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May 21, 2008 Billions of biscottis

Language blip of the day: While I was having breakfast, I told my table-full of SouqTown area PCV buddies that I was going to go to the pastry shop next door. One of them asked me to get him 5 Ds worth of biscotti cookies. So I went, found the biscotti, and asked for khams n drahm of them.

(Sidenote: “Dirhams” – the local currency, are drahm if there are 10 or fewer, and dirham for 11 or more. But given the quality of my language skills, they probably sound the same when I say them. Also, n – of – is almost always used when counting numbers of things. I have since learned that it’s never used when counting money. End of sidenote.) Now, what I’d forgotten is that khams is the prefix for any five-related number (5, 15, 50, etc), but if I mean just 5, I need to say khamsAA. One tiny syllable, but oh what a difference it makes…
Khams n drahm n biscotti, 3afam?” 5 Ds of biscotti, please?
The girl behind the counter said, “Khamsin dirham?” 50 Ds?
Yeh. Khams n drahm.” Yeah, 5 Ds.
Yun kilo?” A kilo?
Wow, I thought, you can get a whole kilo of biscotti for 5 Ds? This is the best deal in town! But my buddy said 5 Ds, and if that’s what 5 Ds gets me, that’s what I’m getting. “Waxa, shukran.” OK, thanks.
So I waited (and waited) while she measured out more and more of them, filling a big pastry box way past capacity, tying it shut... I also picked out a roll for myself. When she was finished with the biscottis, I gave her a 20 D note. She seemed a little confused. I ran through it in my head again. 5 Ds for the biscotti, 3 Ds for my roll, so I should get 12 Ds back. I couldn’t figure out why she was hesitating.
Iga tlata o khamsin dirham,” she explained. (It’s 53 Ds.)
Yeh, tlata o khamsa n drahm”. Yeah, 3 (pointing to the roll) and 5 (pointing to the bursting box of biscotti) Ds.
Iga tlata o khamsIN dirham.” It’s FIFTY-three Ds.
My eyes bugged out. “Khamsin?? Oho, samhi, oho, righ ghas khamsa n drahm.” FIFTY?? No, sorry, no, I only want 5 Ds worth. (And I hold up 5 fingers, to sidestep the language issue.)
Aah, waxa.” Oh, OK.
Samhi bzzef!” I’m so sorry!
She waved off my apology, took a few biscottis out of the huge box, put them into a small paper sack for me, and made my change, all while waving off more apologies. If the biscottis had been for me, I probably would have paid the 50 Ds and just eaten them for the next week, to avoid the embarrassment…but I don’t even like biscotti, and I’m pretty sure my buddy didn’t want two and a quarter pounds of them, plus the 20D note was all I had with me. So… oops. Live and learn. And apparently, today, I learn humility. :)

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