Do You Speak English?

6 Sep

It all started innocently enough. Since I start teaching tomorrow, and I have all of two shirts and pairs of pants that I can teach in – thanks to our shipment, the same one that was supposed to be here on August 20, not being here (well, supposedly it’s in the country, but we haven’t seen it yet) – Melissa & I went out shopping for a few clothes to get me through the next few days (weeks? months? years?) until our shipment, loaded with such threats to national security as cloth diapers and history books (Melissa will tell you far too many history books), finally arrives.

It was a pleasant enough walk to the men’s clothing stores, which actually have pretty decent and good-looking stuff for very reasonable prices. The evening was just a bit warm and muggy, which meant that I, being the inveterate sweat producer that I am, was just starting to perspire when we walked in the door. You don’t have to know me very well to know that clothes shopping, even for myself, ranks on my list right around watching soccer. Some men like watching soccer. My theory is that they’re also the men who like shopping for clothes. But that’s another subject altogether.

So I’m sweating, and my pants don’t fit right (because none of my pants fit right, thanks to having an academic-lifestyle-belly and no hips), and I’m shopping for clothes. Perfect combination, really. Melissa starts laughing at me because I’m sweating shopping for clothes. That doesn’t help. I pick out one shirt that pretty much looks like everything else in my wardrobe. I pay over 150 Egyptian pounds, which is less than $30 for a nice dress shirt, but I’m in no mood to celebrate the good buy. The pair of pants I tried on, of course, didn’t fit.

So we go to the next store. 40% off sale, and everything on the display is spelled correctly – both good signs. Same routine. I try some stuff on, all of which is in varying degrees of not fitting, I’m sweating fairly profusely by this point, and I pick out two shirts, as much to get the ordeal over with as anything. I ask if the shirts will shrink in the wash – I haven’t learned that Arabic phrase yet, and the clerk hadn’t learned that English phrase yet, so I tried making hand gestures. Have you ever tried making hand gestures for “Will it shrink in the wash?” They don’t work. (Are American and Arabic Sign Language even the same thing?)

The clerk tallies the total on his desk calculator and shows me. Good deal, good shirts. The torment is nearly over. The other clerk is saying something to me. I am sweating. My pants don’t fit right. I am clothes shopping. I don’t understand. He says it again. And again. And then, with a puzzled look on his face, I hear him ask…

“Do you speak English?”

Melissa is still laughing.

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8 Responses to “Do You Speak English?”

  1. John T September 6, 2007 at 3:05 pm #

    You should forego stores and just shop in open-air markets. You might sweat even more profusely, but if you find stuff that is cheap enough, you can just barter for it and buy it without trying it on. Especially good for shirts. Plus if there’s bartering involved it changes the dynamic, and that removes much of the distaste that’s usually associated with shopping. Plus, maybe you can pick up a cheap digital camera with instructions in another language and spend the next few years figuring out how to use it.

    The only time I ever enjoyed shopping was in Bangkok. Maybe they have such markets in Cairo.

  2. Dre September 6, 2007 at 6:25 pm #

    I assume no responsibility for your lack of sartorial splendor, delayed shipment notwithstanding. You were taught better. Remember the pink Polo shirt and the cute preppy glasses? Your brothers certainly do.

  3. Melissa September 6, 2007 at 11:33 pm #

    …and the laughing starts all over again.

  4. Dre September 7, 2007 at 3:36 am #

    Poor Patrick. He gets no respect from the women in his life.

  5. Uncle David September 7, 2007 at 10:15 am #

    I think it is the imagery that makes the whole thing work for me: the sweat, the body, now that is just special enough to make an Idaho Senator take a wide stance. Time to find a cheap tailor for the pants. Ask the politicos (not the academicians) if they know someone that will make you the pants that fit that figure. Anywhere there is poverty and “no habla” there is a man in a tiny room with a sewing machine and tape measure, and they are also usually sweating profusely, with a woman laughing in the background. Don’t worry, if she laughs when you are in extreme pain or discomfort it could be just genetics and nothing personal (I got one of those too).

  6. Grandma Later's ghost September 8, 2007 at 1:55 am #

    One word: PUDGE.

  7. Luisa September 8, 2007 at 2:21 am #

    Pudge??????There’s a story here Patrick. Give it up!!!!!!!!!!!
    ……..and the laughing continues.

  8. Jan September 8, 2007 at 2:03 pm #

    You don’t like watching soccer, Patrick??? That’s not the best phrase in Europe/Africa, I guess! *lol*

    Well, I’m glad that you’re doing well in Egypt! I like reading your blog…it’s so interesting … and funny^^

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