At the university, inside the main building, there is a small cafe that serves pastries of the Kazakh sort and coffee in a variety of forms. For whatever reason, it is called “French Cafe.” Normally, I eat lunch in the cafeteria, but sometimes the assortment of ground meat patties and raw vegetable sides don’t quite enchant me, or I’ve come to late and the tiny room they set aside for the faculty is already packed, so I walk across the atrium to French Cafe and order a sandwich.
Sandwiches in Astana are technically sandwiches, in that there are at least two pieces of bread with something between them, but they tend to score relatively poorly on the scale of deliciousness. To pieces of dry, toasted bread, with a mouthful of chicken sprinkled between them, and what sometimes seems like almost an entire tomato of slices mashed into the thing, in no way can compare to the variety of breads, meats, veggies, cheeses and sauces that you can find anywhere there is a proper deli.
That said, the sandwiches at French cafe aren’t terrible. And they are much better than a third helping of beef-chicken-steak in a week. They have two kinds, a “small” sandwich, which is two pieces of toast with cheese, tomato, and either chicken or tuna flecks, and a “club,” which is three pieces of toast with cheese, tomato, meat, and more tomato. I tend to stick with the former, as it has plenty of tomato for my tastes. One day they had slices of cucumber instead of tomato, which, I have to say, was a refreshing alternative to the norm.
Last Thursday, I decided to eat in French Cafe. I ordered a sandwich, as normal, and the cashier, as normal, asked “Small or large?” Here’s where the wheels began to come off. I replied “Small,” worrying that they had run out of bread entirely somehow, which did happen in one of my first experiences with the cafe, and running out of fundamental ingredients is fairly standard for this country. Reticent, she told me “No small.” Damn. “Only large.”
You know, sometimes people tell you something, and it is so utterly bizarre, so mind-numbing, that you can’t process exactly what it means. I’ve described the two kinds of sandwiches to you. They have the same ingredients, but the “large” is just... one more piece of bread and one more slice of tomato. Imagine ordering a regular cheeseburger at a restaurant, and the waitress saying “We’re out of regular cheeseburgers. We only have double cheeseburgers.” What response is there? A person who makes such a statement is not in a mental state in which they could process an explanation about how they could simply not put the second patty on the bun.
I had the large sandwich.