María Dolores was our hostess at a small (2 bedrooms) guesthouse apartment in Madrid in 2002. She was a kind and caring person, but she was very careful who she admitted to her third floor piso. It was in a nondescript building on a very busy one way street, a few blocks south of the Plaza Mayor. She lived with her then 13 year old son, who played games on a Mac. We found a kinship there.
She gave us juice and homemade quick bread. The room and ensuite bath were small but clean and we were glad to find it, especially at €35, back when the dollar was at par with the euro.
When she saw that I was going to go out into the streets with my camera slung over my neck, she also gave me some advice.
The first part was that it was better not to carry valuables in a visible way.
The second piece of advice was that if anyone accosted us or asked a question, just say: “¡NO LO SÉ!” and walk on.
We never had occasion to use the phrase while we were in Madrid, as we had no problems other than be shorted 20 Euros from an ATM on the Puerta del Sol.
Last Sunday, in Mexico City's Colonia Roma, we were walking back to our hotel from a friend’s house. A dodgy looking guy suddenly stepped out and accosted us with the words, “Discúlpe la molestia, Señor...”
María Dolores’ magic phrase awoke from its long slumber.
“¡NO LO SÉ” came out of my mouth unbidden by conscious effort.
He shrank back wordlessly and we walked on.
What Spanish magic does that potent phrase contain, to work in Mexico City as in Madrid?