MEXICO CITY, Mexico — It has always been great being a Brit in Mexico.
When people ask where you are from, they are delighted to know you are not American, the country that absorbed the northern third of Mexico and whose border patrol agents regularly round up migrants.
Instead, they find that you are from a faraway island, which they view as cultured, friendly and the home of the beloved Beatles.
Until this week.
Thanks to some racist anti-Mexican comments on the BBC car show “Top Gear,” Britain is suddenly being viewed as more xenophobic than their northern neighbor.
“Top Gear” presenters made the controversial remarks after pulling up an internet photo of a Mexican-made sports car.
After some childish guffaws, presenter Richard Hammond launched into his rant.
“Why would you want a Mexican car? Because cars reflect national characteristics don’t they,” Hammond said. “Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat.”
Then to add insult to injury, co-presenter Jeremy Clarkson personally attacked the Mexican ambassador.
“We won’t get any complaints about this because at the Mexican embassy the ambassador’s going to be sitting there with a remote control like this,” Clarkson said, slumping in the chair, snoring.
Clarkson was wrong about that one. Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina Mora wrote a letter demanding an apology.
“The presenters of the program resorted to outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults to stir bigoted feelings against the Mexican people, their culture, as well as their official representative in the United Kingdom,” he wrote.
“Although casual banter is an essential component of the program’s appeal, humor never justifies xenophobia. It is not a matter of taste but of basic principles.”
Within hours of Medina Mora sending the letter, the spat was going viral on the internet. In today’s globalized world, a racist comment will quickly go back to its homeland.
Mexican news websites displayed the story on their front pages to thousands of irate comments flooding in.
“These people are uncultured and ignorant. Surely, they have never seen the beauty in our country,” wrote someone identified as Moody on the website of El Universal. “How sad that they live with people from all over the world (in Britain) and they act like Hitler on the television.”
The story was also rapidly picked up by English-language media the world over, to more hot debate. One British car dealer in Mexico wrote that many customers had canceled appointments over the show.
“Top Gear” is one of the BBC’s top-viewed shows and best-selling exports precisely because of its risque comments.
The BBC said it was considering the complaint and it seems highly likely it will apologize. Clarkson apologized in 2009 after he called former Primer Minister Gordon Brown a “one-eyed Scottish idiot.”
Brits are famous for their abrasive humor. Ricky Gervais’ massacre of the Hollywood establishment at this year’s Golden Globes was a classic example.
But Hammond’s jokes appear to have crossed the line. Hammond likely drew inspiration for his gaffe from watching old Speedy Gonzalez cartoons. But by playing on an antiquated stereotype of Mexicans, he has perhaps helped define a new stereotype of Brits — as ignorant, snobbish and bigoted.