Sunday, June 21, 2009

Scenario #26: Alla Verdera

Kosovo has a lot of Albanians. Albania is just about a lake away from Italy. And therefore Kosovo is proud of its Italian food offerings.

So when we went to a restaurant in Peja, near the Montenegro border, and saw two pages of different pasta dishes in the menu, we went ahead and ordered something that looked interesting, slightly exotic, and very Italian. For my friend it was pizza. For me, it was Alla Verdera, which was described as pasta with 'seasonal vegetables', with either cream sauce or tomato sauce. So I asked for an Alla Verdera "me sos krem" - with cream sauce.

The waiter scurried away, and we sat back to look at the photos we'd taken that day. The next time the waiter passed by, I decided to point out that we were running late and in a bit of a rush: "Deshirojne Shpejt" - we want it fast (this was very rustic Albanian, but I thought he got the point).

Ten minutes later, he came back, hands empty. He stared at me a bit with a questioning look. I stared back. Finally, he asked, "Biftek?" Did I order a steak?

"No. Jo." I looked at him a bit confused, jaw gaping. And then I repeated "Alla Verdera me sos krem." He stared at me. So I pointed at the entry in the menu. He nodded and skipped away.

Five minutes later he came back, once again empty-handed. What part of "shpejt" did I pronounce wrong? He asked me if I wanted spaghetti or macaroni noodles. I rolled my eyes as I considered how much I did not care, and asked for macaroni; and I tried to take advantage of this opportunity to remind him of the rush we were in. He wandered back towards the kitchen - or, as I later found out - in the opposite direction away from the kitchen.

Ten full minutes after this, our appetizers appeared. And immediately, before we had time to down our soup, a waiter appeared with my friend's pizza. Still no pasta with veggies. She offered to share her pizza with me, but I said I was happy with my very delicious fish soup.

Just as I was scraping the bottom of my soup bowl, finally a new waiter placed in front of me a plate of macaroni noodles with meat and tomato sauce. I stared at the bowl. Took a bite. It was delicious. But I really wanted the vegetables, wanted something a bit healthier. And I was really craving cream sauce. So when a man who looked like a senior waiter glanced our way, I asked him to come over. I explained that I'd ordered "Alla Verdera me sos krem" and this was quite different from that. In fact, the only thing they'd gotten right was the macaroni noodles. But I was running late so maybe they could just cancel my order. But he apologised and promised it in three minutes, so I agreed to wait. As he was walking away, I called out and asked him to make it "takeaway."

So about ten minutes later, after munching on one of my friend's pieces of pizza and after she'd finished downing the rest, three waiters showed up together, bearing an aluminum foil covered plastic plate of pasta. I glanced in. This time they got the veggies right, but there was still no cream sauce! There was no sauce at all, in fact.

Where did this particular cultural miscommunication break down?

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