Language Art ...

Disclaimer:  This post is in no way meant to offend; it's merely my take on the complexities of communication as an expat, and how misinterpretation can often lead to some pretty wacky reactions.  

Finding humor in tragic misinterpretation.   Pic from Venice, November 2011.

Finding humor in tragic misinterpretation.   Pic from Venice, November 2011.

Language is truly an art to be mastered in Qatar.  Beyond struggling with my limited knowledge of Arabic, I often find myself befuddled by variations on English.  

But I'm getting better. 

My mastery of pidgin English is likely most obvious in dialogue with our maid, Tita L. (who's from the Philippines and whose first language is Tagalog). 

Case in point:  

On the way to the grocery store with Tita L. yesterday, we drove by one of the cushier West Bay compounds, where each house boasts a minimum of five bedrooms and two kitchens.  

Me:  "Tita L., that's how the other half lives." 

Tita L.:  "Madame?" 

Me:  "Oh, I mean, those are really, really big, fancy houses.  You wouldn't want to have to clean one of them ... they all have at least nine bathrooms."

Tita L.:  "Oh, yes, Madame.  Maybe all these houses, they come with a fool too." 

Me:  "Eh?" 

Tita L.:  "I think they all have a fool.  Maybe if I work there I have to clean the fool too." 

Me:  "Aaaahhhh, yes, a pool.  You're right.  And maybe a few fools too." 


I was barely phased this morning when Tita L. said to me:   "Madame, da lady who hab tree-plezz?  Now he hab tweenz."  

Me:  "Eh?"

Tita L.:  "Da lady who hab tree?  Now he hab two more."

Me:  (focusing, thinking, concentrating ... Aha! I GOT it!)

TRANSLATION:  "Madame, you know that woman with the triplets?  She just had twins."


Yes, I'm definitely getting better at deciphering the intended message.  Compare to one of my first trips to a local shop, where I stood stumped and mortified when the Philippino cashier asked me:  "Would you like some phuckaging, Madame?"  

Me:  "Eh?" 

Cashier:  "Phuckaging, you like me to phuckage for you?" 

Me:  "Eh?

Blessed veteran expat eavesdropping behind me in line:  "He wants to know if you'd like it wrapped."   

("Phuckaging" = Packaging = Wrap) 

Me:  "Oh, no, that's ok, no phuckaging today thank you." 


There is one that continues to catch me unawares, however, and even though I've mentioned it in a previous post, I can't help but re-post:

Tita L. to Kiddo as we're scurrying to get ready for work/school:  "Did you brush your tit?" 

Me:  "Eh!?!"

Tita L.:  "He didn't brush her tit yet, Madame."

Me:  "Oh, teeeeeeth, did you brush your TEETH?"

Bless Tita L.  She probably has a blog with a huge following in the Philippines where her compatriots laugh hysterically at my constant look of bewilderment and incessant peppering of conversation with the very Canadian "Eh?"

Good times.

How Kiddo Keeps Me Grounded ...

There is a blessed perspective and a bellyful of laughs that come from having an 8-year-old around the house.  Here are just a few snippets of conversation with her that manage to make us giggle and keep us grounded:

On Pilates

Me:  "I just did 20 roll ups."

Kiddo:  "They looked like regular sit-ups to me." 

Me:  "I've been trying to get these right for months."

Kiddo:  "You'll have to do a lot more if you wanna catch up."

 On My Blog

Me:  "Hey, Smilin' Vic, Kiddo, I have 4 subscribers." 

Smilin' Vic:  "Cool." 

Kiddo:  "What are subscribers?" 

Me:  "People who want to read my blog." 

Kiddo:  "Cool, then they can use your ideas." 

Me:  "I guess." 

Kiddo:  "So you only have 4 subscribers in THE WHOLE WORLD?" 

Me:  (heavy sigh)  "Yeah ... "

On Food Choices

Me:  "If you don't eat meat, it's hard to get all your protein and be healthy. "

Kiddo:  "Just because you want to eat something that was happier alive doesn't mean I have to.  Can I just have beans, please? "

On Boobs

Kiddo:  "How come women have to wear tops but men don't always?" 

Me:  "Because men don't have breasts." 

Kiddo:  "I saw men with boobs at the beach." 

Me:  "Are you done your homework?" 

On Death

Kiddo:  "Maman, how come people have to die?" 

Me (thinking hard):  "Because you start to get pretty bored of living once you're past a hundred or so." 

Kiddo (thinking hard):  "I'm pretty sure I'd rather be bored." 

On Desert Fashion

Kiddo:  "I'm happy you don't have to wear an abaya, Maman." 

Me:  "Why's that?"  

Kiddo:  "Because then no one would get to see your new bra."

Me (silently, in my head):  "Note to self:  Ditch the shirt ... apparently it's transparent in sunlight." 

On Driving in Doha

Me (in the front seat to Smilin' Vic):  "Is that driver crazy, blind, or both?" 

Kiddo (in the back seat):  "I don't think blind crazy people are allowed to drive in Canada, are they Maman?"

Smilin' Vic and Me:  sorry, this part was unintelligible through the peals of laughter ... 

Everyday traffic in Doha ...

Everyday traffic in Doha ...

On Driving in Doha, Part 2

Kiddo:  "Why is there always so much traffic in Doha?" 

Me:  "I don't know ... the roads are too small, there are too many cars, no trains ..." 

Kiddo:  "Maybe it's 'cause the crazy blind people drive really slow." 

Me (silently, in my head):  "Time to really start watching my big mouth around Kiddo." 

On Michelle Pfeiffer

Kiddo:  "Maman, that lady looks just like you." 

Me:  "And that, my child, is why you will go far in life." 

There's just something so crazy great about an eight-year-old's perspective. 


Who's BeHeinz Me? (Tales from the Ultimate Conspiracy Theorist ...)

"Rumors of my assimilation have been greatly exaggerated ..."  (Captain Jean-Luc Picard, having been taken over by the Borg).

Have I mentioned I wanted to marry Captain Kirk when I was 7?

It wasn't really about the voyage for me, and I'm not a Trekkie per se, but I really did dig the whole "buff spaceman in a tight fitting uniform taking over the universe" concept.  

Anyhow, not really related to this post, but kinda...  there are many conspiracy theories linked to the original Captain Kirk (our very own Canadian William Shatner).  

Which leads me to the original premise of my post.... 

Last Friday, on our return from Canada, I tried to buy some of this: 


The best tomato sauce in the universe.  I've tried to find some every day since.  Checked all 45 shops I know (except Lulu's ... must try there tomorrow).  

Thus far ...

Not a drop to be found in Doha. 

I'll grant you that it's not a rare occurrence to find Doha shelves devoid of a favorite item: 

  • Some brands in Doha are a lucky find, e.g. once I found Cheez Whiz, and Megarmart sometimes stocks Clamato juice (yeah my 2 faithful Canadian Readers, ya know what I'm talkin' 'bout!!!!!!! )
  • Some brands in Doha are a hit and miss, e.g. your favorite flavor HP sauce.
  • Some brands in Doha you will NEVER find, e.g. Kraft Peanut Butter.

BUT ... 

Some brands I actually thought I could rely on eternally.  

At first I wasn't too worried.  But then, as I visited shop after shop after shop, I started to feel uneasy.  How could ALL the Heinz Tomato Ketchup disappear from Doha supermarket shelves in the single month I'd been gone?   Something felt really, really wrong...

In the words of Spock: 

"Your logic was impeccable, Captain.  We are in grave danger.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup.  Thou art no more.  Where the Hell did all the Heinz Tomato Ketchup go?

I got it when turkey "ham" was removed from the shelves (it wasn't pork, but it WAS ham), and the fresh chicken shortage last year was chalked down to low supplies.  

There are cases where I've known well enough to prepare for the inevitable penury.  Case in point, I have 32 jars of Jamie Oliver walnut pesto in my cupboard because I'm trying to falsify demand to ensure supply doesn't waver.


And now the grocery supply chain gods have broken me. 

How will I ever explain to those who depend on me that I was unable to provide for their preferred tomato sauce needs?  

Who is responsible for this mess we're in? 

How do I make this RIGHT???????? 

Everyone KNOWS that everyone IN THE WORLD prefers Heinz Tomato Ketchup.  (NO, I'm not being paid for this ... there is a REASON only 8-10 people in the world know the actual recipe.)  

A house is simply not a home without Heinz Tomato Ketchup.  And we have less than half a bottle left.

I am not yet defeated ... but I fear the end is near my faithful readers.   It is all but a few oily red drops away .... 

And so, my ultimate expat challenge ...

"Tomato sauce:  the final frontier.  These are the voyages of a nutjob Canadian family.


Its three, NO five, NO seven, NINE year mission:

to explore un-Canadian flavors, to seek out Shawarmas and Falafel, to boldly reach for tomato sauce not mass-produced by Heinz.  

You know what?  If Captain Kirk and Doctor McCoy were able to heal the universe with salt shakers, surely I can do something with plain old non-Heinz tomato sauce...

Here's to trying new things!  "Engage!  Make It So!  Resistance is FUTILE!"

N.B.  I'll still swing by LuLu's tomorrow ... who knows, they might have a stash.



"F" Me in the ME! ...

No need for a disclaimer on this one ... bear with me and you'll decipher it soon enough.

A few weeks ago, Smilin' Vic, Kiddo and I were seated at an upscale restaurant, enjoying a leisurely and rather costly meal.  We had fibbed to get kiddo in ... minimum age is 10.  On our way to the restaurant we grilled her mercilessly:

Us:  "How old are you?"

Kiddo:  "Seven."

Us:  "No, you're not seven.  You are TEN.  Do you understand?  Anyone asks, you are TEN.  Let's try again.  How old are you?"

Kiddo:  "Seven."

Us:  "For goodness sakes, you are TEN.  Just for tonight, you are TEN!"

Kiddo:  "But that would by lying, Maman, and you said I'm never supposed to lie."

Me:  "I lied." ...

"Just bear with us, ok?  It's a white lie. If we don't lie tonight, we can't get into this place, and that would be horrible.  So 'how OLD ARE YOU'?'"

Kiddo:  (Crosses her arms against her chest, extreme look of disappointment as she tries her best 'I expected better of you' look on me) "Hmmmmph.  Ten, I am ten years old."

Us:  "That's good, better, now let's practice a few more times ..."

Anyhow, we made it in, and no one bothered to ask her age.  Once she got over her initial disillusionment at being born to lying, scheming, conniving parents, she was actually quite stoked at her newfound maturity.  She spent the evening trying to do things that made her more "ten-like", leaning in to me and quietly asking "Is this how a 10-year-old would hold her fork?" and "Since I'm 10, can I go to the bathroom on my own?" and "I don't think 10-year-olds have to eat what their parents tell them to."  

But the reality is a 7-year-old can only fake it so much.  So as kiddo was enjoying dessert and Smilin' Vic and I were finishing off the last of the wine, she suddenly gasps and exclaims "That man over there just said the "C" word."

Now just stop for a minute, and picture Smilin' Vic and me simultaneously spitting out our finest red ...

Smilin' Vic:  "Shhhhhhhh!  Where did you hear that word?"

Kiddo:  "Well, you say it all the time Papa, but you told me not to say it."

Now don't get me wrong, Smilin' Vic's repertoire is occasionally peppered with profanity, a throwback to his years in the barracks.  But some words he has forever relegated to the literal battlefield, the "C" word which immediately springs to mind being at the top of the list.  So Smilin' Vic is visibly flustered.  "I DO NOT, nor have I EVER, used that term in our house."

Kiddo:  (loudly enough for fellow diners to hear and cast disdainful glances our way)  "But you DO, Papa; you say the "C" word all the time.  You even said it about another driver when we were coming to the restaurant."

Smilin' Vic:  (well, at this point he's not actually saying anything out loud ... he is silently, mentally going through his entire collection of curse words, spewing them in his head, where only he can hear them and appreciate their true significance ... he does this regularly ... it is a kind of mantra for him in those moments where he is particularly flustered - but I can almost hear the expletives myself, so loudly is he thinking them).

I have never heard Smilin' Vic use that particular term; I'm thinking we may be on the wrong track and I need to diffuse the situation.  I lean in to kiddo.  "Kiddo, can you whisper the "C" word into my ear?  I promise I won't tell anyone."

Kiddo leans in, cups her little hand around my ear and whispers softly:  


"That man said "crazy" maman, and he said it two times, and Papa's not telling the truth, because he says it too, he does, I swear."

And this folks, is what you get when you try to do the right thing by teaching your child not to use certain words.  We should have known; this isn't the first time this has happened.

There was the time kiddo announced to her nursery school teacher that her nanny uses the "F" word all the time.  

While the "F" word can be considered offensive in North America, it is brandished quite liberally, and more often used as a common adjective than a curse.  But here in the ME, it is construed as extremely offensive.

Our poor nanny used to pick up kiddo at daycare every day, and really couldn't understand why everyone was looking at her funny.  

When her teacher brought it up casually one morning as I dropped kiddo off, I had to explain that the "F" word in our house is actually:


Our nanny is Philippina, and like most Asians we've met here, has no compunction whatsoever against using the word; going so far as to gleefully tell me or Smilin' Vic we've gotten very "fat" upon a return from Italy or Switzerland or another of those indulgent countries that serve up the most delicious, unctuous, cheesy, and creamy of dishes.  We've had to explain a few times that while it may be quite normal in this culture to tell someone they're fat, most Westerners tend to find it rather offensive, actually more offensive than the 'other' "F" word.

We also have the "S" word:


The "D" word:


The "H" word:


But yesterday, I heard kiddo conspiring with her two friends by the pool.  They asked me to pretend I didn't know them, to pretend they were just teenagers enjoying a day out.  I thought it was the cutest thing ever.  

They lounged in their chairs, taking in rays.  They introduced themselves to me, explaining that they were triplets.  Their mother had a very difficult birth, so they had to take the bus straight from the orphanage to get money and jobs.  One was an artist engineer.  The other was a doctor who cleans beaches.  The last went to beauty salons, but was also an artist.  

Then a little boy walked by with his mom.  I heard kiddo exclaim to her friends: "Hey, I know that guy, he's my friend."  The second girl answered: "Yeah, he's in Grade 1, my mom was his substitute teacher once."  The other girl whispered:  "Your friend's HOT."

Once I had recovered from falling off my own lounger, I realized that


is now the new "H" word in our house.  I watched the three girls (who I did not know) saunter over to the boy and his mom.  They engaged him in a few moments of 7-year-old flirtation as he looked at them eagerly as only an oblivious 6-year-old boy can ... he was obviously thinking that since there were four of them, they might be able to play a game of chicken in the pool.

So I'm reconsidering our strategy.  Kiddo's seven, going on ten.  Perhaps it's time to let her expand her repertoire and welcome her to the real world.  We've introduced the white lie, we've taught her that she actually can point as long as she's pointing at something, not at someone.  So maybe the time has come to introduce her to the concept of "term appropriateness based on context".

Or we could shelter her for the next twenty years and do our darndest to hold on to the toddler forever.  I like that option, I like it a lot.  

Fortunately, I love kiddo more.  And I want her to lead a productive life in society, be able to mix with the masses without coming across as a complete dork (though in fairness, I've made it this far with a fair amount of naïveté to my credit).  So chances are I'll start letting "stupid" slide into conversations, as long as it's directed at things or situations, not people.

I will say this:  the ME has been a blessing to us and to her as far as allowing her to be a kid.  She is probably enjoying her childhood innocence a lot more here than she could in the West.  Kids here get to remain kids here a lot longer ... remaining blissfully oblivious until now to the "F" word of my forefathers.  

And now you know.  "F" me in the ME is all about weight, folks, not about getting screwed (oops!  is that the new "S" word??????).

7 going on 10 ... the artist engineer, doctor beach cleaner, beauty salon artist ... and HOT is the new "H" word ...

7 going on 10 ... the artist engineer, doctor beach cleaner, beauty salon artist ... and HOT is the new "H" word ...

Grocery Shopping in the ME (A Tale of Toilet Tissue) ...

Ever find yourself spending a lot more time at the grocery store than you'd anticipated?  It happens to me every time.  

I think I suffer from tunnel vision and concentration issues, and I can spend ten minutes just in front of the canned tomato display, wondering if I should opt for the bigger cheaper can, the chopped or whole, the basil-flavored American variety or the local brand, or maybe I should just buy fresh and stew up a pot myself?

It's one of my annoying quirks.  I have wasted many an hour comparing nutritional values, quantity vs. quality, fresh vs. vacuum sealed.  

But never have I been so stumped as a few weeks ago.  I found myself in front of the toilet tissue display.  Absolutely at a loss.  In the past I'd weighed the pros and cons of double vs. triple ply, white vs. patterned, environmentally friendly vs. plush, but never, never, ever had I been as flumoxed by a choice as on that day.  Scent vs. sensation?  I did the only thing I could, I bought both.  Because you just never know.

The pictures below depict my dilemma.

Spring is in the air ... smell of flowers everywhere ...

Spring is in the air ... smell of flowers everywhere ...

But as you can see by the depleted stocks, this variety has proven most popular ...

But as you can see by the depleted stocks, this variety has proven most popular ...