a shirt that read “Don’t Hate the Player.” Did he know English well enough to understand his shirt? Certainly many of the older retired ex-pats and émigrés in Ajijic who saw the shirt didn’t get it. I’ve seen a young boy, perhaps six or seven years old, with a soccer ball centered on his T-shirt accompanied by the phrase “I Always Score Goals.” I’m sure he does. But I doubt he understands what his shirt says. Several days ago, I saw a toddler, no bigger than 17 grains of sand, with a “Beach Boy” shirt. Why would a ten-year-old Mexican boy understand the phrase “Day Off”? But he had it printed on his chest. A young man passed me yesterday. His shirt warned me “Don’t Bro Me if You Don’t Know Me.” So I didn’t. But, Bro, do you understand the slang on your shirt?
Occasionally, I do see a Mexican in a T-shirt and I suspect he does understand what his shirt says. Perfectly. I’m certain the handsome young man wearing “Nobody is Ferpect” did.
I just find it amusing how many T-shirts and tank tops I see here with English on them. How often do you see Canadians or Americans wearing clothing with Spanish phrases, not beer or tequila brand names or futball team names, on them?
Now, I am well aware that many Mexicans speak and understand English very well and I know I shouldn’t assume that Mexicans wearing tops with English on them don’t understand what the shirt says. Just like I shouldn’t assume every American wearing a T-shirt with “Trump” on it understands what it means.
Ironically, after I wrote this post about 10 days ago, after I made a point that in my two-plus years in Mexico and all my previous visits to this country I could not find nor had ever seen anyone wearing a Mexican “University of Whatever” T-Shirt, I found one. I spent the weekend in Guanajuato and am now the proud owner of a Universidad de Guanajuato T-shirt.