The One About the Lightbulb and the Hotel Receptionist


There came a moment this evening when my clumsy Spanish gave way to instant proficiency in the sweetest language we humans share–laughter.

On our way to supper here at the Hotel Reina Isabela, Deb suggested we stop by the front desk for guidance on tomorrow’s activities. She brought from her room a big, round lightbulb that was broken. When she explained the problem to Juan Chung at the front desk, he took the lightbulb, held it beside his perfectly bald head and grinned a 100-watt smile.

It turned out that Juan spoke fluent English, and he put us in touch with a driver, Mr. Wilson, who will take us to the Papallacta hot springs an hour and a half from Quito tomorrow. We are to meet Mr. Wilson in the lobby at 9:30 a.m. For a reasonable fee, he will drive us to Papallacta, then to a local family restaurant for lunch, followed perhaps by a stop at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo here in Quito on our way back to the hotel tomorrow evening.

And so it was that Juan Chung, lit with impish humor and hospitality, left three tired and disoriented tourists feeling connected and grateful after their long journey from Boston to Quito.

The word for lightbulb in Spanish, Google Translate tells me, isĀ bombilla. That makes our new friend Senor Bombilla, right? Humor in another culture can be risky, so I won’t assume this nickname will sound funny to Juan. It might have another meaning that’s a problem. The best jokes don’t depend on words. They depend on our shared human instinct for the absurd. Very often, it’s the only thing that makes sense.


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