Argument, Shmargument

Once, I was at my Mum and Dad's for dinner, Rosh Hashannah time, and obviously we did the pomegranate, apple and honey minhag. You know, that whole land-of-milk-and-Sainsbury's-fresh-fruit thing, complete with white tablecloth, coloured paper napkins (not serviettes) and guests we didn't like really but felt sorry for.

When the fruit came out, all shpraunszy on a cut glass platter everyone ooohed and aaaahed. Auntie Regina (no relation, aunt-by-association) asked where the lovelyfruit (as if there's any other sort) came from and my Mum said that it had come from her sister, Vera for Yom Tov. (When I was a kid, and aloe vera got popular as an alternative medical, sorry, complementary healthcare product, I always imagined saying "'Allo, Vera" to my Auntie Vera).

Now the questioning-guest was Regina, a recently-divorced, skinny, Sefardi woman who weighed her daughter every morning to check the value of her investment in the dynastic marriage stakes, (because, as we all know, investments can go up as well as down). And she liked a fight. Or a broigus, as people don't say in Ladino. Oh, and she lived in Didsbury/Yidsbury and shared a butcher, baker and candlestick maker with Vera.

"Vera?" she says, archly. I know there's something coming and I know my Mother isn't going to like it. "Vera?? Now, I saw her in Butchers (the greengrocers) the week before Rosh Hashannah, and she was doing her fruit order. Huge. And I said to her, is that something for Shirley and David and the children? And she said to me, no, Shirley DOESN'T EAT FRUIT."

"Doesn't eat fruit!!!!!!" My mother (Shirley) muttered, spluttered and spat over the carefully arranged fruit platter. Looked like she would explode, red and pink with anger like the inside of a pomegranate, only with the seeds painstakingly removed, and the fruit consequently tasteless.

"Doesn't eat fruit!! How dare she. OF COURSE we eat fruit. We eat anything. I mean, how absurd. As if….. "

And for the rest of the evening, that was the topic of conversation. How dare she? How could she? A gefrunzel in the oven, baking till it's done and we can dispute till dawn.

For Jewish people, there's only two ways to have an argument: either you yell and scream and die of a heart attack, or you suffer in silence, martyr yourself (Me? Angry?), and die later of cancer anyway. This was a hybrid argument: my Mother would shout at/to third parties, but refuse to discuss it with Vera and expect her to know, psychically why she was annoyed.

Also, people don't really HAVE arguments, they MAKE them, like a cup of tea. I guess a verbatim translation from Yiddish, but none of the passivity of an English argument. Just like you don't THROW a party, you MAKE one. Being Jewish is very proactive.

Eskimos might have 127 words for snow (apparently an urban myth, by the way, or a skiers myth?) but Jewish people have 613 words for an argument. A broigus is pretty low key, and wears off without ever being resolved. Sometimes it's not even an argument, just Being Annoyed. Like if you get seated by the band at your friend's child's wedding.

A ferribul is more long term, it's a status. "What a ferribul I had with her. We didn't talk for… I don't know HOW long". And a gefrunzel? People have been arguing over the meaning of that one forever.

Talking to my friends about the fruit scenario I discover that Gary has never met his uncle or cousins because there had been a crockery-ferribul over his grandmother's fleishig best. And my brother, a Barrister noch has two significant specialisms; Fitted Kitchen Litigation and Package Holiday Litigation.

Looking back, my childhood was drama-driven. Everyday conversation happened at breakneck speed and maximum volume. I don't think anyone in my family has finished a sentence in three generations. I remember the Friday Night dinner table pregnant with unfinished conversations hanging in the air. We want to get heard but not necessarily to listen. You've got to be quick, defend yourself, take no hostages. After all, they might come and get you at any minute.