Went onto the market, transformed now with its leafiness half on the ground, and half overhead; I wanted parsley, and something else leafy, maybe spinach, and potatoes. So many types of potato, each ugly in its own precious way, it would be nice to buy one of each and label them with toothpicks (i, ii, iii… xii, xiii, xiv) in order to find out once and for all how in flavour and texture they veer. The buying of parsley I always find a puzzle here: what is the German for a bit, or a bunch? I didn’t like to ask the grumpy lady in mittens who served me today smilelessly. At the smoked fish van in dappling shade I hesitated over the golden reams. A guy was playing steel drums in a kind of trance, which he had transmitted to the several small families swaying in front. I said to the fish seller when he came back in, I’d like a couple of those fillets please. I said, ein Paar: a pair, a married couple, a few. He picked one up in his long curving tongs, like a beak. How many is ein Paar? he asked. Well, I said; actually, two. Ah, he said, laughing: so an actual pair! He began wrapping the fish, chuckling softly to himself. Ego stung me and I wanted to find a cunning way of letting him know this is a second language for me, over just a few sentences people don’t always pick it up. You know, I said, artlessly, guileful: This everyday stuff is the part I find hardest, in German. How many is a few? How much parsley do I need? Is it a posy, a bouquet, a… well, ein Bisschen: a little bit?
He knotted the paper bag and spun it with that deftness so stylish in stallholders. He was considering my question. Well, he said at last, you can’t go wrong with a little bit. Ein bisschen. It’s not a posy or a “little flower” (“Blümchen”, I had said). Ein Stück, a piece… yes…. you can always buy a piece of parsley.
Peter Pepper. I took the parcel of fish and stowed it with the parsley in my bag. Thanks, I said. He handed over my change. “And now, you get ‘a little bit’ of money back, too,” he said, using the familiar form of “you”, which gave me a warm feeling as I stowed the piece of money in my pocket and wandered back past all the closing stalls with their shrieks and two for ones.