Burtuqaal

Take 1

Our homework this week was to go to an Arabic grocery store and buy oranges – burtuqaal. Without speaking any English.

Of course I waited until the last possible evening to complete this task. It’s just my way.

All week I practiced what I would say, using different phrases and variations, just in case the dialogue didn’t go like the workbook predicted it would. Italicized text indicates Arabic.

Hi. How are you? I’d like an orange. Do you have oranges? Excuse me, oranges are here? God willing, do you sell oranges? Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, praise God.

I walked to a corner store where I thought I had overheard Arabic before. And where there was a bin of oranges in the doorway.

Good evening.

Blank stare.

Good evening. Do you have oranges?

She turns to her husband/business partner. She pokes him and points to me.

Do you have oranges?

Burtuqaal?

Yes. Oranges.

Not here. Walgreen’s. They have burtuqaal. Two blocks down and on the right.

What in the world did he think I was asking for? I walked out. I repeated the words over and over in my head. Oh. My. God. He thought I was asking for birth control.

Take 2

I walked down to the Tenderloin thinking I would find an Arabic grocery store fairly quickly. Probably not the best idea on a dark night, walking alone in a red leather jacket.

Hey, beautiful…

Sss! Sss!

Click, click, click with tongues in cheek.

Right here, baby, I got what you want.

I ducked into the first store I saw with Arabic writing in the window. The clerk was Asian. Thought I’d give it a try anyway. After all, I had met several Arabic-speaking Koreans when I lived in Korea.

Good evening.

Blank stare.

Next.

Take 3

I continued walking, though this time away from the Tenderloin. Maybe in Russian Hill?

I spotted a sign in Arabic for a pizza parlor. Dare I try? It was a stretch. But look! Right next door. An Arabic deli and grocery.

Good evening.

Good evening. How are you?

Fine. Thank God. How are you?

Good.

Do you have oranges?

He pointed to a bin of shriveled oranges. The other man clucked. No, no, no. He ran to the back of the store.

No fresh ones. Sorry.

I picked up an orange. How much for one?

No, no, no. Free. Take as many as you’d like.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.

Peace be with you.

One hour, 18 city blocks, and 2 puckered oranges later. Success.

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