Today the Algerian and I went to a bagel shop, (one thing I can hold over all my friends in Paris..easy access to bagels, though I’m not even in the habit of eating them anymore..) and straight after four hours of reading ESL (English as a second language)-approved books and practicing vocab with me, he asked the young Asian girl behind the counter, “what’s in that egg sandwich?”
“Egg, cheese, and chai” she responded.
Rather surprised, he asked, “chai? like, tea?”
She smiled all-knowingly shaking her head, “noooooo, chai..chai..it’s like onion” then she giggled about his mistake and smiled at me, as if we shared a secret.
“Oh,” I paused, “chive.”
“Ya” she giggled again and said it slowly, still trying to teach him this new word, “ch-ai, it’s onion. Some people say scallion.”
He looked at me still confused and said, “j’ai compris chai.”
“Ya, moi aussi,” I smiled, non-verbally reassuring him that I’d heard what he’d heard.
“It’s chive, chi-vuh” I couldn’t help but smile, saying it to him slowly and perhaps mocking her previously exaggerated repetition of “chai” for him.
“Chi-vvvvve. It’s fine” I said shaking my head to him “just get it, it’s good.”
Still very confident in her knowledge of onions, she began to prepare his egg, cheese and chai bagel.
“This is a ‘salami’ situation,” I told him, and we both laughed at the ever-present, often oblivious contention between foreign egos competing in accented English.
He worked in a café two years ago just after moving to the States. The owner of the café was a Korean woman -- I’m still not sure how they managed to communicate.
One day, she asked him to make her a cappuccino “and put it in a salami.”
I never even witnessed this, I’ve just relived it ever since, with countless reenactments done on my behalf.
And he tells it: “and I asked her, a salami? and she tells me, ‘a cappuccino in a salami, yes’ so I stare at her, I know what this is, salami, but I didn’t know how it goes with cappuccino, so she gets very mad that I don’t understand, and walks over and grabbed a mug holding it in my face like, I can’t believe you don’t know this, ‘a salami’ she showed it to me like I’m stupid, ‘sa-la-mi’ and I was like, oh, you mean, ceramic?”
“And she still looks at me like I’m crazy, like finally you understand English, ‘yes that’s what I told you, a salami.’”
...Just a hunch, but I’m thinking my recent decision to tutor in English and writing (to all students, btw, not just the international crowd) was a clever one. I’m sensing some English courses and tutoring sessions are needed (though, perhaps not admittedly so!) somewhere out there in, as our governor Arnold so proudly refers to his state, Cal-eeifor-neei-a.
But anyway, stories like this just make me laugh, and reminisce, as I’ve been the brunt of them countless times through my linguistic struggles in France, dealing with inadequate r’s.... But, whether you prefer cappuccino or chai, these words and moments keeps life interesting...and keep us chuckling in every language.
Changes - It has been so long since i posted something on my blog! So many changes have occurred. A new life, a different dog, but still many dreams flying through ...