The Pineapple Dilemma

Christian Gath - Senegal


October 20, 2015

The Pineapple Dilemma

Because in most languages the word "ananas" in any pronunciation describes the fruit English speakers know as pineapple, it is a common mistake made by non native speakers (including myself) to just pronounce "ananas" how we would imagine the word would sound was it an actual English word and are surprised when our counterpart doesn't understand. Though "anaaanaas" translates for pineapple in Pulaar, this post has nothing to do with the sweet yellow fruit, but is yet another story of me buying bread.

Like every morning at around 9 o'clock it was time to buy the bread for the day, except this time my host brother had left the house early to accompany his grandfather to the hospital. So at the said time my host mother handed me money and told me in Pulaar: "go to the shop and buy mburu tatti (4 bread), mayo(?), e succre(sugar). Flattered by the responsibility that was just given to me and fully confident about my Pulaar I took the money and went towards the close by boutique. Mayo I thought, in German, English, Spanish and French it sounded like the short form of mayonnaise. Though we would usually buy plain bread in the morning and eat it with chocolate spread I had seen people eating bread with mayonnaise and was sure my host mother just wanted to bring some variety to the breakfast table this morning. When a minute later I arrived at the boutique I was unsure about the pronunciation of mayo in Pulaar but since I "knew" it meant mayonnaise I just switched to French after greeting the shopkeeper in Pulaar and ordered 4 bread with mayonnaise and sugar, a little surprised that I didn't get the usual plain bread the boutique owner asked if that was really what I wanted. Self confident I answered yes, so he started spreading the mayonnaise onto the breads but hesitated when it came to the sugar, we booth agreed that mayonnaise and sugar on bread was a little bizarre thus I took the sugar extra so that my host mother could sprinkle it on the bread herself. I paid and returned home.

When arriving there my host mother looked at the bread and bag of sugar in my hand and asked "ko honto mayo" (where is the "mayo") I pointed to the bread when she noticed that unlike every other morning the bread was cut. And this is where the pineapple dilemma becomes the mayo catch-22. She took the bread unfolded it and looked with questioning eyes at the mayonnaise on the bread and with the same facial expression at me. Still proud of myself buying bread for the first time alone smiled back at her when I realized that something was wrong. Then she suddenly started laughing out loud, attracted by the laugh my host siblings surround us and one of them explains to me in French.

Turns out mayo is not the Pulaar word for mayonnaise, after all it is not even Pulaar but rather Wolof and means milk.

Though I can see that most of my host siblings would have rather eaten the usual bread with chocolate spread for breakfast everybody is amused by the foreigner not even being able to buy bread.

One uniqueness I have found here in Senegal is the great diversity of language, just in my small village I am exposed to 4 different languages (Pulaar, Wolof, Malinke and French), and impressively people know at all times with which language to talk to whom. Though my Pulaar is getting better everyday I wonder when the next time will be my mother sends me to buy bread alone.

Christian Gath