One of my favorite ways to pick up a little culture when I travel to a new place is to make a beeline for the grocery store. You’ll find all sorts of things that real people who really live there use in their day to day lives.
You’ll see crazy soup mixes and vegetables you can’t name, potato chip flavors like mayonnaise or squid, bottled drinks that you’ve never seen the likes of, and all sorts of other familiar, yet not-quite-the-same items.
Heading to the Disco
When Brian and I were in Buenos Aires, the first thing we did after dropping our bags off at the airbnb, was head out to Disco, the grocery store around the corner.
Since this was just day one I was still telling myself that the vacation really would be healthy. So after I grabbed some alfajores and a family size bag of potato chips, I put an apple in our basket too.
Getting Checked Out
When we got to the register everything was fine until the cashier got to the apple. He held it up to us and said something in Spanish that sounded like a question. Although we didn’t understand, we mumbled lots of lo sientos and that seemed to appease him as he kept on checking us out.
But lo, at the end of our cart, he picked up the apple and once again said something that our meager Spanish skills couldn’t decipher. I thought he wanted to know what kind of apple it was so he could ring up the price correctly. So, holding up a finger in the universal sign of “wait one second!” I dashed past the line which was several people deep by now and sprinted to the apple section.
Take a Picture, It Lasts Longer
Along the way I had a bright idea. I not only would find the name and price of the apple, I would make sure nothing was lost in translation. When I got to the display, I took out my phone and snapped a photo of the sign, then ran back to the counter and held it up to him proudly.
He looked at my phone with a mixture of confusion and sympathy. A picture is worth a thousand words, but unfortunately, none of those words were what he needed.
Finally a kind lady behind us leaned over and said in English: “He needs to know how much it weighs. Here, I’ll weigh it for you.” At which point I think the entire line breathed a collective sigh of relief.
So as I was saying, foreign grocery stores are a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. You not only get to try out new and different products, but you get genuine interaction with locals. 😛