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At Trader Joe’s of all places. So there I was today, sneaking in a quick trip between a school tour (St. Matthews Elementary today) and taking Simon for his five-year check-up. Most of the lines were pretty full, except for one that had a single man in it who looked to have finished checking out.

I chose it, and quickly realized that the old man who had just checked out was a regular and was feeling chatty. He and the store clerk were at the tail end of a discussion about career options. From the little I heard, it sounded like the clerk was considering medical school and that the man was a retired doctor who was bemoaning how much less respect doctors get these days than when he was practicing. (Is it me, or does every generation of physicians think the field is somehow going down the tubes?)

Anyway, Dr. Green (name changed to protect the obnoxious) looked me over, decided I was going to be his next conversational partner, pushed whatever of his super-ego remains aside, and got straight to his point:

“You Jewish?”

“I am.” [I knew immediately he was. The Jew-dar was pinging like crazy. I also suspected that much of conversation would hinge on subtext from here on out.]

“And yet I bet you don’t know a word of Yiddish.” [Ah ha! Here’s today’s theme: “Jewish kids* these days don’t know anything.”]

“Actually, I know several. I just can’t put them together to make a sentence.” [“I’llĀ  humor you, old man, but I’m second generation.”]

“But anything other than schmuck or putz?” [Dr. Green was not going to go quietly. He thinks I only know the curse words.]

“Sure. Schpilkes, pulkes… [“Maybe if I choose the less obvious ones, he’ll shut up.”]

“Ok, ok. What’s your last name?” [“Let’s play Jewish geography. How do I know you?”]

“Goldstein.” [I can see the wheels turning… He’s about to connect me to a doctor of my dad’s generation by that name.]

“Not the doctor Goldstein…not Isodore. The pharmacist. You might not know my family.” [“I’m not a Jewish A-lister, old man.]

“Ah, Goldstein, a lovely name. And what’s your maiden name?” [“Maybe not, but still really Jewish. Perhaps I’ll know your husband.”]

“That is my maiden name. I didn’t change it.”

“Oh…. what’s your married name?” [“Women these days! What’s she hiding?”]


“Whitworth! Oy vey. You married a shaygetz!” [“Such a shanda. What happened to her?”]

For once in my life, I thought quickly on my feet.

“Indeed. And that reminds me of two other Yiddish words I know: beshert and chutzpah.” [I’m through with you, old man.]

And that is how two different generations can have a spat in public with about 99% of the message being delivered via subtext. The generational divide was not so deep as to preclude us from knowing exactly what the other meant. Once you get past the passive-aggressiveness, it’s almost heartening!

Glossary of key words:

schmuck and putz: both curse words that relate to male private parts

schpilkes and pulkes: anxiousness and thighs, respectively

shaygetz: non-Jewish man, pejorative

shanda: shame/pity

beshert: soul-mate

chutzpah: gall, utter nerve, over the line, rudeness

*I realize that 40-somethings are not kids. But trust me when I tell you that to a Jew over 75, I still qualify. In fact, I still qualify for the JCC’s Young Adult Division. Can you imagine?





3 Responses to “The Inquisition: All in the Subtext”

  1. blg says:

    Sounds like a pretty unpleasant encounter, handled with aplomb. I wonder if you will hear about through someone else in your network in the coming weeks?

  2. Amanda says:

    Fantastic! I usually only think of good responses three hours later, so be proud! And actually, I’m a total shiksa, but I knew all those terms except beshert.

  3. Jen Bortel says:

    Sam is in the same boat, weight-wise. I have a suspicion that the adding calories thing is a zero-sum game – I think he eats the same number of calories, regardless. It’s been difficult to adhere to the Ellyn Satter school of not haranguing him to eat more, but we try our best. He’s hopelessly skinny, but seems to do just fine with regard to energy level and mental acuity. If you find something that works to pack on pounds, please let me know!

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