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British ambassador gets food poisoning and gives Yucatán a headache

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our best stories will appear in your inbox every Monday.
Without evidence, the British ambassador to Mexico blames an unnamed restaurant on the Paseo de Montejo for his food poisoning. Photo: Twitter

The British ambassador was not very diplomatic when he and his family came down with food poisoning in Mérida.

Jon Benjamin posted on social media that he and his family were taken ill after dining at a restaurant on the Paseo Montejo. Adding to the drama, he tweeted it from a hospital bed where he was receiving fluids.

But he didn’t name the restaurant, or even offer a hint, thus casting a cloud over about a dozen eateries.

Restaurants are often unfairly blamed when a customer gets sick. It’s impossible to trace the origin of a stomach bug and symptoms from a foodborne illness can occur for weeks after a meal, according to the Mayo Clinic.

According to photographs on Benjamin’s social media, the British ambassador began his visit on Wednesday not only in Mérida, but also in Uxmal, Izamal and Celestún.

Diario recalled a similar incident in 2013, when a restaurant was unfairly closed down for allegedly poisoning a Campeche family. Further investigation placed blame on a street stall in Maxcanú, 62 kilometers south of Mérida, where the victims ate panuchos.

Still, the Yucatán delegation of the National Chamber of the Restaurant Industry and Seasoned Foods immediately announced an investigation of the Paseo restaurants.

On Saturday, Benjamin posted his complaint along with a selfie taken from a Mexico City hospital.

“After a tremendous visit to #Mérida and its surroundings in #Yucatan, unfortunately now I find myself in a hospital in #CDMX due to a serious poisoning that the family suffered in a restaurant on Paseo de Montejo,” the ambassador tweeted, in Spanish. The tweet got over 600 likes and 125 comments.

The incident got picked up in Diario de Yucatán with the headline “Embajador Británico en México, hospitalizado tras intoxicarse en restaurante de Paseo de Montejo.” Google Translate would have English-only speakers believe that Benjamin was “hospitalized after being intoxicated in a restaurant on Paseo de Montejo.” But in Spanish, “intoxicarse” refers to food poisoning. So the tweet caused a backlash for the ambassador when outlets like Welsh Net wrote he was “hospitalized for drunkenness.”

The tweet also resulted in a public response from Yucatán’s tourism secretary, Michelle Fridman, who defended the innocent restaurants caught up in the incident.

“Ambassador, I’m sorry to read this news, I beg you to let us know what happened so we can take the necessary measures,” she replied. “It is and must continue to be a benchmark destination for its quality and safety, in all aspects, for our visitors.”

Another follower commented that Yucatán food is not suited for delicate stomachs, while another demanded to know the name of the restaurant.

But another commenter looked at the post from the viewpoint of international relations.

“Is it necessary to exhibit it, instead of talking about the experience of the beautiful peninsula? I didn’t know that this is UK diplomacy,” wrote @rtepeyac.

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