Friday, August 10, 2007

A Soapdish For Words

Even after nearly 20 years in this country, basically all of my adult life, I can still be tripped up by the little things. The big things I can manage - I can discuss politics (if I must), I can argue with the person who cut in front of me in the checkout line, I can gently teach a new mother about breastfeeding. I can do all of these things in Hebrew without a moment's thought. It's not my native language, and in moments of severe stress or emotion I still yell in English, but it's safe to say that I am fluent in the language that surrounds me.

It's not the language that often gets me, though. It's the cultural minutiae, those tiny little details that you just couldn't possibly know without growing up here.

This time it was a "soapdish for words". Huh? Come again? A what?

I received Itai's school supply list and dutifully went off an a grand purchasing adventure. (Second mortgage anyone?) I managed to stumble my way through the basics, and did enlist the store clerk's help to wind my way through the mazes of "magic notebooks, lined notebooks, script notebooks" and a seeming million of other kinds of notebooks more diverse than you could possibly imagine. (If you're curious, a "magic notebook" is for learning to write and has oddly sized lines. I think. Or was that the "script notebook"?) I gathered pencils, and erasors, and sharpeners, and markers, and any number of other school supplies.

And then, right there at the bottom of the list, in black and pink (the paper was pink, not white), there it was. A soapdish for words. I was sunk. What on earth could a soapdish for words be? With some trepidation I asked the clerk. I hate doing that, because it's invariably some stupid thing that Every. Single. Person. In. The. Country knows but me and I end up looking like an idiot. I usually try to save those questions for my Anglo friends with older children so that I can live vicariously through their prior humiliation (though I've had some spectacular failures there too - ask me next spring about the Shavuot fruit baskets), but there it was. I was in the store, buying school supplies, and I needed a soapdish for words. I bit the bullet and asked.

Turns out, it's just a soapdish. A plain old ordinary soapdish. The kids make flashcards, and then store them in the soapdish. He told me to just go to the pharmacy and buy one if I didn't have an extra lying around the house. No, the bookstore doesn't sell them.

Who'd have guessed...

Not me apparently. Heck, I still write the amounts on my checks with English letters because it was too humiliating to have to keep asking semi-literate cashiers how to spell "four". In a strange twist on language education, I was taught words like laboratory but never how to write the numbers (that's an essay in and of itself). Like I said, it's the little things that trip me up...

At least now, when Itai starts first grade in a few weeks he will be well prepared, with the right books, notebooks, school shirts, and yes, the right soapdish.

18 comments:

Poppy Fields said...

They ask for something similar in France. Not a soap dish but some kind of closable box to store cut out words that are used as flash cards or to eventually make sentences with.

Melissa Garrett said...

But still, a soapdish? I would have thought a recipe box, the closeable kind, like what poppy fields is talking about.

You've got a lot more guts than I. I don't know how I would do in a foreign country!

Robin said...

You know Melissa, after spending nearly half my life here, sometimes the US feels just as foreign...

What do you think Meredith? And all you other expats out there? (This is your chance to delurk and comment Mel - hint hint.)

Jo said...

I kind of like it......it sounds rather magical. But I can see why you were bemused LOL. J

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Hell, I've spent my whole life in the US and sometimes, I get tripped up.

Fear not, Robin. I always blame those lapses on the "It's my first time through" phenomenon rather than anything else. Because until you've done it once, how are you supposed to know these things?

Mel said...

Hint taken LOL

I have heard of the soapbox being used here so I knew immediately you said it what it was for LOL.

While the brain is currently devoid of examples I know that living in a country whose language is not my mother tongue brings up frequent WTHs - heck even the gestures throw me at times! Having said that - having lived ouside of the UK for 11 years now (but not always here) I too get tripped up there. I guess you could call me European LOL!

For those who don't knew me I am in France :)

edj said...

LOL! I can relate--I remember school shopping in France. We'd been in the country less than a week, and had no idea what most of the things were.
I like that though--a soapdish for words. The images that conjures up ;)

margalit said...

I was just sorting thru the school supplies a minute ago, so this was especially timely. In high school, we have a lot of different kinds of folders, binders, and notebooks, but no soapdishes. Yet I knew what you meant because my kids used those in day school with an Israeli teacher. One of those clear plastic soap dishes for traveling, right?

As for Four. Arbah. Arbeh? Arbaaa. You got me. I have no clue how to spell it in English.

grace said...

Oh the things that trip me up in Dubai can be put into one whole blog! We're doing school shopping next week and thank God all the supplies written are in "normal" English. =)

Fairly Odd Mother said...

A soapdish for words? That would trip me up too! I bet your not the only parent who gets confused with that!

Fourier Analyst said...

I've have made a fool out of myself in a foreign language for 21 years, so it doesn't even bother me anymore. What did trip me up was trying to tell to a friend from the US about my experiences having a baby in the Netherlands. I didn't even know the English terms for some things! It was embarrassing but also hilarious! Talking about becoming acculturated!

LaLa said...

That is so funny...who would have thought??? Good mama getting all your stuff together : )

Pieces of Me said...

Great post. I identified with every bit of it. (except for the school supply adventure)

I like the bilingual duality 'speaking off' from each other and how you gently weave it in your identity.

As for the expat debate, that's me too even if I am miles away. You can be in the US or in Israel, and I never quite feel I am exactly here nor there. I'll always be somewhat of an outsider looking in. Perhaps more predominantly so here for the time being as I try to find my/our way here in the US.

Laane said...

I never would have thought it would be an ordinary soapdish. Hebrew or not.
But why don't they use a nice box or so?

Christine said...

You learn something new everyday!!

Very interesting concept. As far as I know, the kids here in the US don't use a soapdish, but it is an excellent idea.

Robin said...

The kids don't have lockers, so maybe a soapdish is smaller and easier to carry around than a nice recipe-type box. Who knows. It's just one of those weird local idiosyncracies.

TnMomTo3 said...

It's rather poetic, isn't it? LOL

I'm glad you figured out what your "soapdish" really was. HA! ...A soapdish by any other name...

Jeremy said...

Cute, Perhaps they need to start explaining to us parents what they want our kids to have at our comprehension level. For me the flash cards with a picture of a soapdish might have helped.