Cuba Libre

Cuba Libre

Adventures in Communication

Using a foreign language is an adventure. When you sit in a stuffy classroom listening to a stuffy teacher, it can be like any other school subject. Maybe boring, hopefully interesting, but no substitute for real practice. When you get out in the world it is a communication tool. To use it successfully you need to embrace mistakes.

I remember one of my first months living in Mexico. Every Wednesday I went to a bar near my house to listen to a jazz band. The band even let me sit in on guitar with them. It was a nice time and I got to meet good people. The bar staff knew me but we had never really talked.

Late at night the bar would often run out of beer. One such night after my two-song moment I ordered a Cuba Libre – a rum and coke with a squeeze of lime.

“Mande?” the bartender asked, ‘what?’ in Mexican Spanish.

“Un Cuba libre por favor.”


“Cuba libre!!!”

He didn’t understand so I repeated the order many times, trying to be heard over loud music and talking. Finally I yelled “Ron y coca.”


“Rum and coke!!!”

The bartender said, in bad English, “You aren’t Mexican?”

I said no.

“You speak English?”

I said yes. I found out later that the bar staff had thought I was Mexican but just always really drunk and slurring my words.

He leaned in and told me, “Here in Mexico we don’t call it rum and coca. We call it Cuba Libre.”

I really wanted to explain that I had been ordering it like that in the first place, but all I could do was laugh.