Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Swirling Thoughts #173 – if it’s possible and appropriate we would like to pair you up

I decided some time ago that what’s important culturally can be gleaned from the language. My proof was of the inverse – things that don’t matter, don’t really exist in the language (for example, words for “fairness”).

Some words stand out as used disproportionately. Efshar is my favorite. I use it the way I hear it:
Is it possible to order? Efshar lazmin?
Is it possible to enter? Efshar lekaness?
The answer is usually 'betak!' (of course) or an enthusiastic, ‘efshar!’ (possible!). But sometimes it’s ‘ani hayav livdok’ – I must check.
I love efshar because it’s not at all sarcastic the way it would be in English. Imagine you want to get the attention of the sales clerk at the Gap in Kings Plaza and you ask
Is it possible for me to pay?
The unspoken response: It might be possible, but now you’re going to have to wait while I fold these returns, Lady!
Not only isn’t it sarcastic here, but there’s an added dimension. If it’s possible, of course we’ll do it for you! And if we’re not sure if it’s possible, we’ll find out if it’s possible. Because we want to do it for you!
But then I get carried away because it seems to me you can just say ‘Efshar – Anything’.
If you live in a forgiving place where nobody expects your Hebrew to make sense you can get away with questions like:
Efshar kapit? to mean: Is it possible to get a teaspoon?
Of course, what I unwittingly asked the waiter was:
You can spoon?

How very inappropriate!
Which of course, brings me to my next favorite word – matim –fitting, but really, appropriate. The school is matim for him.
The topic was matim.
I love appropriateness! A fitting ideal in the holy land.

What my 4-year old had to say about couples:
When Rosie had a tiyul in gan, she came home and told me excitedly all about it.
Today we went on a rekevet and an auto-boos and I was zug with Yoseffi.
Liat was zug with Avital, Ahuva was zug with Boaz, Neely was zug with Pelly...
This concept of zug, pairing, is of paramount importance in the Hebrew language, although I’m not sure why Israeli culture values its time units (and body parts) in couples.

What my ulpan teacher had to say about couples:
If you have a day, you have a YOM. Many days are YOMIM.
But if you have 2 days, they are YOM-AYIM.
One week – SHAVUAH. Many weeks, SHAVUOT.
Just 2 weeks – SHVU-AYIM.
One month – CHODESH. Many months – CHODESHIM.
Just 2 months – CHOD-SHAYIM.
Are you following? It’s the AYIM to indicate a cozy zug of time.
If something happens once, you say PA’AM. If it happens many times, PA’AMIM.
But if it happens twice – you guessed it – PA'AM-AYIM.
Then there are hands (YAD, YAD-AYIM), eyes (AYIN, AY-NAYIM), legs (REGEL, REG-LAYIM) and all the other zugim of the human body.

I thought I knew all there was to know about couples
Then I had coffee with a good friend. I ordered for both of us.
Efshar lazmin shtey café afook? (Is it possible to order 2 coffees)
Or so I thought.
Café afook pa'am-ayim, she corrected me.
Café afook two times?
They take this couple thing very seriously.

Later that week I asked a waiter at a bar mitzvah for water – for me and Bob.
I thought about it for a second and then I made my move.
Efshar mayim pa'am-ayim?
I got a nod from the waiter, raised eyebrows from Bob and then water. Two times.

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