Intercultural grocery shopping

Intercultural grocery shopping

Intercultural grocery shopping

It is now widely agreed that human beings have moved into a phase of modernity in which they have to tackle the extreme dynamism in modern institutions and provide an explanation for the discontinuities they experience. As a result of migration, human society has undergone a stretching process whereby different social contexts and regions have become networked across the globe, displaying inevitable tension. The following personal story reveals how this kind of dynamism is played out locally:

A few weeks after my arrival in Sydney, I went grocery shopping in an Iranian convenience store. That was my first encounter as a sojourner with an Iranian immigrant in Sydney. A bit grimy and disheveled, the store offered a wide range of products: from nondescript packages and copies of local Persian newspapers to fruit and vegetables. I filled my basket and then had to wait a bit at the counter before it was my turn to pay. Once it was my turn, the following conversation unfolded between myself and the cashier, a woman in her mid-fifties:

Cashier:     bebæxʃid ke wait ʃodinā?! I am very sorry! [Sorry I kept you waiting?! I am very sorry!]

VP:          mohem nist! be hær hāl āxære hæftæs dige! [Doesn’t matter! It is the weekend!]

Cashier:     āre in weekend hā hæmiʃe hæmintorije! emru:zæm hæmkāræm nist, xodæm cashier hæm hæstæm! [Yes weekends are always like this! Today my colleague isn’t here, so I am the cashier too!]

VP:          tʃe ghædr ʃod?! [How much is it?!]

Cashier:     Seventeen! bagæm bedæm? [Do you also need a bag?]

VP:          tʃi?! [Pardon?!]

Cashier:     bagæm bedæm? [Do you also need a bag?]

VP:          āhān! Næ! Mæmnu:næm! [Got it! No! Thank you!]

Cashier:     Welcome! See you!

For those people who have not experienced life in migrant contexts, Persian is still the language of choice between two native speakers of Persian even if the convenience store, where the interaction takes place, is located in Australia. However, this observation fades to insignificance if one looks closely at this typical conversation. As is evident in this exchange, my Persian differs markedly from the cashier’s. Hers is interspersed with English to such a degree that I couldn’t always understand her. A case in point is ‘bagæm bedæm.’ “Bag” is such an unusual loan word in Persian that I needed to ask for clarification.

Arguably, the above conversation links us to different worlds: my exclusive use of Persian links me up to my community back home in Iran while her use of English chains her up to her host community.

The cashier’s speech may also be interpreted as an attempt to forget Persian, her mother tongue; an attempt which is motivated not only by the speaker’s personal preferences but also by the sheer forces in a globalized world; the forces that may cause migrants to pride themselves in going to the length of claiming themselves unable to speak their first language.

Strictly speaking, the cashier’s speech represents a state of liminality between the global and the local and thus questions the homogeneous categories of knowledge and culture. Liminal situations are ambiguous and ambivalent; they slip between the global and the local, between the public and the private, between work and home, and between commerce and culture. And it is the diversity and richness of such practices that need to be explored in studies of language and globalization.

Author Vahid Parvaresh

Vahid Parvaresh is an assistant professor of English at the Faculty of Foreign Languages of the University of Isfahan, Iran. He holds a PhD in Linguistics from the University of Isfahan and an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Tehran. His research interests are in discourse analysis and cross-cultural pragmatics.

More posts by Vahid Parvaresh
  • Dariush Izadi

    A thought-provoking post that deserves to be thoroughly investigated!
    In my daily dealings with Iranians here in Sydney, I’ve noticed that they sometimes use some English phrases such as those mentioned above (outside the store) to be the center of attention! This might be an unproven thesis, but interestingly when asked why not using the Persian equivalence to those phrases; they believe they feel more comfortable with those phrases. This is strongly evident when telephone numbers are exchanged between two Persian speakers.
    Also, from the perspective of communicative behavior, as is obvious from the excerpt above, it seems that the Persian shopkeeper tries to include activities that show the interpersonal relationship between the customer and herself, in this case the reason for the wait! This “socially expanded encounter” (Bailey, 1997) is characterized by practices that increase interpersonal involvement, i.e. involvement politeness strategies such as discussing personal experiences, small talk etc. The customer’s comment “Doesn’t matter! It is the weekend” initiates a new type of talk and activity. This is a type of talk that is not related to the business transaction but rather focuses on the ongoing relationship between the customer and the shopkeeper. Extremely interesting! Thanks Vahid

    Bailey, B. (1997). Communication of respect in interethnic service encounters. Language in Society, 26(03), 327-356. doi: doi:10.1017/S0047404500019497

  • Golnaz

    As always thought -provoking and intersting ! The case with your posts is that they are always new.
    never read any where before .


  • Banafsheh

    Dear Dr.Parvaresh,

    Thanks a lot for your post. All the posts in this website are helpful for the ones who are interested to do research. Considering some research points on globalization,you wrote based on your communicating experience in Australia and light some spots of the way for researchers. Thank you all for your mindful and new writings on Language on the Move website.


  • Lachlan Jackson

    Cool post!