As a nurse educator I have taught classes to my students on culture and cultural sensitivity. Last summer when I attended Missionary Training International (MTI) they talked a lot about cultural adaptation. I thought I was prepared for entering a new culture, but today proved me otherwise. The day started with a plan to visit a consignment store nearby before an afternoon of testing for placement at the school. I had noted the store's hours this weekend when out walking and they were supposed to be open Monday from 8:30-4:30. At 9:30 I went there and the door was open, so I went in (there was no open or closed sign anywhere on the building). As I was looking at some items a man came up to me, speaking French, which of course, I couldn't understand. He went and got someone else, and they told me in broken English that the store was closed. I told him the hours posted on the door, to which he replied, "Oh, that's only if we feel like being open then". Okay, I'm definitely not in the U.S. anymore.
So, I decided to go to the grocery store and get some items. A friend had said it was on this same street, and not down too far. I saw the sign for "Courforre" market with an arrow in the direction that said "3 min". So I started walking, thinking it would be close. Block after block and no market, but I kept seeing signs that said "3 min". I'm not sure what this actually meant because it was really about 30 minutes and about 1- 1 & 1/2 miles. So, eventually I got there, and I knew that you had to have a coin to put in to get the grocery cart disconnected from the others. Their system is that you put a coin in to get in, and when you are done and reconnect the cart, you get your coin back. The problem was that I wasn't sure which coin. A woman came by and I pantomimed my problem, she looked through my coin purse and selected the right one, I said "Merci". She left. The coin would not go in all the way, so I chose a different one, and so this went on for about 5-10 minutes before one actually worked and I got my cart.
OK, so now I'm in the store with my list and looking up and down the isle and trying to find tomato sauce, not tomatoes, and bread crumbs and other assorted items that do not have the same names as they do back home. I had to pick up numerous boxes and cans and try to decipher what the French ingredients were, and then decide if it was the right thing. Then I made it to the vegetable isle. I noticed people weighing their veggies and fruit and thankfully in Spain I had already been acquainted with this system. You put your item on the scale, then push a button of the picture of the item, and it spits out a price tag that you attach to the bag. The only problem was that there were about 10 people behind me waiting, and I had about 10 bags of veggies/fruits. I took longer than they were expecting, and soon a couple of ladies were at my side trying to help me so I could get out of their way!!! Okay, so I finally got all the items that I needed and headed for the checkout stand. It was then that I remembered my friends telling me that you have to bring your own bags, because they don't supply bags. So, I had to go looking through the store for bags that I could purchase. I tried to pantomime this to a man who was stocking. He finally got it and showed me that they were at each checkout stand. Yikes, I was now very frustrated, and I had to go to the bathroom! Well, come to find out that French grocery stores do not have public bathrooms.
Anyway, I managed to pay and bag all my stuff and started the long walk home, now carrying 3 bags of heavy groceries, and trying to hold my bladder!!! I have never been so glad to get "home" and I was from that trip. After discussing this with some of the girls here, they told me there is a push basket that you can take with you to the grocery store. They don't bother with trying to get a cart, because it's always difficult. Some said they take the bus to the store, and couldn't believe I had walked all that way carrying bags of groceries.
Wow, hope my next grocery store experience is easier. I felt that old culture shock hitting me right between the eyes. Tomorrow after class, it will be the post office. This should be fun!! Gotta love it! :)