Monday 20 May 2013

We’ve perfected the art of circular talking!

I’m over in England for a few days, so my mum and I are heading to Delisserie for some lunch. Calling itself a ‘New York Deli’, both the majority of its clientele and the food on offer are Jewish.

Even though my family could not be more English, the fact that we are descended from a Mediterranean culture is never more evident than when we sit down to eat.

The Australian Aboriginals have mastered the art of circular breathing, enabling them to blow into their didgeridoos while at the same time inhaling through their noses.

Jewish people have mastered the art of circular talking, whereby we are able to simultaneously talk to several people at once, whilst assimilating and generally interfering in what several other different people are talking about at the same time.

In an inspired moment, my brother once declared that if the Adleys had a coat of arms, our family motto should be:  'Stop Talking While I’m Interrupting.'

The last time my mum and I went to Delisserie for lunch we’d rather foolishly waited until after 1 o’clock, and sure enough the place had been packed. Like all other Mediterranean cultures, Jewish people love taking their kids out with them; the more the better.

Trouble is, the generation now giving birth to babies were themselves raised by Baby Boomer parents with liberal ideas about boundaries and behaviour, as in no boundaries and who cares about behaviour? Without role models, these young parents now let their kids run amok, screaming and shouting and wailing as if their collective din had the audible quality of honey.

With the adults having to shout at each other so that they could be heard over their kids’ cacophony, I sat there feeling very far removed from my County Galway back garden. I’ve been to countless Ramones gigs and still cannot imagine a more intense and energetic noise than a full Jewish restaurant.
This time we arrive earlier, and lovely, there are only six or seven other people in.  We sit and pick up the menus, look at each other and smile. How can so few people make such an incredible noise? Do they design delis so that every word spoken is bounced around to maximise the latent Jewish atmosphere? Is screeching chatter the Jewish muzak of choice?

My mum reaches both hands to her head and announces she’s going to take off her hearing aids. I tell her I think that’s a stroke of pure genius. Placing the two tiny plastic gizmos on the table, she sits back and exhales with relief.

“Oh, that’s so much better!” she laughs.
“I wish I had hearing aids! I’m jealous of your deafness!”

We both laugh and somewhere at the back of my mind I acknowledge the birth of a Jewish joke. Good humour is filled with truth and tragedy, and the success of a Jewish joke also relies on our ability to mock ourselves. A classic example is set in a restaurant, where five Jewish ladies are having a meal. The waiter walks over and asks
“Pardon me ladies. How’s the food? Is anything alright?”

Now I’m looking at the menu and my stomach is starting to rumble. When I was younger I never thought about being Jewish, because I was surrounded and immersed in the culture, but ever since leaving London I’ve felt very aware of my roots, and the fact that I’m a life-long atheist-pantheist mutant in no way compromises my Jewish identity.

Living in Bradford I was the Jewish guy surrounded by the largest population of Pakistanis outside of Pakistan. During the first Gulf War we’d talk in corner shops, the Jew and the Muslim, debating in a friendly way the rights and wrongs of the tragedy that is the Middle East.

Even though there are roughly only 300,000 Jewish people in the UK, forming a mere 0.5% of the population, their impact on everyday life and culture is respected and acknowledged.

It wasn’t until I moved here to the west of Ireland that I suddenly felt really Jewish, simply because here we make up a mere 0.04% of the population.

Naturally, the first thing you miss about the culture you’ve left behind is the food. So will I have the salt beef on rye? Will it be that heaped pile of steaming scarlet heaven wedged between seeded smoky white rye slices, mustardy and fresh? Will I go for the aromatic chopped liver and matzos or the viennas with würst and scrambled egg? No, it has to be that ultimate Jewish staple: chicken soup with kneidl (dumplings) and lokshen (noodles).


Later I’m dispatched to Yossi’s deli and bakery, armed with a list of things mum wants. The lass serving me keeps looking back at me between each order.
She’s not used to being treated so politely, but I’m influenced by two decades of living in Ireland.

“A quarter of best salmon! Perfect! 8 mixed danish. Thanks a million! One smoked salmon cream cheese bagel and one chopped herring bagel. Lovely, thanks!”

Each side of me her regular customers grunt orders:

“No, not that one, the big one at the back! Is that fresh? When did you make it? A week ago?”

and being barked back at

“Of course it’s fresh. What you think I am? If you don’t think I sell fresh why you come back each week!”

Whilst on the subject of good service, I need to send a huge thank you to Francesca at the Grim’s Dyke Hotel, and to the barman who saved and returned my pink folder. Also thanks to Mr Butler, for driving my mum and her friends Betty and Geoff! I know you buy the Connacht Tribune in London, so thanks for reading my blather each week!

We’ll finish this week with what I consider to be the quintessential Jewish joke:
How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll just sit in the dark and die alone!”

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