“Is it a gift?,” the woman behind the counter asked me. The friend who is going to be on the receiving end of the book I was buying tends to bristle at the Dutch way of dancing around the real question. I presume a North-American would ask straight away if I wanted the book wrapped.
Yes, it’s a gift, I confirmed. I like the dancing around.
Before, the woman had been staring out the window with her back to the counter. Outside, the tiniest touch of blue in the sky suggesting that twilight wasn’t officially over yet, a long file of horse-drawn buggies was rolling by. I remembered a similar procession the year before, and how long it had taken to pass. The lady behind me and I both wished silently that the sales woman would get over her amazement. Then I realized she wasn’t looking at the carts and horses, but at the store’s security guard who was pushing up the sun shields. She turned around, and, startled to see me, apologised for keeping me waiting.
First, she removed the price sticker. It wouldn’t go off completely. Then, she took a cloth and something that looked like a bottle of cough syrup. Being someone who competes in jumping at conclusions on an Olympic level, I figured she had spilt the cough syrup and was going to clean the counter with the rag before wrapping my book on it. As it turned out, the bottle contained some kind of solvent to loosen the sticker’s glue. Still, things took quite some time. The lady behind me had switched queues, and the American who took her place came forward to see and inquire in his best Dutch what was going on. “What gebujt ej hiej allemahl?,” he asked with a friendly smile.
The sales woman took her time to get it right. The book was beautifully wrapped, and I felt guilty; yes, it’s a gift, I had said. I had bought it, because I seemed to remember I had not given my friend a gift for her birthday. I wasn’t sure about that, though, and so the ‘gift’ may end up on my own bookshelves.