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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: A word called 'oish'

© Another Day in the Country

I learned a new word when I was in California this summer. Perhaps it hasn’t been used long enough and often enough yet to get into the New Webster’s Dictionary since it is an acronym; but to some in the service industry in Napa Valley it is a word.

The word is “oish” and it stands for “Only In St. Helena.”

St. Helena, a lovely little town, right in the middle of beautiful Napa Valley, is a rather privileged place. Because of the price of land, because of the wine industry situated there, because of the tourist industry it attracts, and because of the wealthy who love visiting and living in this luxurious valley, the word oish was born.

“Only In St. Helena” stands for some worry, some problem, some inconvenience that is singularly a bother to someone who is rich and pampered. It is usually something that would never be a worry to Joe Blow, or anyone living too close to the poverty line, but it is a bother to the affluent.

It goes something like this: A lovely, well-dressed lady is talking on her cell phone while waiting to sign for her massage at the spa, “Can you believe that I had to reschedule my exfoliating pedicure,” she complains to her friend, “because my massage at the spa ran too long?”

“Oish,” mumbles the girl at the desk, under her breath, as she runs the credit card, smiling sweetly to the rich lady but internally rolling her eyes, “Only in St. Helena.”

Meanwhile, all the people facilitating a lovely experience for the well-to-do can’t afford a $200 massage and will settle for soaking their feet in the sink when they get home from work.

Since oish happens rather regularly, we started collecting them like kids collect really good knock-knock jokes: “I can’t talk now, I’ve got to pick up my dog from Doggie Day Care.” Or, “I want a refund because I ordered a hot stone massage and instead I came out all covered with oil.” Then there’s “I told her she should take her dog to a therapist.” And, “My limo driver got stuck in traffic, again.”

This area that I called “home” in northern California for over thirty years keeps evolving, of course. The Napa Valley wine industry and the requisite tourism has doubled and redoubled, time and again.

One afternoon I had my grandson count the number of cars that we met coming down from our home on a hill just outside St. Helena to pick up his mom from work in town.

“How many cars do you think we’ll meet?” I asked him. “Maybe 50?”

That seemed like a lot to me.

“I think over a hundred,” he chirped and began to count. We’d hit fifty before we’d even gotten to the main road so I knew my estimate was certainly off.

Before we turned to go the last mile in the town of St. Helena, we’d already climbed to almost a hundred, and once in city limits, with four blocks to go, we were over 150 before we hit our destination. I told Dagfinnr about driving all the way from Marion to Ramona on country roads and some days not meeting a single car.

I’ve had a home in the hills above St. Helena for forty-five years. I know exactly how long we’ve lived in this house because we moved in when my daughter was a year old. Forty-five years ago there were as many fruit orchards in the valley as vineyards. All that has changed, as vineyards cover the valley floor and creep up the hillsides.

Forty-five years ago we were just struggling to own a little place of our own in the country. We built a small house, landscaped with native plants and added sidewalks and eventually a deck when we had a few extra bucks, doing all the work ourselves.

We did not live among the wealthy who owned huge acreages on the valley floor.

We never locked our doors because we lived in the middle of a caring, conscientious, self-sacrificing, bunch of people who, while they were rather narrow in their perspective, were well meaning.

Well, it’s another day in the country, and I’m trying to think if there were acronyms for my neighbors up on that hill? I can’t think of any, but the people in the valley did called the folks in my area “Crackers,” because so many were vegetarian. “Oish,” had yet to be coined for the privileged down in the valley, who were only eight miles away but living in an entirely different world.

Last modified Aug. 13, 2015

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