Indian Buffet

Long ago in Nashville--back when Alison and i used to live on Gale Lane, at the time a mostly working-class, black side of town--i would stop at a tiny, struggling local market which had recently opened and, if i had the money, pick up a pack of ready roll cigarettes. Camels. For the times when i didn't have money--which was most of the time--i would buy a can of Bugler down at the Kroger.

After a few weeks of occasionally stopping in like this and always getting a pack of Camel cigarettes, the guy behind the counter--who was of Mid-East origin and had almost no skill with English--would smile and ask helpfully "Cah-MEL?" And i would say "Yes." This small transaction made us friends of sorts.

During one particular monetary dry stretch, i probably didn't go in there for an entire month. I eventually made it back, though, and when i did found that he'd added to his language skills. He said, in almost perfect neighborhood vernacular, "Whas goin' Awn?" and then, same as it ever was, "Cah-mel?"

Ever since then, i've always enjoyed collecting little memories of how local and ethnic (and local, ethnic) accents get all tangled up.

Here's the most recent one:

Nigh on every Sunday afternoon Alison and i go and eat the buffet at a nearby Indian Restaurant. Yesterday we sat and hung out for a while after we'd finished our rice pudding (alas! no jamun yesterday!), and our server came over to clear the plates out of the way. Although i usually have a hangup about leaving any food on a plate--particularly at a restaurant in which the people serving me may know someone in another country going to bed hungry at night--i was not, this time, a member of the clean plate club.

The guy came to pick up the plate and he said (phonetically written):

Ahyout still wrearking ontis?

It took me a second--i think i may have even said "huh?"--and then I recognized he'd asked me:
Are you still working on this?

Now, i figure the phrase "working on this," as it pertains to eating a plate of food, is entirely a local thing to say--or at least southern. What d'ya think?


Regenia said...

I'd have to vote for southern -- heard the same phrase at Ryan's in Oak Ridge on Saturday.

The Fudge Pie said...

Southern Indian...hmm... This is a new dialect for me. You're right though about workin' on this. It is indeed a southern thing as it pertains to food.

ct said...

Hmmm. I grew up in Maryland and heard that phrase a lot. I don't consider MD the south, but a lot of folks still do...so I guess that would preserve your theory.

Indian sounds really good about now. Mmm.

Anonymous said...

I have to take a vote away from the south - my northern (Ohio) family members say this as well.

Kenneth said...

We've got that in Wisconsin, too. For what it's worth, I loathe that question. If eating is working I'm going on strike. Which would be typically self-defeating.

eliza McGraw said...

I totally agree with Kenneth. I hate the whole concept that my dinner, which I had, usually, been enjoying was some huge pile of sludge that I had to get rid of. And then if I am not through eating, it's like, no, I'm not doing this because I want to eat it, it's because I am a worker, by God, and I finish a job when I start it.

They say it all the time here in D.C. though.

They should stop.

Adam is upstairs playing "Willin'" to the children as a lullaby.