The grocery store and I are on civil terms, but we are not yet friends. I visit it every day or two, seeing as how it is right across the street from me, and I can’t carry too many heavy items like water home at once. Yet still, I am on shaky ground when I am there. You may recall from a previous post that I noted how most items list ingredients, directions, etc. in Slavic languages only, so choosing items can be a guessing game. However, that is just one of the obstacles I face. (I am not alone; one of my fellow Fellows did not have the good fortune of someone helping her shop on her first night, and ended up with Pringles and beer for dinner. That makes me smile and feel better every time I think of it.)
The store across the street is a major chain, pronounced “Silpo.” Someone said to me the other day, “Oh, yes, you have the large Silpo across the street from you.” I do?? It is on the lower floor of the mall, and there is a moving walkway that goes up. I have seen this a number of times here now, where there may be an escalator going up, but only stairs down. That’s better than no escalator at all, of course!
So, what could be so hard, you ask? Let’s start with the scales. If you buy fruits or vegetables, you need to weigh them on a scale and print out a price sticker. That means that you need to tell the scale what you are weighing. That means you need to know the name of the item. In Cyrillic. Alphabetically. Or, horror, type it in. Take a look:
Now, just do that when there is a line of people behind you. I’m feeling pretty good as I write this because I just came home from a shopping trip with bananas, carrots, AND a grapefruit!
Then there is the deli. I love being able to buy some pre-made food here, and the store across from the university has an especially large selection. That’s great, of course, although you need to know what the item is or be able to read the tiny writing describing it (I now know ‘chicken,’ ‘ground beef,’ and most importantly, ‘liver’) and then tell the person behind the counter how much of something you want. Most things are sold in grams, so I can say ‘100 grams,’ ‘150 grams,’ ‘200 grams’ and ‘1 piece’ or ‘2 pieces.’
I have found some things out the hard way. I wanted to buy some candy from some of the bins at Silpo. I thought, “This could be a lot of fun, to try one of each of these.” Whoa, stop right there, cowgirl. Each kind has its own price; no crazy mixing and matching here!
So, I reigned myself in and decided to start slow, with three different little baggies of three kinds. At the checkout, there was the inevitable game of “Can you answer all the questions?” I’m sure back in the States they ask you questions when you are checking out, too, but you don’t really notice it until you don’t know what they are saying. I try to look confident and answer “Nyet” to the first two questions: I figure they are asking me if I have a card, and if I need to buy a bag. But there’s always, always another question. Why???? Maybe they’re asking me if I have smaller change. (Yes, but I can’t find it that quickly. Which means I just keep accumulating more small change until my wallet is bursting). Maybe they’re asking me if the banana is mine. (Yes. Definitely. I fought the scale for it.) But the cashier feels like an interrogator to me, always successfully causing me to break and admit that I don’t speak the language and have been falsely playing along with my confident “Nyet”s. One day I hope to walk away from checkout with my head held high, but it hasn’t happened yet. I’m considering having Olga make me a button that says, “I don’t know what you are saying. Please give me my change and let me go!”
So there I am on the Day of Trying to Buy Candy, admitting as always that I have no clue what she’s saying. There seemed to be some other problem that she was having, since she was calling over to someone, and people were looking over toward us. I took my receipt and change and was heading out when I realized that a voice behind me was growing louder. I turned around to see a manager-looking man talking to — me! He said, “Check! Check!” I said ok and put my bags on the table there, waiting for him to check my bags. But he kept saying “Check!” Then I remembered that they call a receipt a “check”, so oh, I got my receipt and showed him. Then I recalled that I also had some leftovers with me from lunch out, and that perhaps that’s what all the fuss was about. I took them out of a bag and showed them to him, and he said, “Vash?” (Yours?) I said “Da,” and he decided to let me go. (I found out later that you have to put any extra bags in a locker when you enter the store.) I scurried home and only then realized my candies were not in the bag.
Try two. The next time I went, I got four bags of candy, just to show that I would not be intimidated, and made sure I had a different cashier. However, this time at the checkout, the extra question was clearly related to the candy. When I admitted language defeat, she angrily motioned to me that they should be weighed. The candies TOO? Oh, gracious. She was quite unhappy with me and stared at me as if I could do something about it. Did she want me to go weigh them, with others waiting in line? Did she want me to pay penance in some other embarrassing way? I just kept saying “Iz vinitye” (I’m sorry) and tried to look deeply regretful, and finally she gave me my change and receipt and let me go without my candy.
Try three. I was feeling gun-shy now. Truth be told, the candy scale at Silpo was (and is) still beyond my abilities. So what did I do? I found a different Silpo where the scale lists the candy by numbers that are posted by each bin — woo hoo! Candy, please! Here was my loot:
It’s good that there are some other grocery stores around me, because I am starting to run out of cashiers to go to at this one!