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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Place at the Table; or Just a Crumb, Please

They’re talking in tongues again.

I have been in this meeting for 30 minutes and have managed to absorb only two things:  One, many of us have not had enough coffee for such goings-on; and Two, I’m not as bright as I think I am.

The first one I knew.

The second one?  Well, frankly, I’m shocked.

I sit at my desk afterwards, trying to take in this latest discovery.  I mean, look at me, with the straight spine, with the eyeglasses and the mostly-straight teeth!  Do I not look intelligent to you?

Have I been fooling myself all these years?

“You look,” she says, “bewildered.”

I look up at my boss, try to wipe the bewilderment from my face. “Do I?”

“You okay?”

I consider this.  Am I okay? 

I decide that I am not. 

“Can I help?” she says. 

I consider this.  “Sometimes,” I say, “I work side jobs, serving at banquets.  One of the places I work, the clientele is overwhelmingly Lebanese and they speak a multitude of different languages there.  So one day, a good hour or more after dinner service, a new man joins one of the tables.  Another man at the table waves me over – a very handsome man! – and asks me if I can round up a plate of food for the newcomer.  I tell him I’ll do what I can, but that the kitchen is already closing.  “Oh, well,” the handsome man says to me, ”Do you speak Arabic?”  I tell him, "La'a.  Ana a’asef’, which is, of course, Arabic for ‘no, I’m sorry’.”

Stacy gives me a look.  I shrug. 

I can also ask for the ashtray in Russian, but I don’t like to brag.

“Anyway,” I say, “the handsome man says a phrase in Arabic and then looks at me expectantly.  I’ve exhausted my Arabic, however, in that one little phrase.  ‘Can you say this?’ he says, and he repeats himself.  I can’t, though.  I can’t even hear it properly.  It’s as if there’s nothing for me to hold on to, no starting point.

"I had laughed politely, in that Minnesota way.  I mean, he can repeat it as he likes, but I cannot repeat the string of words he’s just said.

“It’s a saying,” he smiles.  “I said, ‘He can sit at the table, but he will not receive a plate’”.

Stacy continues to stare at me.

“I’m sitting at the table,” I say to her, “but I feel as if I might not get a plate.”

“Plus,” she says, “it sounds like we’re speaking Arabic.”

I nod.

They’re talking in a language for which I have no reference point.

26 comments:

Bossy Betty said...

OK. First of all I am very impressed that you can ask for an ashtray in Russian. I am confused and am probably trying to read too much into this. Was it really just a plate and a table or was this a proverb of some kind?

Bossy Betty said...

P.S. It does not take much to confuse me.

joeh said...

BB - New job, meeting, new jargon. It will make one feel like an idiot.

Pearl said...

Hi, Betty.

HA! I'm pretty sure it was both a plate and a parable of some kind. It's hard to tell sometimes.

Pearl said...

joeh, honestly, it's affecting everything I do. Even my writing.

Eva Gallant said...

Just consider yourself in a mental diet mode and be grateful you didn't gain a pound!

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari OM
The arabic languages are full of wonderful insults couched in philosophical trimming. He was just hungry and complaining about it.

You are feeling equally starved. And found a suitably velvet-gloved way of complaining.

Which all adds up to straight-backed, bespectacled brain-worthiness. YAM xx

Steve said...

A little Arabic goes a long way...sometimes.

Shelly said...

Now if you can ask for more limes in Arabic, that'll take you a long way.

goatman said...


Very nice, as usual.

Thought you may be interested in: https://medium.com/ which I came across today. (It's in English)

jenny_o said...

I agree with joeh. It's not a matter of intelligence, it's a matter of larnin'. You will learn. Because you ARE bright, even if you temporarily don't feel that way.

Something to think about: How many hours, years, even decades of larnin' have all those around you had? Yeah.

jenny_o said...

P. S. Is there any opportunity for classroom learning? Perhaps on the company tab?

Silliyak said...

Learnin' curves, they make my head hurt, and they're usually good for you. It's as if the brain is an under used muscle getting a workout. Darn!

Dawn@Lighten Up! said...

Ah, you'll be fine, Pearlie. You were raised to be A Lert. :)

Joanne Noragon said...

You'll get there. Suck it up, suck it in, don't give in. Fake it till you make it. Can you find a mentor?

vanilla said...

Don't you hate when that happens? As for your acumen, very intelligent; shrewd, too.

Elephant's Child said...

I am sure you will get there. And you have a multi-lingual heart already - which is a great starting point.

Daisy said...

I don't understand! You look very intelligent to me! Maybe you should try the Rosetta Stone. Is there a work jargon version? :)

Gigi said...

I have faith, Pearl, that you will be walking the walk and talking the jargon before you know it.

Slamdunk said...

I'll add my "you will be fine" encouragement in chorus with your readers. I just nod and smile, it has gotten me through quite a few things in life.

River said...

I have sat at many, many tables and received no plate. Not even an offering of a plate. Yet these people were speaking English. But probably the legal, lawyers version which I simply do not understand. I once asked for the print out version so I could study it at home. I was frowned upon.

Suldog said...

I can empathize. I felt much the same on my first few assignments for... well, I wouldn't want to name the magazine, as that would blow my cover and make readers question the authority of everything I write from here on, but I positively can empathize.

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Delores said...

A year from now you will know the lingo and smile sagely at newcomers as they sit wide eyed and confused.

Chicken said...

I have every faith you'll be eating like a native in no time. Your poor one time secretary is probably still starving,