Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Kebab, War, and a Coke: Part 1

So, I've mentioned the ongoing cultural exchange that I am having with the kebab place on the same block as my apartment in Nantes. The city is very multicultural and I am living on a street with restaurants from Morocco, Russia, Tunisia, and Africa. This place is the Tunisian restaurant, and I seem to be one of the few non-Arabs to eat there. There are usually a few men eating outside, drinking tea, and chatting amiably though they generally look a bit irritated.

A kebab is not the same thing as a shish kebab. It’s more like a random chance encounter of lettuce, onions, pita, cooked meat, and sauce, arising through the wonders of nature and manifesting itself in a bed of fries and mayonnaise somewhere outside of all piddling human logic and reason. Another way to describe it is that the kebab is about five euro, with fries and a drink, and it tastes okay.

There are a variety of cooks in the restaurant, depending on when you are there. They usually seem a bit annoyed to be serving you. Alas, a five euro meal is hard to come by and I tend not to mind. Last week, I went in and the cook, who was dressed in very traditional Muslim clothes, with a beard not unlike my own, started a conversation with me. Much of this was in French, but I’ll relay it mostly in English. It began, innocently enough, with me ordering the “formule kebab avec une Coca”.

“Ah, you are from America!” he nearly shouted, hearing my accent.

“Well, I live in Toronto. But, I was born in America,” I said.

“You like McCain?!” he asked in a startlingly angry tone of voice. I wasn’t entirely sure what this had to do with my food. Also I suspected that he wasn’t clear on where Toronto is located.

“Well, he’s okay...” I said.

“You will vote for McCain or Obama?!” he asked, still in that weird tone of voice. I'm starting to wonder if I will still get the food if I answer incorrectly.

“Oh, Obama,” I said. “But, in Toronto, we vote for the Canadian parties.”

“You think Obama will win?!” he shouted, ignoring my Canadian civics lesson.

“J’espère,” I said. “I hope so”. I don’t really think so, but why burst the kebab guy’s bubble?

“Obama... he is okay,” he said. To be honest, I got the feeling that he hated McCain and merely disliked Obama strongly. There was a lull in the conversation.

“You like the war?!” he asked, out of nowhere.

“Well… nobody likes war…” I mumbled, not sure exactly which war we were talking about now. Like many people in the western world, I was alright with the war in Afghanistan and am hoping that the war in Iraq ends well, in spite of having my reservations about it. I suspected that he didn’t want to hear all of that though.

“You like Bush?!” he asked. Well this was easy enough.

“Non. Je déteste.”

“I hate Bush,” he said, unsurprisingly. “McCain, he is like Bush. Is Obama like Bush?”

“J’espéré que non,” I said. I hope not.

“America is too much of this!” he said, making the hand sign for shooting a gun. He started into a tirade about Americans. At this point, the general level of anger in his voice, as well as the grim looks on the other people in the restaurant was freaking me out. The mood in the place was exceedingly tense. It’s totally xenophobic, but I was starting to imagine my severed head going in the kebabs. I could hear Charlton Heston: “Kebabs… are… people!!”

“Okay... donc, bon appétit! Et bonjour!” I said, beating a retreat. You don’t really tell the cook to enjoy the food. But, I was in a rush. I later felt very guilty. What a wimp I am! Sylvester Stallone would have beaten the guy to a pulp for insulting Mama America, and then said something wry and tough and to the point, like: “Gimme that kebab! And no tomatoes!”

Of course, I’m guessing that there are also any number of tough guys on the Internet who would swear up and down that they wouldn’t have taken this sort of crap: but, they would be eating at the McDonald’s in Lubbock while saying so. And how many of the tough guys on the Internet would have made a foolhardy return to the friggin’ Al Quaida Kebab to take up this conversation again? Well, I did. But that, my friends, is Part II of this story.


clairev said...

i loved this. wayyy better than when you told me over IM. good stuff rufie. can't wait for part 2.


gregvw said...

Hmm. The questions I get asked when ordering a kebab are more along the lines of "scharf oder mild?" or "zum Essen oder zum Mitnehmen?"

Then again, no one thinks I'm an American.

Rufus said...

Claire: Thanks!

Greg: Well, it's an accent thing. I get all of the normal French questions, but they can spot my non-French accent from a mile away. Also, I haven't gotten a haircut for six months, so I don't really look like the average French mec.

gregvw said...

I too have a non-local accent and am obviously foreign whenever I speak, but I am mistaken for, at best German, at worst, British, and on average, Dutch.