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The Shopkeeper and Mom

My mom was proud of the fact that when she arrived in N.Y.C. she could speak English quite well. She had learned a good deal of English in the D.P. Camps in Germany. So the first time she went shopping alone for groceries while dad was at work she did so with great confidence.

Now, this was in the 1950s and it was that wonderful time of little shops and delis as the big supermarkets weren’t as popular yet. I enjoyed this time too. Each shop was set up in the owner’s own way and there were barrels of pickles and other interesting things to look at. You could pick up some items by yourself and others you had to ask the shopkeeper for. So here comes mom.

Happy and smiling until she asked the owner for buttermilk. If there is one thing which Latvians enjoy drinking that is buttermilk and mom was glad to see that it could be purchased at the grocery stores. So she says she wants a carton of buttermilk and the owner looks at her in complete confusion.

Mom wonders what is wrong with her English she has learned how to pronounce words quite well. However, she never thought she would have to interpret each person’s own way and style of talking. Not getting anywhere mom finally located the buttermilk in the case in front of the shopkeeper and pointed to what she wanted. The very relieved and delighted shopkeeper said,” Oh, you want buddahmilk”. This was his way of talking and in no way the precise and perfect way of speaking which mom was used to. She was just glad to have finally located the buttermilk and made her purchase.

Photo of my mom and dad looking out of the window of the house they lived in, in Germany


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  1. Such precious memories! This story reminded me of when I was trying to order tea at a cafe in Greece. I asked the guy “What kind of tea do you have?”, he thought that I want vodka and tea.

  2. you made me laugh. I have visited many places in the world – i had a conversation with a Portuguese Cab driver, me in broken Spanish, him translating to Portuguese, and then him trying to improve his English.

    it was the best ride in a cab I’ve ever had.

  3. Since your title read ‘Shopkeeper and Mom’ I was wondering why she was posing with the shopkeeper.
    And talking about native English speakers they are not good at all.


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