Just Bag It
Having never been much of a world traveler, the things I experience, the things new to me, are odd. Odd to me because they are different from my expectations. Not odd in a bad way, but odd in a way that makes me go hmmmm? Let’s take food for example. Sure the national food here is arroz con pollo or arroz con frijoles, chicken and rice or beans and rice. Like in Alaska where everyone has their own sourdough or beer batter or smoked / canned salmon recipe, here everyone has their own beans and rice or chicken and rice recipe. That’s not really too odd. I’ve watched enough food network to know that when you travel you should attempt to experience the “local” cuisine. However, what I find a little odd is how you buy your food.
For instance, bagged ketchup? Yep, you can buy ketchup in a bag. Not just ketchup, but mayo mustard, beans, pretty much anything that comes in a liquid or semi-liquid form is sold in a branded six-inch sturdy foil bag, like a giant Capri Sun bag. They are in every store and nearly every aisle; Even cleaning solutions, clorox, windex, soap…. bags. Now I haven’t exhausted every resource, but I have asked a lot of people and no one has been able to tell me why. I have heard they are easier to stack, last longer, more econ friendly etc. All theories, all plausible, but odd none-the-less.
Hot dogs, and American staple and a Godfrey staple. they are good for breakfast lunch or dinner. I know what you are thinking, they do not come in bags. Well, not exactly anyway. They come in wrappers. When you grab a pack of dogs at the store, they look just like any pack you would buy back home. However, they are made from many different things here, most commonly chicken. So you need to learn a few words to grab the right kind. But when you cut the pack open, you quickly see that each and every dog is individually wrapped with a thin layer of??? It is like a Saran wrap, a very thin tinted Saran wrap. I have yet to get an answer as to why or if you are to unwrap before cooking, cook with wrapping on, eat wrapping or discard wrapping. Again, odd.
Eggs, another Godfrey staple. We could have 50 chickens laying eggs in our back yards and that probably wouldn’t be enough for our family. We buy a lot of eggs. In the markets here the eggs come in containers of 4, 6, 12 , 36. They are brown, their shells are thicker and the eggs are not all the same size or color. They are not individually stamped, they look more like someone just picked them up form one of the millions of chickens you see running around all over the place. Also, they are never not once refrigerated in the store. Not in the upscale stores with air conditioning, or the local 95 degree stores. Eggs do not go in the refrigerator. They are usually at the end of an aisle stacked 6 feet high. We try to get the bottom of the stack of course, they are slightly fresher. Another oddity, or eggstentialism if you will.
Further, there are an abundance of employees in every store. For instance in our local Auto Mercado there is a stock boy for every aisle, and they are always adjusting, dusting rearranging or doing something in the aisles. There seems to always be at least one of them in the aisle if not three or four. There are usually 3-4 security guards patrolling the store, and apparently they have been trained to keep an eye on goateed bald guys. But I find a smile and a “buenas” puts them at ease. Most every store has a meat counter where you get your meat, and three employees behind it. Oh, and you order in kilograms. That’s always fun, especially the first time you ask for 4 kilos of molida (ground beef) and the guys eyes almost bug out of his head. Often times in the vegetable or fruit section there is a guy there just to weigh your fruit and mark it for you. If you try to leave there without getting it weighed and marked, he will chase you down. There is another one in the bakery section to bag, box and mark your doughnut. Around every corner there is someone doing something, or doing nothing as the case me be. In almost every instance there are more employees than patrons in the store at any given moment. The day I took these pictures, in the nicest mercado this side of San Jose, I counted at least 25 employees and about a dozen shoppers.
So not only are we learning to adjust to the new money, the new language, the new food, we also have to relearn the metric system, how to shop for food and how to purchase it properly. It is a daily adventure, and sometimes struggle. But I have learned a couple of things over the last 4 months; Squeezing your condiments onto an unwrapped hot dog, near nirvana. And you haven’t lived until you have made your kid’s PB&J by squeezing your grape Smuckers from a pouch.