Thursday, November 11, 2004

Such Low Standards

Such Low Standards

This morning I was reading Scribbner's Cafe, an american ex-pat in Japan, who celebrated the fact that she had taken a taxi ride alone and ordered pizza over the phone in Japanese sucessfully. She commented that her excitment over such mundane accomplishments must represent "such low standards". I disagree. To me both are amazing feats worthy of celebration. (The pizza was ordered to celebrate the taxi ride.)

I, of such low standards, have some bragging/celebrating to do of my own exploits. Yesterday I bought potatoes. *a moment of silence so all can appreciate my wonderful success*

Hubby was out of town on business, the boys were out on the town on monkey business and we girls of the house needed groceries and veggies. The girlies were making Iftar (sundown break-fast) so Abez dispatched me off to the local plaza to get the needed items. The groceries are no problem since the shop we frequent is run by Pakistani American-returnies. They understand my funny American and I can even detect the traces of Texas in their accents.

The veggie seller, that's a different story. There it requires me to think in Urdu AND in kilograms AT THE SAME TIME! Yep, you can see the smoke pouring out my ears, as this 50(-going-on-80) year old brain of mine goes into multi-tasking mode.

My mode of commerce is mostly point and nod. I name the object first in English, then in my limited and grossly mispronounced Urdu and I hope the vendor can hammer together the clues. Then after the item is identified successfully, he asks me how much I want. If I haven't preplanned my responses and gotten the family's advice about how much to buy then I'm in trouble. How do I know what a kilo of potatoes looks like in reality!? Will I get two or twenty? Getting an American to think in metric is like asking a cat to bark or a dog to climb trees. He asks if I want a kilo, but I safely opt for adha (half) kilo. I later realize that a full kilo would have been safe.

I'm not the only one in the family who has problems converting metric to imperial to practical. Yes, I know that a kilo is 2.2 pounds, but how does that convert to useful information? Abez once bought a kilo of potato chips. Do you realize what a kilo of potato chips looks like? You could fill a pillow case with them! Aniraz and I were shocked to see her return to the car with a huge bag. It seems she was too embarrassed when she realized her mistake to ask the man to take 90% of the chips back. She resisted our urging to return the chips, saying we would have them all eaten in a few days. We ate chips for days and stale chips for weeks. (abeZ sez: They were delicious! Even soggy! Mwahahaa!)

The only measurements I know are kilo, adha-kilo and something the locals call a "pow". I don't know if it's Urdu, English or Urdu-ized English or what. It's a fourth of a kilo.

Last night when I returned from my shopping adventure and was proudly displaying my acquistions, adha kilo ahloo (1/2k potatos), aik pow gajjar (one 1/4k carrots) and ak bunch paalak (one "bunch" spinach) Aniraz questioned Abez, "Hey, why did you send Mom vegetable shopping?"

Then she turned to me and asked, "How much did you pay? Did you get ripped off?"

My reply: "I don't know? When they say the numbers in Urdu, I just start putting money into their hand until the hand withdraws, then I put out my hand and hope for change. Then I know how much I've paid."

Such low standards, indeed.


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