My wonderful adventure at a supermarket in my new town

The name of the supermarket it Tienda Inglesa. It’s the biggest one in town. My friend says that’s the store that has everything, but it’s rather overpriced, so don’t go there unless you have to.

I have learned something, though, since coming here. To not rely on only one person for advice, because there are many viewpoints.

I have to keep in mind the source and where that person is coming from. Of course, I don’t take advice from anyone who is mean or abusive to me. I won’t take advice from those that don’t fully respect me and value me as a human being, like those doctors I left behind. And many ex-friends who really didn’t respect me. I know better now.

It took a long time to recognize liars. It took a long time to recognize users. It took a long time, believe it or not, to recognize disrespect. People who are in abusive situations have a hard time seeing the forest through the trees…or shall I say the trees…for what they are.

My new friends are very kind. So far, the only real asshole I’ve met was the guy I had to sit next to on the plane from Miami to Montevideo. Eight hours of that dude. But I kept telling myself I’d never have to see him again. I kept what I felt to myself and pretended to be asleep.

There are those I have met who do not speak English and are very kind and tolerant. There are many who speak a little English and try their best to understand and communicate. And there are those who speak the language fluently, the so-called “expats” I know who are very kind and helpful. I choose already to use the word “immigrant” instead, when referring to myself. I made that switch. I think “expat” reflects the American superiority complex.

So I decided to try out the Tienda Inglesa, but be aware of my friend’s warning that the place is expensive.

I walked in. I noted the bright colors, a little different from the smaller markets that are mom-and-pop farm stands and the like. The smaller markets, some of them, keep their doors wide open so the public can come in as they wish, and are dark inside to save electricity. Employees get to know the customers and work very hard. The market obtains local produce and other products, whatever it specializes in.

A panederia is a bakery. There’s another type of store that has the word “provisions” in it but I forget the exact way it is spelled. The local gas station sells provisions as well. It’s on the north side of the Interbanearia, and there’s a brightly lit sign outside that says the name of the station. I cannot recall it now. A Intermobilaria (I think that’s the word) is a real estate place. It begins with “inter,” anyway. Heck, I thought that mean police station! I learned, though, from an English-speaker. If it says Pepsi outside of the store it most likely sells food. A place that sells liquor is called “licoraria” or something like that. A Farmacia sells pharmaceuticals, and then there’s a drugararia (oh, heck, someething like that) and we don’t have one here in Atlantida. These are like CVS stores, that sell shampoo, toothpaste, and deodorant.

My friend says you can get alcohol at the drugstores. I told her there’s a “licor” store on the Interbal, and I pointed toward it. She said, “No, not that kind of alcohol. They don’t use isopropal alcohol here. It’s ethyl. Good for cleaning, and much safer than Isopropal. Ethyl is the booze kind, but isn’t booze. To me, it smells like gin, kinda minty and pleasant, but I sure hate the taste of gin.

I live near two bridges. One is a footbridge over the Interbal, and the other is a car bridge over the Interbal a bit further down in the direction of Montevideo, that is, west. You can walk on the car bridge if you want to. Esta means east and if you go east from the car bridge, you will pass my street and then pass a bunch of little stores till you reach the footbridge. I use the two bridges as reference points when I walk around. And of course, the main reference is the all-present Interbalnearia, which divides our town. You are North of the IB or South of it. Downtown is south, so property values on this side tend to be higher. Why? Most folks are pedestrians, and don’t want to cross the darned highway or let their kids try to cross it to get to downtown. West of the car bridge, not too much, is the Tienda Inglesa. It looks like a mini-mall. It’s on the south side conveniently off the IB.

So I walked down a bit of the IB till I reached the Tienda Inglesa. As you saw in my photo that I’ve shared previously, the IB has little roads running alongside it for local traffic and pedestrians. Traffic is slower on the side-road than the IB, of course. Buses also use both the IB and the little side-road. There’s a word for the side-road as well, which you can read on a map.

So I had Puzzle with me. It was late, but I knew the Tienda Inglesa was open till 9:30pm. I think it was around 7 or 7:30 when I left the house. It was dark, but already I have enough confidence not to get lost, even if it’s dark.

The side-road disappears for a bit and Puzzle and I actually had to walk right on the highway, but it’s not scary like the Mass Pike. Pedestrians are fine and not considered criminals just for walking there (cuz we have to sometimes) but you do so at your own risk. For that reason, many folks on foot or bike wear reflective gear or carry flashlights so they will be seen. I have a reflective thingy on Puzzle and I sometimes wear my reflective vest or other stuff I brought over that I purchased many years ago in a cycling store.

I guess it takes ten minutes from here at my home to the Tienda Inglesa, and maybe ten minutes or a bit more to town, where there’s a smaller supermarket called Disco. I’ve been to Disco a number of times. I’ve been told that the street that Disco is on is the main drag in town, named after someone famous. Every town has a street named that and that’s the Uroguayo equivalent of “Main Street.”

The Tienda Inglesa, being mall-like, is further out and not right in the center of town. Actually, if you turn your head and blink a few times, the Centro of town will pass right by you and you’ll be elsewhere. It’s teensy on the off-season and multiplies in population seven-fold during tourist season.

I tied Puzzle outside the Tienda Inglesa and walked in. Unlike Disco, you aren’t required to lock up your knapsack in a self-serve locker upon entering. My friend pointed out that it’s hard to steal with a knapsack cuz it’s on your back, and far easier if you have a big pocketbook, yet women aren’t required to lock up pocketbooks. This is one of the few things here that simply isn’t logical, but that’s the breaks, eh? This country is far more logical than the US. You learn that right away.

Bright colors inside. Many goods. I saw a sign but had very little clue as to what it meant. It said that one thing was downstairs and anther in the main part of the supermarket. I wondered if the downstairs was a bargain basement….from looking at the sign I thought it said the Spanish word for “discount” but I wasn’t sure. I took the escalator down.

I was surprised. The escalator didn’t have stairs. It was a downhill ramp so that folks can put their shopping carts or baby carriages right on it. I’ll bet a wheelchair could go on it, too, if the wheelchair user knew the tricks of riding it.

So the downstairs had lots of housewares in it, mostly, and furniture, too. I looked at a set of bellows and a bunch of clocks. I forgot to memorize how to say, “how much does this cost?” in Spanish, so when I noted that the bellows weren’t marked with a price, I decided to ask. Or try to. I brought the bellows near the register and got the attention of an employee. I pointed to the place where the price just might have been but wasn’t. I gestured, using the “I don’t know” shrug and pointed to the spot on the box next to the bar code. The employee said in Spanish, “Wait, I’ll see,” but I have no clue what the words were. I only knew she was saying that by her body language. I waited. Another employee left and then came back. She told me the price. I said, “Yo no habla espanol.” This means I don’t speak Spanish. Espanol isn’t capitalized in Spanish like Spanish or English is in English…if that makes any sense.

The woman looked at me, smiled and nodded. I tried to guess what the number was that she was quoting to me. I wrote the number with my fingers in the air. No, she said. She spoke the price, as best as she could, in English, smiling at me. I said, “Gracias!” I thought the price was a little high. I put the bellows back and smiled and waved, saying, “Mucho gracias, Adios!” and I went back up the funny escalator.

Inside the main supermarket, it looked like a food store plus a goods store, sorta like a mini-Walmart or Target store, but mostly food I’d say. I made a bunch of purchases, stuff I need. I compared prices as I usually do. I’m trying to learn to think in Pesos instead of translating back and forth to dollars. Guess what? After only two weeks, I am indeed starting to “think in Pesos” quite fine.

I must have gotten sidetracked. I knew the store was past closing time, but I also knew that the store employees are tolerant of us slow folks. But I must have been daydreaming, eh? Suddenly, I was surrounded by store employees, looking at me quizzically. Uh oh.

In the US, being surrounded by store employees like that means you are a criminal. You can expect police to show up, search you, accuse you, and maybe put you in jail whether you have done anything wrong or not. However, the store employees were simply wondering why on earth I was standing there so confused-looking. They told me the store was closed and if I didn’t mind, to please check out what I was buying at the register so they could close the store.

So I did. I found the one register where someone would take me, the clumsy late person. I had all my things rung up, but the store employee said I had to wait for something. I thought she was referring to a store card you get to get a discount (like those red CVS cards or store cards in the US that track purchases) but that wasn’t what she was saying. I asked about “carta” and made a gesture outlining a card, and then she assumed I was asking something about paying by credit card. They summoned anther employee, a young man around 19 who knew a little English. He was so cute, a teenage worker, probably his first job, and now, he was a shining star, the one employee whose knowledge of English was suddenly useful!

The kid turned beet red and stammered. Oh, I knew. You study and study the darned words but when it comes to using them, you are all tongue-tied. He blushed. He turned his head, embarrassed. I touched him and said that’s fine, you speak English very well and you are doing a good job. I said this in half-Spanish, half English. He smiled and laughed. I told him I was studying Spanish but that I’d only been there ten days.

Everyone seemed so welcoming. They asked if I had a little…I said, “Oh yes, little…” and I gestured the size of Puzzle and said, “Woof! Woof!” Yes, I said, she is my dog named Puzzle. They were trying to tell me something about Puzzle and I got scared that maybe she wasn’t okay. But I waited.

Another employee came with a box. Know what I did? I took the demo off the shelf and wasn’t supposed to. So this was the boxed version. Oh, I said, I see. The price of the item was added to the total. “Oh, I see,” I said in Spanish, less enthusiastic cuz I had to pay more.

I handed the lady my credit card. She took it, then asked me to sign a paper. I did. Under my signature I put the date, but that’s not what I was supposed to put. A word there in Spanish actually wasn’t the word for “today’s date” but something else and I had no clue.

The cashier asked for ID. I said I had left my passport at home. She asked me if I could write the number down and I told her I didn’t have it memorized. She smiled and laughed. She processed my sale and said, “You’re fine,” in Spanish and let me go, laughing.

An innocent little lady with a cute dog sure isn’t a criminal. In the US, the employees would have been rude and dismissive. Here, they were warm, amused, and welcoming to the newcomer…me…now rather famous as Tienda Inglesa as the brave new lady in town who doesn’t know a darned thing. I say brave because they all understand that folks leave the US and come there for…REFUGE…and this is the life of an immigrant. It ain’t easy, but you survive somehow.

I left. I noted that Puzzle was still tied outside, but they had moved her and tied her to a different post. So I laughed. This is what they were trying to tell me. Puzzle was sure happy to see me. I put all my stuff into my knapsack, and headed home with Puzzle.

I laughed at my adventures. I promised myself I would write about how fun it was to be in such a situation, what an adventure, and how wonderful and welcoming this new place is that I now call home.

Feedback and comments welcome!