Grocery shopping at Armenian stores remains one of my favorite activities.
I can imagine if I were married to an Armenian woman who volunteered to take on the chore of going to the neighborhood “Ararat” market, I wouldn’t be too pleased.
“Cheh, yes kertam!” (No, I’ll go) would be my response to her selfless offer.
She may ask if she could join me.
“Cheh, doo mee kitch hoknadz es erevoom” (No, you look a bit tired to me), I would say. Calling her “hoknadz” (tired) would not be such a crime if she traced her roots to Iran or Armenia, as the term literally means “tired.” But if she were born in Beirut, the casual use of the term would have grave consequences. Calling a Lebanese-Armenian woman “hoknadz” would imply being worn out. It is not uncommon to refer to a car that’s ready to be shipped to the junkyard with this term.
Such is the complexity of being Armenian. I’d have to be careful with my words.
This way, I’d be able to shop for whatever I wanted, as opposed to only the things we needed. I wouldn’t want to hear: “adiga bedk choonik” (we don’t need that).
There is a distinct difference between how men and women define needs. Somehow we can agree that the Manolo Blahnik thong sandals fall into the need category, but when it comes to whether a man should pick up a couple of rolls of lavashak (fruit rolls) and kodj (salted watermelon seeds), then it is hard to come to a consensus.
For now, I don’t have this problem, as I am unattached. I chose to do my food shopping last Sunday. I had been procrastinating for a few days. I had to dip into my canned-tuna supply to keep my hunger at bay, but I wanted to have enough time to enjoy my ethnic-shopping experience without any constrictions.
I was looking forward to a quiet Sunday evening with myself. I’d have a small barbecue on the balcony and watch SkySports highlights on the television.
I headed down to one of the stores on Pacific Avenue. Unlike some of the other patrons who dress up to shop for Persian cucumbers and marinated chicken, I was dressed very casually. Jeans and T-shirt was my Sunday uniform.
As I got out of my car in the parking lot and headed toward the double sliding doors, I was quickly reminded that I was underdressed. A heavily built man with gold teeth approached me and asked, “Aper doo stegh es gordzoom?” (Bro, do you work here?)
“Cheh” (no) and a laugh was my curt answer.
As if he still didn’t believe me, he followed me a couple of steps and persisted. He asked: “Ba vonts?” (How can that be?)
At this point I was inside the store already and managed to ignore the insistent patron. But I had learned a possible lesson: When shopping at the Armenian store, at least put on a blazer if you don’t want to be mistaken for the guy who collects the shopping carts.
The other extreme option would be to dress up with no fashion sense whatsoever. When I mean no fashion sense — I really mean it. Example: Rubber sandals, black dress socks pulled up to the shins, shorts and a white tank-top. You can also enhance the look if you haven’t shaved for few days and your hair is pressed to your head in such a way that it signifies you’ve had a long afternoon nap.
Both extreme examples were present at the store that day. A lady who was dressed to a tee and a man with the rubber sandals crossed paths at the cashier.
I was already at the end of my shopping experience.
Before I knew it, an unpleasant argument pursued. From my understanding, the well-dressed lady had accidentally cut in front of the guy with dress socks.
Before I knew it, the battle became political. Iran was pitted against Armenia. Counter-accusation followed.
I grabbed my bags and tried very hard not to shake my head as I walked out of the store. My only consolation was that I had many goodies in my bags.
I sat in my car, took a deep breath and slipped my hand into one of the bags. I pulled out a jar of pickled cucumbers. I opened it, pulled one out and took a bite.
I was content.
PATRICK AZADIAN is a writer and the creative director of a local marketing and graphic design studio living in Glendale. He may be reached at email@example.com.