Monday, June 27, 2005
Encounters with the Natives
Well, here I am again. I can't stop writing about our strange and curious encounters here - mainly because all of our encounters are strange and curious! Mostly brought about by communication confusion ....
The other day, while wandering around the streets, DD and I found a shop called "Planet Book", which had shelves of English paperback books. We were very excited to find the latest titles. I found one I had been searching for, asked the lady behind the counter for the price (as there was none on the book itself). She looked me up and down, sighed, then searched for it on her computer and snapped out the price. I thought she was a bit rude, but it was a good price. She got even more impolite with the two books that DD wanted, so I just tossed the money on the counter and was about to leave. She then demanded to know : "Why you buy books?" So I said : "Because we like to read" - could there be another reason? She then told us : "This library, you no BUY books, just BORROW!" We had been buying the library's books - no wonder she thought we were cheeky!!
I went to the Post Office to post off some letters to friends. Just as I was about to leave, the helpful man behind the counter said : "Here, you take lottery ticket" and thrust half a dozen coupons in my hand. I asked him how much they cost, he just said "No, you take ..." The conversation after that went something like this : I refused, he insisted, I refused, he insisted and began pushing them into my handbag. I thought - what the hell - if he is giving away free lottery tickets, I don't want to be rude and refuse ... so I thanked him with a big smile and began to walk away. He then nearly had a seizure and leapt up from his chair, shouting "Give back, give back", which I did, just before I ran out the door! As I turned to see if he was following me, I spotted a notice on the door advertising lottery tickets for Dh30!! I had tried to steal his lottery tickets!!
We went to buy our curtains the other day. I told the salesman that I wanted heavy curtains AND lace curtains. He seemed to understand this, saying : "Yes, heavy curtains with lace curtains on outside". "No", I replied, "Lace on inside, heavy curtains on OUTSIDE". After some 10 minutes of arguing with each other, he finally shrugged his shoulders, muttered (probably something about stupid white woman with crazy tastes) and said "OooooK, it look funny, but you want, you get". Then in a last desperate attempt to dissuade me, he took me to the window display of an actual set of curtains and asked if I liked it. I did because it was what I wanted : lace on the inside, curtains on the outside .... But it was what HE wanted to : lace of the outside (you know, closer to the OUTside) and curtains on the INside of the room!!
One of the favourite sayings here is "Insha'allah", which loosely translated into French would be "Que sera sera", or translated into English would be "What will be, will be", and in Afrikaans would be "Ja No Well Fine!!" So, if someone bashes you with a trolley and you scream in pain, he will nonchalantly say "Insh'allah"; if the contractor, who promised to come at 10am on Monday arrives at 5pm on Tuesday and you complain, his excuse will include "Insha'allah"; if the taxi driver shortchanges you and and you point it out, he will reply with "Insha'allah" and ignore you, but if you demand the correct change, he will again reply with "Insha'allah" and give you your money. Come to think of it, maybe the English translation is actually "Oh, shut up!!"
I read somewhere that one should be careful when complimenting locals because they will then feel obliged to give you the article. We had firsthand experience with this when we saw a stranger on the street wearing a particular bracelet DD had been looking for. I stopped him and asked where he had bought the bracelet, whereupon he whipped the bracelet off and insisted that DD take it right there and then. We were stunned into embarassed silence (a very rare occurrence!) and he trotted off before we could finish stammering out our thank you's. MMmmmmmm, methinks I am going to try telling the neighbour how stunning I think his Ferrari is .... noblesse oblige and all that!!