Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving from Scratch

We all know America is the greatest melting pot of all and everyone is of equal value and if you say they're not then you have to apologize but I can't help feeling that being Anglo-Saxon definitely gives one a leg up in the melting pot.

I felt this especially because I met Dr. Motes, Martin, teaching in Kosovo, southern Serbia, where three languages were spoken: Serbian, Turkish and Albanian,-none of them anywhere close to English. (Locals grumbling about learning Spanish - you have no idea!)

So, anyway, it was obvious that coming from southern Serbia to South Florida would be a piece of cake. And for a 'native speaker' as the English teachers call us, minor facts - such as "vest" and "knickers" in American English having nothing to do with underwear, or that "washing up" means cleaning your face rather than doing the dishes- were not things likely to throw me or make me have to stop what I was doing and call my mother.

But having finally arrived in Florida in October, almost the first thing I was told by Martin, not known as a family man, was that we would be on the road again, for Thanksgiving: to be with the parents. "Thanksgiving is more important for Americans than Christmas."

More important than ...More important than Christmas? It was then I realized I was in a foreign country, that I had married a stranger from a strange land and the child I was bearing would grow up with almost as lopsided an idea of the calendar as the children of my Yugoslav friends, who had their big day in November too, the Day of the Republic. But for them, that was understandable. They were not Anglo-saxon and all the more fun for that, but Americans had no excuse.

All that was a long time ago and as Lord Chesterton said about something entirely different: "The agony has abated." I have since learned the customs of this strange new land and now am proud to announce that when it comes to the turkey for Thanksgiving I yield to noone in my ability to serve up a tender, golden bird. I have become a champion baster. And I do stuffing - from scratch- (I like that American expression) even if it takes for ever. My secret? you ask. One just keeps on adding: the half jar of mango chutney, the last dollop of mustard, whatever's in all those little pots hiding at the back of the fridge, the last few crackers that got put in the freezer. Say what you like about my stuffing - it's definitely from scratch.
And I do cranberry sauce from scratch. In that, I may be being too American. I don't know if our family and friends are different or more lazy than most, but I discovered that making real cranberry sauce did not seem to be traditional. The first year at home, I bought a bag of cranberries, (a new fruit to someone from England) - read the directions, slid the berries into boiling water with a cup of sugar- simmered them till they popped, cooled them and put them in a pretty bowl. And this brought forth exclamations of surprise. Apparently the real American thing is to have some kind of a roll of coagulated berries that slide out of a can.

Now I am an American, finally, but only just. When asked, I didn't know how many stripes were on the flag and I had no idea which president was on what dollar bill. But if they had asked me about basting a turkey or making cranberry sauce from scratch - I would have aced it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Do's and Don'ts of Orchid Selling

When I think of the Do's and Don'ts of Orchid Selling I realize that with Motes Orchids it's the Don'ts that stand out, that define us best.

1. Don't mix politics and religion with business!

Where's the fun in that? Our philosophy at Motes Orchids is: if you are going to be open to the public and selling things what better time than to talk about Darwin, politics and anything else that stirs us up? Otherwise, with all due respect, we might as well be bank tellers or greeters at Walmart.

2. Don't kid around too much especially with new people.

I once told a gentleman from Chicago, visiting with friends, "Yes, we have a Porta Potty but Martin always says for guys: "Why waste the nitrates! Just go into the grove!"
He was a tall, imposing man and I still remember the look on his face as he gazed down at me.

3. Don't kid around Part II

When people very nicely ask if they may just look around? Do not answer: "Of course! Just remember there are electronic devices at all exits! Ha ha!"
This actually is a visual joke and may be lost on those unfamiliar with the appearance of Motes Orchids. Those who are, always get the joke.

4. Don't hover. (Around a customer).

Actually, we don't. (Usually too busy talking and, or, arguing - see above.)
Whatever is said about personal service and attention to customers being the most important thing for small businesses competing with the likes of Walmart or Home Depot- don't ever hover-hovering is so out. If you stand around at a customer's elbow, with or without helpful suggestions, and follow them from plant to plant, you will not encourage them to prefer you to the impersonal garden center at Target- you will merely look like you're keeping an eye on them because you think they might be trying to pinch something.

5. Don't turn off the radio if only one person has ventured into the nursery early on, especially someone new. Leave the radio on, otherwise an ominous silence will develop and scare them away.

6. BUT Don't bully customers to listen to Car Talk just because you think it's the best thing on Saturday morning.

7. Don't immediately try out your elementary or quite good Spanish when you hear a Spanish accent.

It is tempting to practice or show off and often your attempts will be met with exclamations of surprise and delight and appreciation and Motes Orchids will triumph once again but sometimes not. And it is well to remember that this individual who does not appreciate your helping out, may well have been in South Florida far longer than the average English speaker, and may well have a richer vocabulary than you do -given the latinate nature of so much Spanish vocabulary- (ie: long words).

8. SO Don't hand out orchid culture sheets in Spanish when you hear an accent unless you hand out the English one as you do so, saying: "Well, probably grandmother will be looking after the orchids too!Ha ha!"

9. Don't make too many suggestions and give too many options to customers who have a hard job making up their minds.

You know you've lost a sale when the comments slide from: "Oh! They're both so lovely I can't decide!" to-"Oh, heavens - what do you think of this one too?" To-"Oh, I really just can't decide. They're ALL so lovely!" and off they drift.

And 10 Don't start a long gloomy economic history of the pricing of orchids.

People have come for the flowers and (if they know us) bracing argument and conversation. Though I do think it is TOTALLY legitimate to point out why vandas should be more expensive than cute little commercial phalaenopsis and oncidiums and dendrobiums- those little Barbie doll orchids. Because vandas and often ascocendas too, are older and often have gone through a lot. Our orchids are more like parrots - they can outlive you if treated right. And a slightly battered appearance merely means these are five, six, seven years old (and on you can go-) Some of these orchids remember Andrew(1992.) If they could speak what a tale they could tell! Whereas your little phals- under two years old! Theyre like little Miss Worlds with their pretty, empty little heads! I'm sure they're all for World Peace and recycling but that's about it.

BUT PSSST! If it weren't for being Mrs motesiana and married to vandas and ascocendas- if I were fresh into orchids, with my frugal Clearance Rail First! philosophy, my Goodwill or Goodbye! I'd be the first one there, dumpster diving on rescue missions for little orphaned, fading Phalaenopsis round the back of Home Depot.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Do's and Don'ts of Orchid Buying

Actually Do's are pretty simple -Do buy orchids! Do pay the price stated including sales tax- which brings us to our first Don't:

Don't ask: "Why are you the only people charging sales tax?"
Because I want libraries to stay open, students to have music classes, pot holes to be filled! -And I don't want to get in trouble. Who are you? A sharp customer or a sharp customer from the IRS?

Don't ask: "This orchid doesn't have a price on it-so it's free isn't it? Ha Ha!"
And ha ha to you, too.

Don't ask: "How do I grow them?"
Orchids are the largest and most diverse family of flowering plants in the world. This is like going up to someone selling cakes and asking: "How do I cook?"

Don't ask "How do I grow them?" (Part 11)
If you live in Alaska, on a yacht, down a well, are allergic to plants or just waiting around for a friend, do not ask this question so eagerly and intently that the average orchid vendor becomes convinced that with a little encouragement and explanation, some of your disposable income will soon be his.

Don't ask: "I kill orchids! Now tell me what am I doing wrong?"
You are obviously an evil person and you are proving it by standing squarely in front of me and losing me a sale- Did you see that old hand at orchid shows, that lady who actually had picked up an orchid and was advancing, purse at the ready? Did you see her drifting off when she heard your opening line?

Don't ask: "Could you put this in a basket for me?"
No. The whole point is this orchid is sold as is, it's cheaper, a bargain, "bare-root" because it is Not In A Basket. This question works only too well if you are a drop dead gorgeous female addressing a male employee who has trouble getting dates and knows where the good baskets are kept.

Don't ask: "Do you have another orchid like that one last week- the one that woman got?"
You are distraught - it is the only one you ever really wanted and there must be another one somewhere in the nursery just as perfect and beautiful -but the funny thing is when we ask sympathetically, "What was the name? What size basket was it in? What color was it?" you often can't remember.
You just remember it was the most beautiful orchid and that woman swiped it. Here we need Dr. Motes (Literature and Philosophy)to fill us in on this phenomenon. If you cut out references to Plato etc., it boils down to the fact that reality can never live up to things remembered and dreamed of.
In the orchid world this means that however much the orchid house is scoured, however many other orchids are brought forward, even when we remember exactly the color and size of the lost one mourned over, the reaction is always the same: "Oh no, the one I mean, the one that woman got was darker, fuller, just more beautifuller!"
Well,if it were that much darker, fuller, more beautifuller, then it would not have been for sale in the first place.

Don't ask: "Do you have a smaller one of that?"
Because mostly you don't mean smaller, you mean cheaper.
And after having rummaged around in the back, emerging triumphantly, with a keiki or an offshoot:("I know the big one is 75.00 but this is only twenty!") one is almost always met with:
"Oh, um... no thanks."
Because when you've taken the trouble to make a special request, when you've waited patiently for someone to go back and hunt for this specific orchid, and your friends or maybe your Mum and Aunt are waiting too, and the children are starting to have fights with hand-fulls of gravel, then somehow it's not supposed to be smaller and cost all of twenty dollars when it arrives, why would anyone wait around for that? -It's supposed to be the same but cheaper.

This has been written while Dr. Motes is away talking to orchid societies in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware - so while the President is away I was having some fun. In fact, as everyone knows, we answer all the questions above (and more!) with the patience, wit and wisdom for which Motes Orchids is justly famous.
But the little question I like best, the sweet little question that always makes me smile, is the one that often pops up as someone rounds the corner and catches sight of our orchid houses for the first time: vandas, hanging up, row upon row, sitting on benches, in baskets, on S hooks -as far as the eye can see- and they will turn to us and ask shyly:
"So - do you grow vandas?"

Monday, November 2, 2009

Aunt Charlotte and Miss Piggy

Aunt Charlotte has a fan club. The sharp-tongued English Great Aunt, the weather-beaten old orchid grower who does not suffer fools gladly and prefers wasps to butterflies in nature's scheme of things, has turned out to be a real character. Though, given her pedigree, she should. Right at the start of Orchid Territory I state that Aunt Charlotte is based on Dame Judi Dench playing Queen Elizabeth the First and my grandmother "playing herself."

When I hear authors talking about their plots and how they had NO idea where their characters will lead them and how they just take over the story... I've always been right there with the millions who just roll their eyes and switch back to Power 96.

But somehow Aunt Charlotte is out there now, like Norm in Cheers or Miss Piggy. We all know that Miss Piggy, though she does have a great set of pearls, is basically half a yard of felt and a swish of taffeta (I hear a snort) and yet, she is also definitely there. And no-one would be surprised to hear it had been Miss Piggy up on Capitol Hill, lobbying for swine flu to be called something else.

Aunt Charlotte certainly has the swoopy, commanding voice of a Miss Piggy, hers the old upper class English version that has all but died out. Even the royal family now talk "common" as we used to say. For a while I played with the idea of having Aunt Charlotte be a bit of a con artist- claiming her father had been an eminent orchid collector in the far flung corners of the British Empire - rather than a cockney working in the flower market in the old Covent Garden.
In the end, though he didn't appear, I thought of him as a middle-class banker, anxious and orthodox behind his quiet privet hedge, trying to keep a veil of respectability over Charlotte till she'd finished school.

Some of my friends have said to my face that I am Aunt Charlotte which bewilders me. I am, of course, the timid young English teacher. I am Mark, the Hugh Grant of Orchid Territory, who can hardly start a sentence without "..Um..." Although in the presence of Aunt Charlotte, who, indeed, would not stumble, or preface any sentence with a worried or tentative "...Um?" What a fascinating world this world of the imagination is! Back to Power 96.