Speaking the same language

This item appears on page 56 of the May 2012 issue.

Tell ITN about the funniest thing that ever happened to you while traveling in a foreign country. (ITN prints no info on destinations in the United States.) There are no restrictions on length. The ITN staff will choose each month’s winner, who will receive a free one-year subscription to ITN. Entries not chosen cannot be acknowledged.

This month’s winner is SHEILA MONK of Richland, MO:

In Chiapas, Mexico, 10 of us were visiting the only village nearby that our guide knew was having festivities on that day, Ash Wednesday. We were delighted to be welcomed warmly by the vividly costumed groups of dancers and also by the purveyors of beer laced with salt and chili.

Soon we all were covered with talcum powder, as were all the village folk. Throwing the powder on one and all is their Ash Wednesday custom and it added to the general hilarity.

Some people covered their noses and mouths with surgical-type masks to avoid breathing the fine powder. I was having a different problem: a nosebleed, due to the altitude and dry air. I went in search of facial tissues, having used up my supply.

After failing to come up with a Spanish word for “facial tissue,” I inquired in a tiny farmacia for “papel para mi nariz.” I thought “paper for my nose” might work — and feigned a sneeze.

“No,” the proprietor said.

A kind woman motioned for me to follow her. As we started up the street, she pointed to a person wearing one of the aforementioned masks. I shook my head ‘No.’

Then our guide came along, listened to my story, took me back to the farmacia and asked for the item in Spanish — saying, “Kleenex?” — whereupon the proprietor produced a package from behind the counter.