One of the more interesting parts of this moving around all the time thing (or, really, one of the more interesting parts of travel) is the markets and grocery stores. Everywhere I go, the grocery stores are so different – different products, different ways of paying, different people – and yet, in many ways, they are all the same. Nowhere do I feel as connected to a culture as I do when I’m shopping for food among the locals. But then again, nowhere do I feel as much of an obvious foreigner as I do when things at the grocery store go awry.
I have a lot of Supermarket Adventures. One time in DC I thought I’d found love in the aisles and stayed in the Harris Teeter for an hour trying to find the potential soul mate who gave me a meaningful look in the nut butters aisle. Let me preface my recent Supermarket Adventure by saying I don’t expect to ever have as harrowing a supermarket adventure as every trip to the grocery store was in Yemen. Back then, we were deposited outside a different grocery store every week and told we had thirty minutes to shop. It was always rushed, slightly panicked, and I felt embarrassingly on display. Often, I had a gaggle of boys lined up behind me as I counted out rials with my sweaty fingers.
Madrid is a breeze. The grocery stores are lovely and they have everything. The only real difference is you have to weigh your produce and print out the price sticker before you get to the checkout. And you must wear a plastic glove to touch the produce. If you fail to wear this glove, you’ll receive a look of disgust from the Spaniards that is a lot like the look of disgust you’ll get if you’re barefoot at any time, for any reason. Oh, and when you ask for something at the grocery store, you need to ask for it in Spanish, duh, but sometimes I forget. One time I didn’t know the word for raisins but I managed to find them by describing them as “like the fruit for wine, but dry.” I considered this a major victory. The time I washed my dishes for a week with scented water for an iron because the bottle looked like Dawn, not so much.
Yesterday I went to my beloved Mercadona grocery store to load up. I brought with me my trusty blue canvas wheeled grocery getter. I don’t even remember what you do with your grocery getter in America, but here, you lock it up near the entrance/checkout of the supermarket. I didn’t have the 50 cents required to lock it, so, lazily, I just wrapped the locking chain loosely around it. Not fooling anyone, I know, but who’s gonna steel my stained grocery getter?
You see where this is going.
While the cashier was ringing up my six giant bags of groceries, I saw my grocery getter had vanished. This particular grocery store is, weirdly, on the third floor of a shopping mall. Getting to the street level with six bags seemed impossible. So I did what I normally do in situations when I’m stuck: I called Mr. Dame in Spain. He was on his way to the rescue when I spotted Trusty Blue on the level down below. It was just chilling there, aptly housing bags of groceries, beside a family that was eating ice cream bars. What a brazen perpetrator to steal my grocery getter and relish in his heist over frozen treats!
Mr. Dame in Spain arrived. I pointed down to my bag and told him he’d have to go confront the guy because my Spanish isn’t good enough. I watched from above as the man appeared to protest that he had stolen the bag. Ever the diplomat, Mr. Dame in Spain nodded sympathetically, gestured to make his points, and then helped unload the interloping grocery bags. Perhaps he even hugged the perp at the end (I don’t know, my view was partially obstructed).
It’s so good I have Mr. Dame in Spain because I probably would have just grabbed the bag and been like “Esta es mio, hombre!” I could still be sitting in a mall security cell. What’s most impressive is that Mr. Dame deployed Spanish, English and Arabic during this exchange. The man, who was visiting Madrid with his family from their home in Saudi Arabia, said he thought he had “bought” the grocery getter from the supermarket. I can only assume in super-wealthy Saudi Arabia grocery stores hand out $30 wheeled carts like candy while in Spain we have to pay five cents for a grocery bag. We piled in our groceries and wheeled them home in the 100 degree heat. Crisis averted. Grocery stores: They offer so much more than food.
To Supermarket Adventures,
The Dame in Spain