Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Toilets and Taxis

For certain travelers, the first phrase they learn in a new language is, "A beer, please", or some variation thereof. When I travel, the first thing I want to be able to ask is, "Where is the bathroom?" I've learned that it's better to have this question down pat before actually needing to use it.

I drank several cups of tea during yesterday's welcoming session at the Ulpan, necessitating a dash to the loo before classes started. Panicking, I realized that I did NOT know the key word...luckily my neighbor, David, was able to clue me in: "Shei-rut-im"

Armed with this information, I asked my new instructor, "Eifo ha-shei-rut-im?" Realizing I had no capacity to understand any answer she might deliver verbally, she pointed me in their general direction and off I went.

Later in the day, when my jet-lagged and Mediterranean-sun exposed brain was in hibernation mode after a delicious lunch in which I overindulged in grilled chicken, couscous, grilled vegetables, marinated peppers and assorted salads, another person was telling us how to get off of campus into the city of Netanya. There are buses, she said, or taxis, or you can take a "shei-rut", a minivan that runs a regular route (like a bus) but drops you off wherever you want (like a taxi). These look like the most fun kind of transport, with loud music blaring from the inside...but which I have yet to try.

So, in that state of mental meltdown, I noted that a "shei-rut" is a shared taxi, of sorts. Some new friends and I boarded the next vehicle that showed up, which in this case was a bus, and went into town. While riding into the city I tried to recall the word for bathroom. "Shei-rut-im" ('im' is a plural form) kept coming to mind, but didn't I just learn that "shei-rut" was the word for a shared taxi? What on earth is the relationship between toilets and taxis that would allow them to share the root of this word, if not the whole word?

I was wondering if I was having a mid-life moment, completely confusing my vocabulary and forgetting what I had learned hours before. Oy!

After a quick peek in the dictionary, I learned that "shei-rut" actually means service; "shei-rut-im" services. Indeed the taxi (toilet) provide the service of ferrying people (waste) from one place to another. Perhaps this is not the explanation my instructor would give, but I was satisfied and relieved that I wasn't having a mid-life moment after all.

I could relax and have a beer, please.

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