File under: Berlitz/Hebrew/Greetings/Whassup?
On a day like this, 80 degrees (F)outside after freezing rain for three weeks everyone here is seemingly in Muy-convivial Mode. Even on a normal day I can’t get to the Supermarket without acknowledging at least a half dozen townspeople, but today was over-the-top to a blog-worthy degree. A hidden camera-man following my progress would have asked himself whether this show of stereotypical Our-Town camaraderie was staged: I mean, the Mayor, the Postman, the Doctor, the Plumber, the Guest-worker, the Drug dealer, and the Rabbi all within five blocks? C’mon, nobody lives like that anymore? Or do they? Well yes, in a small-town Berlitz Paradise like mine we keep the 50s B&W TV cliche alive with a vengeance.
Let’s get to the fun part: Essential Israeli Pleasantries.
1) The Doctor:Haim Kupperman, mid 30s, his eyes radiating practiced concern but also a weariness probably acquired during 30-hour shifts during internship, crosses the street from the local Clinic. His choice is the standard: ‘Mah shlom’kha?” Literally, ‘What is your state of peace?’ Generic, but, like a medium-grey pants-suit, always appropriate. I respond by pretending to check my pulse, then answering, ‘Na’chon le’ach’shav, be’seder.’ (‘So far, so good’, roughly. He smiles and hurries off to his destination, and I to mine, only to see the Mayor strolling towards me:
2) The Mayor: His Honor, Itzhak Golbari always relates to me as if I were his only citizen, towns-person, voter(?). They probably learn that in courses. Still, it’s hard not to feel knee-jerk flattered. I decide to out-Carnegie the guy and prepare a quick treat of my own. As soon as he’s within ear-shot I gush “Walla, ha’bibi, yesh le’cha kha’tikhat avodah po!” (‘Hey, my man, you got a serious piece of work here!’) and point to an obvious crack in the sidewalk. He laughs and shrugs: ‘Atah mas’bir LI?’ (‘You’re telling me?’) and lets it go at that. Both of us know that his real problem isn’t concrete infrastructure, it’s the local wanna-be mafias, against whom he needed 24-hour armed guards for the first two years of his ‘cadenza’, as we call an ‘administration’. I worked actively for his opponent, the incumbent Ezra Levi. Perhaps no one’s mentioned that to him. Anyway, it’s a democracy, and this guy won.
3) The Plumber: Called an ‘installer’ in Hebrew, which I always felt was unforgivably ‘duh’, like yeah, but what do you ‘install? Until I remembered that ‘Plumber’ in English is every bit as far-fetched, based as it is on the Latin word for ‘lead’. I don’t even know this guy’s first name. I see him at the hardware store all the time, looking haggard, be-draggled, and frezzed-out. Spell-check doesn’t like those adjectives. Yeah, I just made ’em up, but they fit, sue me. His greeting is the slightly out-of-fashion ‘Mah in’ya’nim?’ (‘What are the issues?’) He looks too busy for a rigorous answer, and in fact, the question is manifestly rhetorical. Once upon a time I didn’t ‘get’ that. I’d hear the question and start laying out the ‘concerns of the day’, counting on my fingers for the supposedly-curious interrogator. Usually got to, like, the middle finger before the guy made it plain that he wasn’t exactly taking notes. So the Plumber received a nice non-committal ‘eeh, be’seder.’ (‘Fine’). He seemed relieved to hear that. The Rabbi was closing in rapidly behind him, and both of us, working as we do on Shabbat, wanted to get moving. But I never seem to get lucky:
4) The Rabbi: Dressed in what I un-charitably view as an absurd period costume from a Polish stetl, broad furry hat and polyester-gabardine suit over I can only guess three layers of ritual garments, is an impressive figure. Hails from the same little Romanian town as a good friend of mine; we converse in a mixture of languages, old and new. Today it’s all business, Hebrew: “Mah Hadash?” (‘What’s new?’) Of course I immediately wrack my memory to bring up the Jewish Calendar: What religious chore which I’ve been chosen to do for this clown is pending. Every year before Yom Kippur I have to take off all the plastic sheeting from his porch roof, so that on Succoth, when he makes the porch into a Succah, God (sorry, ‘G-D’) doesn’t have to speak to him from the Heavens through a half-millimeter of poly-carbonate. It’s all in the Torah somewhere. I don’t even protest anymore Anyway, realizing that I am provisionally faultless, us having weathered Purim last week and facing a dry-spell holiday-wise, I answer: ‘Ain ha’dash takhat ha-shemesh.’ (‘Nothing new under the sun’. which is from Ecclesiastes or somewhere. I get one point, and keep walking. Lasagna beckons. Ground beef, three kinds of cheese. If he knew he’d start to pile up stones in the town square.
5) Drug Dealer: Finally, someone normal. His job kinda entails being painfully ‘hep to the jive’, up to date on the de rigeur greeting, and I await today’s version.
“Ah’lan!”. Arabic. Most of our ‘streety’ slang is from Arabic these days. This one’s a couple years old, but, I’m pleased to hear, still en vogue. I answer ironically: ‘Wa’sah’lan’. Why ironic? Well today, on the news, the Gazans, our peace partners, seem to be similarly enthralled by the warm weather, and they’ve been doing what they do for fun, set up the cheap rocket launchers. Try to kill a few women or children. Extra points for both. Usually they miss. Then the Apaches with today’s technology take ’em out. There’s virgins in this for the ‘martyrs’. So no worry. Anyway, you don’t hear Arabic without thinking about our lovely neighbors. He turns off the street into an abandoned orange orchard. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
Yes, there were more. The checkout girl… then a lady I just finished a roof for…and then the Dentist, whom I greeted without opening my mouth too widely and risking showing him my new teeth. He’s too expensive for me, so I went with a marvelous Arab guy in the next town. On visits we communicate mainly in standard German. And as expected, the ‘Deutsch’ ‘Whassup?’ salutations mirror Hebrew: ‘What’s new?, ‘What’s happening?’, ‘How’s it going?’
Nothing’s new under the sun… And now,cart in hand, I leave y’all. The security guard recognizes me and waves me in with a ‘Yo!’ One of his two words in English. I give him a thumbs-up and a ‘Sup?’ Big smile. Whatever works.