Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Oops! of Expatriate Living

Polishing Pans

       
A bowl in my own collection collected in Afghanistan.  If interested, please contact me.

A story about polishing pans:

Some confusion can occur when the same words have different meanings when two speakers live in two different cultures.  This happened to a friend of mine when we lived in Afghanistan.  The Afghans speak a language related to English and they speak English quite clearly, with just a slight charming accent.  Nevertheless, certain practical household terms such as the word POLISH can mean something entirely different than how my British lady friend meant it when she used the word when speaking to her Afghan cook.

To buffer the beautiful copper cooking and serving utensils that we American and British expatriates admired, collected and used, the Afghan metalsmiths clad the copper with a coat of tin.  This not only protected the people who ate food cooked and served in the utensils, it also lengthened the usefulness of the copper vessels.

In the photographs above and in the first photo below, you can see examples of used copper in the condition in which we householders in Afghanistan bought and used it.  It is very attractive and quite safe to cook and serve in.  In an Afghan household, after years of service, the utensils would be taken to the tinsmith to be re-clad with a shiny layer of what the Afghans counted as -- you guessed it -- POLISH.  We expatriates usually collected these beautiful antique dishes just as the old tin coating was wearing thin so that with a mechanized steel brush, the copper peeking through the tin outer layer could be brought up to a glowing coppery red and the tin would be  even more subdued by the brush removing some of it and dulling such tin as remained on the dish or pot.

While to the Afghan cook, the word POLISH meant applying a coat of shiny tin metal, to the British lady of the house, it meant rubbing it briskly with a steel brushing machine to remove the tin so that the coppery glow would enhance the beauty of the antique vessel.

The nearest machine of this type was over the Khyber pass from Kabul, the Afghanistan capital where many of us American and European expatriates lived.  My English lady friend asked her cook to take her collection of antique vessels to Peshawar in Pakistan by bus through the Khyber pass and have the vessels POLISHED!

You have anticipated what happened.  Nevertheless, I will provide illustrations of the three stages  of these collectible dishes, pots, cups and other vessels from Afghanistan, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan.  I have borrowed examples from international sellers:


From the shop of  at https://www.etsy.com/listing/199949773/  Illustrating the stage at which the collectors buy the utensils.

This is a magnificent covered serving dish that has been burnished with a steel brush to remove almost all the tin from the outer layer, leaving a tin lining for the serving dish itself.  I have served dinners from one almost just like this that I collected in Turkey.  Fortunately, Ankara had such brushing machines in the old part of the city.   



Below you see examples of original copper pieces in the background and in the foreground you see the copper water jug and mugs that have been POLISHED with a layer of silvery tin.   


Just musing about the interesting stories of my life abroad. 

Thanks for reading my blog.  You are welcome to comment! 





18 comments:

  1. What an interesting story! I enjoyed hearing your recollection of this incident from your past. Are you familiar with the children's stories about Amelia Bedelia? She was a house maid who had all sorts of amusing adventures because she understood instructions a little differently than her employer. Your story reminded me of that. And here's another twist. I bet when you served dinner in those lovely copper serving dishes your guests "polished off" the delicious meal! lol

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    1. Ha! Ha! Well, only because I had an excellent international cook, too. My own cooking leaves much to be desired ;) I don't know the Amelia Bedelia stories, but they sound a lot like my own indeed.

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    2. I'm not sure if my last comment went through, so I'll give the following examples of what Amelia Bedelia would do:

      * asked to prune a hedge: covers the bush in dried fruit
      * asked to ice fish: covers fish in chocolate frosting (rather than place them on ice/in freezer)

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  2. Another fascinating blog post :). The
    same" words can definitely mean different things in different languages and sometimes words also sounds very similar to another word which can in turn cause confusion as well. Very well written and love how educating this blog post is. :)

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    1. Thank you, Gunilla. Language is a funny thing. Wonder what toddlers think we are saying to them as they learn to pick up our family language ;)

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  3. It's very interesting how a word can mean very different things in different cultures. I found your post informative and entertaining. Thanks for sharing. You must live a very interesting life!

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    1. I am so grateful that I was able to travel so widely and learn from different cultures. Thanks for the comment, Nancy!

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  4. Fascinating story, Anna! Had a good chuckle - can just imagine the look on your English lady friend's face when she got the serving dishes back! Even in countries where English is the first language there can be hilarious misunderstandings. I found that all too true a time or so when we lived in Canada where words or pronunciation of words can be different and mean different things. DH and I still laugh at some of the misunderstandings (: Thank you for sharing your always entertaining and interesting posts.

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    1. I know what you mean! There is always the problem when you become fairly fluent in a language and then ask a question of someone in the market place. You get a fast stream of very colloquial terms that just were not ever covered in the language class. That has happened to me so many times LOL!

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  5. Another interesting story, Anna. I can totally relate. I can only imagine your friend's face when those dishes were back.:-) Thanks for sharing.

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  6. I imagine she said a few naughty British words, too! About her own inexperience with the culture, I hope, and not to blame the cook, who did exactly as he was told!

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  7. Anna I so enjoy your posts.. I always learn something new :)

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    1. Hi Jennifer, I hope you are well. Thank you for your kind comment.
      Anna

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  8. If you think about it, you polish a shoe by applying a new coat of colored goo, so I can see how the concept got translated over to coating the cookingware with a new coat of tin.

    Thanks for the story, Anna!

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    1. Yes, I agree, Michelle. The Persian language is akin to our own, so it is we Anglos who have stretched the meaning of "polish."

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    2. I like the Amelia Bedelia dictionary references you posted above, Michelle. Very clever.

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  9. Replies
    1. Thank you for the comment, Jennifer.

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