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.