Thursday, May 29, 2008

Portrait #10: Middle Easterners at the Deli Counter

Today I was doing more backbending work in a hot stuffy attic. I'm not sure whether it was the dust, or the lifting of heavy boxes, or the fact that I banged my head on rafters so much, but I got very hungry. So I went to the university mini mart for a sandwich. During my college years I'd often bought cheap-but-filling liverwurst sandwiches at this establishment, so it was a fine moment on memory lane.

The guy who took my order was friendly and gracious as he assured me that they had every condiment that I could possibly hope for. I tested him on this, and he lived up to his claim. Then he challenged me to think of a condiment he didn't have, and I confess I failed.

As he was preparing my liverwurst-on-rye, I heard him chatting with the other deli guy in Arabic, so I asked where they were from. The second guy asked which one of them I was asking about, as they were from different countries. I said both. So he told me he is Palestinian and his friend, my chef, is Egyptian. When I said I lived in Syria for several years, the Palestinian asked what my favourite place in Damascus is. But before I could answer, he asked if it's Mt Qasioun... which it is. Then he quizzed me on Damascene foods, and together we teased the Egyptian guy about how everything in Syria is superior to everything in Egypt.

When my sandwich was done, I thanked them and bid them farewell, in Arabic. And they replied in Arabic that I speak well, and seemed to want to start a whole new conversation. Do I speak only a little bit well, or a lot well, they asked. Eventually I made it to the check-out, and when that clerk rang me up, I'm quite sure he undercharged me! - and then he too bid me farewell in Arabic.

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