The other day I set off on foot to pick Dani up from school. No sooner had I left our street when I realised that I had forgotten to go and buy bananas. When we get back from school Dani has his afternoon fruit snack (merienda in Spanish) and bananas feature highly on the list of likes. We were out of bananas (plátanos).
No problem I thought. There will be a shop en route where I can buy some bananas.
At this point I must explain that the school is about 3.5km away (that’s 2 miles in old money). I like to walk there – as I can go at my own relatively fast pace – but we take the bus back. That is 2 miles taking the direct route. Mostly along main roads. If I bought bananas on the way there I would not have to drag Dani shopping when we got off the bus. Now how many shops selling bananas would you expect on a two mile walk across part of a capital city? At least a few right?
Well only a few blocks away there are two shops selling all sorts of general groceries and provisions including bread and vegetables. Bananas? No. The first one I went into was run by a Spanish chap. “Tienes plátanos?” (Do you have bananas?) I asked. “No. Plátanos, no.” came the reply. OK. Two doors down, the second shop.
The lady behind the counter appeared Chinese although with so much make-up on it was a little difficult to tell. “Hola. Tienes plátanos?”. She looked puzzled.
Now here is the point where I could go off at a tangent and rant about the merits of my Spanish pronunciation. But I won’t. Plátanos is a simple word and very difficult (I would say virtually impossible) to mispronounce. So, I tried again. “Tienes plátanos?”. She looked even more confused.
Things Start to go Downhill…
I then did something I would laugh at others for doing. I went into “Johnny Foreigner speak”. You know the one. Where you think that if you say something louder and slower with greater emphasis on each syllable then the other person has to understand. There is no way that they cannot.
“Plá – ta – nos” I half shouted.
Now she looked completely baffled.
I should have cut my losses there and then and left, but I didn’t. For some crazy reason I decided to try a different approach and did something very, very stupid. I started miming peeling a banana. Saying the words slowly as I did so, in English as well as Spanish. “Plá – ta – no?”. “Ba – na – na?” That classic peeling back the skin from four sides and pretending to take a bite. I really did it!
To my surprise however the lady seemed to understand. The look of confusion replaced by a look of hope. She turned slightly, looking above her head and pointed to the bottles of whisky, gin and vodka. Maybe she thought I was drunk and needed a op-up. Ah well…
Time to leave. I had to get out. Would I even be able to find the door after that episode? I did. It was right behind me. Off I shot down the road faster than normal.
Anything you like. As long as it’s not bananas…
Then it dawned on me. I couldn’t think of another shop that might sell bananas between there and the school. Not one. I thought to myself; there are all kinds of other things I could buy on the walk to school. There was a laminate/wooden flooring showroom, packaging materials and children’s bedroom furniture. I could even buy a motorbike along that road.
I could have my pet examined by a vet (if I had one; pet that is), my teeth inspected by dentists and even stop off and do a quick session in a gym. Failing all that I could get blind drunk by having just one beer in each of the bars and restaurants along that route (there are so many). But could I buy bananas? This was crazy. Nuts! – there were a few places I could have bought them too.
I was starting to panic – well kind of. Racking my brain. Where? Where oh where? This was not happening. I continued walking.
Bananas. Not as easy to find as you may think.
Having basically given up and only a block from the school, I saw a small supermarket under an apartment block. The block was set back off the main road but this place was hiding in plain sight. In all the times that I had passed this way I had never noticed it. That of course is typical and very easily done. I went straight in and there they were. Ahhh…Bananas.
The moral of this story? If at first you don’t succeed… Or; learn to mime properly… You decide.
In case you were wondering…
“Yes! We Have No Bananas” is a novelty song written in 1922 for a Broadway show. It has been covered many times since. I used to hear it a lot when I was around Dani’s age. The most popular version of its origin is that it was written about a local grocer – a Greek man – who’s English was not quite fluent. He would answer every question in the positive, followed by the real answer. Hence when asked if there were any bananas he would answer “Yes” followed by “We have no bananas”. It became a common catchphrase as far back as the 2nd world war when banana imports were banned for five years. Shop keepers would show great war time spirit – and typically British “gallows humour” – by putting up signs saying “Yes We have no bananas”