Four Bags of Nine


I am standing by the bins of rolls at the grocery store.  It's a Saturday morning and I only have a few things on my list.  It should be a quick in and out, and off to all the other things on my calendar today.

And yet, I am hovering uncertainly before the abundance of baked goods.  The problem is thus.  I'm here to buy rolls for a potluck get-together and I'm going to need a good little stash of them. I almost reach for the bag to begin, when my mind flashes forward to the check out aisle.  I will get there with my bag of rolls and the cashier will look at my bag and ask me, "How many?".  It's alright.  I know this word--Ile.  This won't be insurmountable for me.

The plot thickens, though, because I have a distinct problem with Polish numbers.  Through the wonders of incidental language learning, I know how to say one, two, five, seven and nine.  I do some quick mental calculation and realize that nine is the largest of my options and nine is not going to cut it for my current needs.  I do recognize vaguely that I know how to say 100, but that is going to be overkill in this scenario, even if I could mange to fit 100 rolls in one bag.

With regret, I know what I must do.  I am going to have to make multiple bags of nine rolls.  I am always trying to minimize our waste profile, and I know that food packaging is our single biggest category.  Why haven't I gotten around to making those reusable bulk bags yet?  I know how insidious these disposable plastic bags are to the greater waste problem.  I think dully of the Great Pacific Garbage Patches.  But, I see no other solution.  It hurts my soul a bit, but I pull off four plastic bags.

Arriving at the checkout a few minutes later, I plop my carefully counted bags onto the conveyor belt, along with some milk and oranges.  The cashier gets to my mound of bakery items and looks a bit perplexed.

Tentatively he asks me, "Ile?"

I am ready for this moment.  Proudly I answer, "Dziewieć."  Then, to make sure that I've made myself clear, I point to each bag and repeat, "Dziewieć. Dziewieć. Dziewieć."  I smile triumphantly.  

He then says something which I can only surmise translates as "So . . . . . thirty-six, then?"  I do not know for certain that this is what he has said, because of course, I do not know how to say thirty-six.  No matter.  I agree with him wholeheartedly.  

I am "tak"-ing all over the aisle.  Tak is my favorite Polish word.  Actually, Yes is my favorite word in any language.  It means we are all on the same page.  It means hopefully you won't ask my any more questions, because I'm just barely keeping up as it is.  It means I have successfully communicated something, and with any luck it may have even resembled what I was hoping to communicate.  And, though you are a lovely human, at any moment you may open your mouth and say one of a million things I do not understand.  And, you may even want me to respond to whatever you have said.  So, mostly, I am saying yes so we can stop talking now.  

And yet, there is something in this cashier's eye that takes the edge off my triumph just a little bit.  It is something that says, "This woman is insane."  I have a vague idea that he will probably be relating stories about an eccentric shopper who can't speak Polish to his buddies tonight.  But, I will not let any of that tarnish this moment for me.  

I have successfully bought more than nine of any one item and my confidence is soaring.

My beleaguered cashier rings out my milk, and then encounters one more bag of rolls--a different variety that I'm buying for dinner tonight.

Warily, he says, "Dziewieć?"

My smile is as broad as my enthusiasm.

"Tak. Dziewieć."