It is not fun to go food shopping with me. I aimlessly wander up and down the aisles lacking the decision-making talents it takes to shop for a meal. Even when I make lists, I can’t stay organized enough to go aisle by aisle. I end up walking the length of the store many times causing the outing to take a very long time. I despise this activity almost as much as I dislike cooking the food I buy.
To me, shopping for food is by far the most intimidating and difficult part of living in a foreign country. You think you know the words for the things you want to buy. Produce of course is simple because sight alone is your guide. But then you get to the things you add to veggies. You look all over the shelves for something in particular (Is it even sold here? Hard to know…What am I even looking for?). Labels look completely different, company logos make the actual name of the product confusing, and questions like “which milk is skim?” are hard to answer. Add to that the pangs of hunger, the narrow isles, and the over-sized baskets blocking people trying to pass and it’s a recipe for anxiety.
You finally get to the register where (you don’t know it but) you are expected to bag your own items. So you begin and then someone rapidly says numbers to you. As fast as you can, you stop bagging your food, translate, find this amount of money, and then breathe because you’ve survived. But then the next customer’s food comes moving down the belt and just as you realize you’re being rushed out the door, your apples fall on the floor and roll into oblivion. (Okay this last part didn’t happen exactly like this, but I did drop 4 apples on the floor in the middle of an isle my first day here. I endured many strange glares as I chased them in 4 different directions and tried to hide my embarrassment.)
I know this same thing happens in stores at home in it’s own unique way. I know it’s a part of adjusting to a new culture, and these things will get easier. For me this was a simple exercise in remembering the things we take for granted in life. You don’t know how comforting it is to understand social norms or to read a simple label until you suddenly can’t.