Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Thank you and goodbye

Bronwyn and I did some grocery shopping at Carrefour tonight and I decided that I needed to try some olives, since I'm in one of the hightest olive producing countries in the world.  So I was at the stand, figuring out which of the dozens of varieties they had to try when a man started chatting with me and found out I don't speak Arabic and said that he was a professor of Arabic and would be happy to give me some lessons.  At least that's what I think he was talking about.  He kept saying "Professor.  Arab.  Happy for me to you."  I politely declined. 

But it reminded me of the Arabic lesson I did receive the last time I was at the Medina (Remember that day?  I bet a certain date farmer does.  Doesn't it just break your heart that he's back at his date grove now, picking dates and lamenting to his camel about what could have been?  Let's hope he finds a nice girl soon.)  The trick to the Medina is that you have to have a strict no talking policy.  Because if you start talking to a shop keeper they'll try to reel you in for the hard sell.  So you just have to be a jerk and walk on by, even as hundreds of them are waving and smiling and saying, "Madam!  Please!  Hello!"  That part kills me, because I really like to be friendly to people.  I like to smile and say hello and possibly start up a conversation.  But those converstations always turn into, "I won't let you leave until you buy this bag made of real camel leather."  So I just have to gird up the old loins and keep moving.

But this one older gentleman said in such a genteel way, "Madam, please, may I ask you a question?" that I stopped and went back and started chatting.  He said he liked to practice his English and also liked to teach English speakers a little Arabic.  I saw right through him, but he was such a nice non-pushy man that I couldn't help it and sat down in his little shop for a lesson in basic Arabic.

He took a little piece of paper and wrote out an English word and then would say the Arabic word and write it out for me, then would write it in Arabic and help me with the pronunciation.  And then we talked about the history of the city and the Medina and had I seen all the mosques inside and how was I enjoying my time here and did he mention that he had a cousin in Philadelphia?  We laughed and joked for a good 10 minutes until he got down to business.

"My dear friend, would you be interested in some perfume?  This camel saddle?  These earrings?  This pot?  This ceramic veiled woman?  This silver olive tree?  This jeweled tobacco case?  These leather slippers?  This postcard?  This necklace made of real berber silver?  This hookah?  This mirror?  This platter?  This desert rose?  This authentic bedouin vest?  This pencil with 'Tunis' etched into it?"  He came very close to pointing out every single item in his entire shop to me.  I mean, he was really making an impressive effort to get me to buy something...anything.  And really, I'm sure I would have been able to find something worth buying in there except that I was all out of cash and time.  He made the error of pointing out things near the exit and I made my escape. 

But I said, "shokran" and "bisslama" beautifully as I walked away.


Angela Noelle of SK said...

Oh, I relate! I've loved and hated that cultural difference when I've travelled - it's so refreshing and foreign...yet so hard to keep blinkers on. My limited experience of Athens and Rome were very similar. So delightful...and tricky!

Laura said...

I hope the "pot" he offered you was some sort of vessel and not some sort of plant!! Though, with the crazy array of items in his shop, it seems that both versions might have a place!

Chris and Gina said...

The real question is: Do they write your name in Arabic on a grain of rice? That would be golden!

Krii said...

This was such a great narrative. Perfect ending.