This is an Ex-Flower: Buying Posies in the Middle East

One of the minor inconveniences of living in the Middle East is the lack of good flower shops. You are invited to a lovely dinner and of course you want to show up with some lovely fleurs so off you hie to the flower store, only to walk into the vegetarian equivalent of the Battle of the Somme. Dead flowers as far as the eye can see. It’s tragic, it’s terrible and what makes it worse is the clerks try to convince you that the flowers are merely “resting” until they bloom.

Suddenly you are in a Monty Python sketch…

Do you have any fresh flowers?

This one ma’am

That bud is at a 45 degree angle and the outside petals are black

It’s called Black Magic

That rose is red, its petals are not supposed to be black

It’s just “resting”

It’s wilted, do you have any other flowers?

This one, ma’am

That’s brown

Just put it in water and it will be beautiful

It’s a white carnation that has turned brown. Even Harry Potter could not save it

These are lovely lilies.

Those are stone-dead lilies.

and on it goes, I kept expecting the clerk to tell me that the flowers were just pining for the fjords as I mutter under my breadth, “This rose is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! It’s kicked the bucket, it’s shuffled off  its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-ROSE!

It isn’t the fault of the clerks, but a general sense that there is no difference between a live and artificial flower. In making bouquets or sheaths, there is no effort to keep fresh flowers in water (flower stores don’t sell or use vases) so that there is a beautiful presentation that begins drooping immediately.

Watching clerks make sprays of flowers is painful. They take all the blooms out of water, lay them on a table and proceed to pluck off all the dead petals, then arrange them – a lovely display will be shriveled within hours. Walking into a room with many bouquets, you are met with the overwhelming stench of wilting flowers.

I was once given a sheath and took it immediately to the kitchen to liberate it – 10 minutes of cutting the tape and pulling out the staples that held the blooms in place, cutting each stem at an angle under running water, placing them carefully in a vase, and was rewarded with a happy bouquet which last for days.

It’s not a cultural flaw, just a difference. Flowers fade faster in hot weather and if you do not have flowers in your garden, a collection of vases, memories of watching your mother and grandmother tend cut flowers, and time to re-cut stems & refresh water, then a spray that looks pretty for a few hours makes sense.

But if you come from flower-loving people, then the flower stores are tragic, the clerks insane and it might be better to try to start a windowsill garden.