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San Francisco's foreign-language bookstores.

San Francisco's foreign-language bookstores A city with an unusually high number of foreign-born residents, San Francisco abounds with foreign-language bookstores. These peaceful havens are treasure troves for curious travelers, language students, and anyone with a taste for the quietly offbeat. In their shelves, you can find anything from an Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters to street maps of Paris, Vietnamese children's tales to language tapes in Serbo-Croatian.

Aside from the variety of printed matter these shops offer, they also provide an easy avenue to the music, crafts, and general sensibilities of a foreign country. Indeed, many operate almost as unofficial embassies--providing information for Americans, and interpreting America to new immigrants and foreign tourists.

Russian friends drop by Znanie to read the Pravda Eizesee or just to chat in their mother tongue. Sara Gabriel of the European Book Company says she's often asked informal travel questions ("Is it true Parisians are mean?") by Americans planning a trip. In turn, many European tourists stop by for advice on subjects such as where to eat in San Francisco.

From travel guides to tomes

Typically, the stock in these stores falls into three categories: books in English about the country the shop specializes in, books in English imported from that country, and books written in the country's language. The number of titles in each category varies from store to store. Why visit these stores? For travelers, they're an excellent source of hard-to-find guidebooks, maps, language tapes, and dictionaries. (The Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya, for example, carries more than a hundred guides--covering everything from buying Japanese art to business etiquette.) Language students can find reading material that runs from the esoteric to the lascivious.

You can also pick up translations of old favorites for foreign friends (ever see Alice in Wonderland in Arabic?) or books designed to teach children a new language (First 1,000 Words in Spanish).

Here we list San Francisco bookstores that carry publications in both a foreign language and in English. Some entries offer an especially wide selection or unusual items. In addition to the typical bookstore ephemera (anything paper, from greeting cards to art prints), some carry imported knickknacks, clothing, music, and movie videos. Most stores listed accept mail orders. Area code is 415.

Asia and the Middle East

Arabic Bookstore, 791 Valencia Street; 864-1585. Open 9 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays. This homey store serves up a range of Middle Eastern items, from the latest novels of Naguib Mahfouz to language tapes in Persian.

China Books, 2931 24th Street; 282-2994. Open 9 to 5 Mondays through Fridays, this mural-faced publisher and mail-order house has a presentation room on the second floor for its 70 varied titles, including Shopping in China and the encyclopedic Magnificent China. Its catalog also offers stuffed pandas, delicate paper cutouts, videos of Chinese movies.

Chinese Culture & Arts, 241 Columbus Avenue; 397-4850. Open 10:30 to 6 Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Eastwind, 1435-A Stockton Street; 781-3331. Open 10 to 6 Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 5 Sundays. The large travel section covers not only China but its many provinces and cities, and offers language tapes, railroad schedules, and maps. You can find books on anything from religion to Ten Principles on Raising Chinese-American Teens.

Goshado Company Books, 1748 Buchanan Mall; 921-0200. Open 9:30 to 6 weekdays, 10 to 6 Saturdays, noon to 5 Sundays. Japanese books, tapes, and stationery.

Kinokuniya, 1581 Webster Street; 567-7625. Open 10:30 to 7 daily. This spacious store is full of information from and about Japan. Guidebooks, maps, language tapes; also philosophy, literature, social studies. Good selection of brushes and rice paper.

Korean Book Center, 5633 Geary Boulevard; 221-4250 or 752-9797. Open 10 to 8 daily except Sundays. Small section of Korean guidebooks in English; an entire wall of Korean videos.

Koreaone, 3852 Geary Boulevard; 752-2626. Open 9 to 8 daily except Sundays.

The New China Bookstore, 642 Pacific Avenue; 956-0752. Open 10 to 5 daily.

Sino-American Books & Arts, 751 Jackson Street; 421-3345. Open 10:30 to 6:30 daily.

Europe and the Soviet Union

A. Cavalli & Co., 1441 Stockton Street; 421-4219. Open 9 to 5:30 daily except Sundays. Started by a Swiss-Italian immigrant in 1880, this store carries Italian items ranging from travel books to opera recordings, Alfa Romeo shirts to demitasse coffee sets.

Alicorn Irish Books, 3428 Balboa Street; 221-5522. Open 1 to 4 Tuesdays through Saturdays; call first.

European Book Company, 925 Larkin Street; 474-0626. Open 9:30 to 6 weekdays, 9:30 to 5 Saturdays. The large and varied selection of French, German, and Spanish books and magazines, the numerous language tapes and maps, and the jumble of children's books and games have made this retail and wholesale business an invaluable resource for travelers and teachers.

Globus Slavic Bookstore, 332 Balboa Street; 668-4723. Open 10 to 6 Tuesdays through Saturdays.

Irish Castle Gifts, 537 Geary Street; 474-7432. Open 9 to 5 daily. Irish folklore and records compete with woolens and Belleek china, "blarney items" such as Kiss Me I'm Irish T-shirts.

Quinby's, 3411 California Street; 751-7727. Open 9:30 to 6 weekdays and Saturdays, 11 to 5 Sundays. French children's books.

Znanie Bookstore, 5237 Geary Boulevard; 752-7555. Open 10 to 6 daily except Sundays. Floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with Russian books, whimsical toys, and colorful scarves fill the front of this 31-year-old store, Russian librettos the rear.

Latin America

The Book Center, 518 Valencia Street; 626-2924. Open 10 to 6 daily except Sundays.

Iaconi Book Imports, 1110 Mariposa Street; 255-8193. By appointment only. In the front of a well-lighted warehouse, a small library represents Iaconi's stock of quality children's books, mainly in Spanish. Dictionaries with English equivalents are available in 12 languages.

La Latina Spanish Books, 2548 Mission Street; 824-0327. Open 10:30 to 6 weekdays, 11 to 5 Saturdays. Copies of Don Quixote as well as Julio Iglesias tapes.

La Moderna Poesia, 2122 Mission Street; 861-6775. Open 10:00 to 5:30, closed


La Pajarita, 3125 16th Street; 861-2209. Open 10 to 6 Sundays through Wednesdays, to 8 other days.

Libreria Mexico, 2841 Mission Street; 647-0329. Open 9 to 7 Mondays through Saturdays, 10 to 5 Sundays.

Modern Times, 968 Valencia Street; 282-9246. Open from 11 to 6:30 Mondays through Saturdays, 11 to 5 Sundays. This cozy store features contemporary Central and South American literary and political books in Spanish and English.
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Date:Jan 1, 1990
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