September 05, 2008

Friend, enemy

In the tiny Woolly Bugger cafe in pretty Charlevoix, Michigan -- that, to the undoubted delight of you French speakers, is pronounced "Shar-la-voy" -- yes, in the WB, the woman behind the counter asks me, what can I get for you? Now in Starbucks cafes, they say, or used to say, "What can I get started for you today?" which always struck me as a particularly clumsy attempt to be different. Here in WB, I'm pleased with the ordinary. I ask for cafe au lait, and she hands me a huge cup and says go get the coffee yourself, I'll fill up the rest.

I look around and am fazed by the choice on offer -- decaf, non-decaf, combination decaf, some stuff like that, on and on. Feeling faint, I give her back the cup and say, I've changed my mind, please give me an espresso. You have to understand that I've tried espresso in the past and never liked it, but it's been years and today I think, what the hell, let's give it a shot. This is echoed by the lady, who asks, Would you like just the two shots or shall I make it three?

To tell you the truth, I have no idea what she's talking about, so I resolve that by saying, oh sure, just the two.

You can tell that I'm not much of a coffee drinker. Give me Nescafe instant every time.

Then she asks, you want it in a cup or are these little paper things fine. The paper things are fine, ma'am. And she gives me the stuff and its just as ghastly as I remember. Who likes espresso, really?

Anyway, I sit down and open up my laptop and punch in the password to access their wifi signal. It works and then it stops working. I ask the woman what the matter is, and she asks, did you type in your password? A customer at the next table, sweatshirt and a scraggly beard using a laptop with his girlfriend, scurries over and urges me, in a strong accent, to type the password in lower case. Then he looks at me closely and asks, are you from India?

(Is it that obvious?)

I nod. He says, I'm from Berlin. I tell him I've been there. He says, I've not been to India. But I want to go. Are you from Mumbai?

When I nod again, he leans closer and says, I like to say Mumbai, because in Germany, everybody says Bombay.

Yep, you learn something new every day.

Then he tells me he's on a four week vacation in a motorhome, starting in Chicago and circling around the great lakes through Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota before returning home. It's so beautiful here, he exclaims! In Germany, nobody knows about beauty of Michigan.

Maybe in India too, for that matter. I take another sip of my espresso and it's just as awful.

The man is still next to me, smiling benignly. I know some Indian words, he says. Namaste.

Well, that one I could have guessed he'd know.

... and dushman.

He knows dushman? How on earth?

Actually, he says, I'm from Yugoslavia, and in Yugoslavian, it's the same word.

Now I know enough to know that there's no such language as "Yugoslavian", so I ask, what's the language you speak, Serbo-Croat or something? He says Croatian. In Croatian, he says, the word for enemy is dushman. I see Bollywood films and I recognize that word. (Yep, lots of dushmans in Bollywood films). Of course, for the rest I read the subtitles!

And he throws back his head with its scraggly beard, and he laughs.

At the table across from me, the young woman takes a sip of her espresso and grimaces sourly. So it's not just me, this stuff is indeed foul. My new dushman friend is on his way out and stops to say bye. My name, he says dramatically, is Mika. He and his girlfriend walk off to his motorhome.

Above me, stop-start strains float from a tinny speaker ... it's the Grateful Dead singing "Casey Jones".


Anonymous said...

beautiful piece! Did you ask your dushman about other related words or other -man`s? Do you have a theory of how they are related?

btw, Does somebody know what "aduna" means in Hungarian, or in a related eastern european language? I heard it from a TV announcer (so the word should be pretty phoneticaly close to aduna, if not aduna) in a context which I thought would mean today/now/shortly, like in Sanskrit. (Online dictionaries arent much help).

Anonymous said...

I figured out the etymology. The croats and other eastern europeans dont like ze germans. So all enemies are called Deutschmans, which later became dushman.

As a homage bollywood also had a song:
hai agar Deutschman, (chorus) dushman (/chorus)
zamaana gam nahi. etc.

given that ze germans are dushmans, your friend probably said Ich bin ein jelly doghnut?