Five Pleasantries you meet on the way to the Super

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.


35 thoughts on “Five Pleasantries you meet on the way to the Super

  1. Jaynebug

    I have no idea why Xanga won’t let me recommend, but I would if I could, but I can’t, so I’ll gush on you. hehehe.  Love this post! There’s life on them there streets, each with a greeting, and opening for connections whether we want them or not. 

  2. jsolberg

    @Jaynebug – Wow, nice to see you here. ‘Howdy’, guess I’ll add that one to the list. Today was just so stunningly spring-like; felt as if it’d rained good-will to men and everyone was all wet, ha.Thanks for the veritable Rec. I’ll take it as a fine compliment.

  3. Kellsbella

    J., just outta curiousity, how many languages do you speak? I really enjoyed this post. I don’t know if it is fact blended with fiction, but I got sucked in nonetheless. I think I may have just opened myself up for a joke here…….er, twice…………

  4. HappierHeathen

    Much the same here in Dinkytown, today, though I’ve seen no rabbis about it’s a balmy 50+ day and all seems for the moment right with the world. Good to know that it’s so over on your side of the big wet rock, too.

  5. jsolberg

    @Kellsbella – Nope, no joke. I get a queasy feeling if I sense that someone innocently took fiction as fact. Doing that as a blogger is kinda wrong, cruel even. So yeah, all this happened, the names are real, dialogue quoted verbatim. My memory is going through serious changes, and learning languages, dependent on it in part, is tougher every year. I can taste the word, feel the colors of the letters, but damn if i can remember it.

  6. jsolberg

    @HappierHeathen – Yeah, gorgeous. Looking at Venus and Jupiter over the Med. Closer in the sky than they’ll ever be in my lifetime. And Venus’ sun-transit is 6 June, visible in your area. Plus you’re a mile closer to the stage. Enjoy.

  7. murisopsis

    We are traveling in the south and they really do say “y’all”, hehe. I remember in another lifetime, my friends and I always greeted each other with a hearty “Salutations!” Probably too much Marvin the Martian… 

  8. twoberry

    I tried to rec, too, but couldn’t.Loved all the various greetings, even if you did make me itch for a trip back to Grovers Corners.  Nobody was wilder than Thornton.

  9. jsolberg

    @Roadkill_Spatula – i don’t know, I woulda put my money on ¿Qué medicamentos está más interesado en la compra de hoy?’ but I guess they have their code. And ‘Shabbat Shalom’, even to read it, grabs me like a kitten graqsped by the back of the neck by its mother. One day at least, when all is OK. I look in vain for a USA linguistic or experiential equivalent.

  10. jsolberg

    @BoulderChristina – What you’d need to ‘give’, so to speak, is about a thousand bucks for the flight, not including tips for the cabbie on the way to my town. I’m equally envious of the Bean-town Experience. Lived in Back Bay for a year in the 60s and never forgot the whole Boston je-ne-se-qois.

  11. jsolberg

    @murisopsis – Ah yes, my own ‘y’all’ years in Mississippi warped my mind forever. We do have other exotic ‘salutations’ in Hebrew, among friends ‘in the know’. I chose not to include them in the blog though, not wanting to warp it into ‘TL-DR’ territory.

  12. jsolberg

    @twoberry – Aha. A big thank-you for the Name I couldn’t remember. I was sick the year I coulda been a contenda in the Class Play. Laid up due to an Incident with an enraged Cow. With sharp horns. By the time I left the hospital all that was left was to be a ‘tree’ on Main Street. Not a speaking part? No deal.

  13. jsolberg

    @Kellsbella – I learned a long time ago not to assume that ‘my’ colours have any universal quality. My colors for numbers are, though, eerily similar to the color-code for marking Resistors. (an electronic part) The percentages are now, thanks to the net, published.Anyway, purple is the opposite of green, and so if I close my eyes, I suppose Kelly could shine as purple. I’ll work on it under the covers tonight.

  14. Kellsbella

    @jsolberg – Would that I could help you. I know that oftentimes I am lime-green with envy. Still, I feel that my passion lies within purple. I believe it to be a most exhilarating color under the covers…… for it glows with a throbbing intensity.

  15. jsolberg

    @Kellsbella – Hmmm… ‘throbbing’. Victorians like moi, who put little pants on piano legs, learned not to say ‘throbbing’ in mixed company. It does make it difficult to report symptoms to the Doctor if I smash my finger with a hammer, but we’ve learned to use euphemisms instead: ‘It’s pounding like my dick in the back of the ’53 Pontiac with Debby Levitz, Doc’ usually conveys the message without sacrificing modesty.


    When I lived in New Jersey, the standard question when I met someone from N. J. was W#hat exit?”  (For those who never lived in N.J., the translation is What exit of the N.J. Turnpike do you live near?)  When I tell some one I live near Phonix, the question is “But where are you from?  Recently, my wife and I were in a city in CA, where we ha dinner at a Japanese Steak around a hibachi table with 3 other couples.  I told them we had lived in NJ and the chef said “What exit?” 

  17. Lovegrove

    Your kosher Bonjours ainit not never no how in any way half as much as what I have to go through when I pass water. I have to acknowledge the passing of inane banter with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker,such as whether the weather will ever endeavour to weather the leather or whether it would never feather the clever nether regions.Passing water in my neck of the woulds is a busy activity.

  18. dirtbubble

    I have to drive solo everywhere I go around here these days. For this I have several gestures at my disposal for any exchange of nonverbal pleasantries at high speeds. Also, I enjoyed this post much more than anything I’ve written for a long time.

  19. splork_splork

    Thanks for the fun glimpse of your community, and for the Hebrew review. I enjoyed reading it. Enjoy the balmy weather, and please send some our way. I’ve been thinking of you during this recent violence…stay safe.

  20. jsolberg

    @dirtbubble – Beautiful to get your hi-octane take on this. I use a ‘thumbs-up’ as a default at times, except with Libyan immigrants, who take it as ‘Up Yours!’I’ve been absentee on your site, shell-shocked from the ‘string-O-spit column-width escapade. But ‘Ahl be Baaack’

  21. jsolberg

    @splork_splork – Yes, Val, if there’s a target audience for this type of post it certainly includes someone sweet as you.So far the ‘Forces for Democratic Peace, Love, and Understanding in Gaza haven’t been able to hit Tel Aviv on a map, thank G-d. Although our buddy Gavin is working on it, I assume. I thought about converting as a gesture, a wilted olive-branch, but the thought of a wife in a black halloween suit or 72 virgins? I too tired for that these days. Stay warm, cheap, and green, kid. Spring is surely a-sprunging, let’s hope.

  22. jsolberg

    @DEISENBERG – I don’t know, D, I draw the NJ map around the various Rest Areas. My favorite is that guy with the ‘I think that I shall never see a tree’. A man with a girl’s name; can’t remember it right now. Excellent story you added here though. Adds that ‘Armpit’ perfume to my site, ha.

  23. MelFamy

    Ya-tay (Navaho, you say “Ya-tay ah” in return)It’s a great writer that can make the ordinary fascinating, which is what you have done here. Aloha for now


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