The Shopping Experience

Exito Supermarket It is that time of the week again. I have to go to the supermarket in Medellin. I dread it! While I normally enjoy shopping of ANY kind, I can’t never get out of these Colombian supermarkets fast enough. First off, their aisles are extremely narrow! There is barely enough space for one cart as it is. But trying to maneuver through the aisles during rush food shopping hour, where zillions of school kids, housewives with their dogs, couples that just have to make out right then and there in front of the row of vegetable oil you are trying to get to … it’s a nightmare! The worst of them all however are the old ladies that occupy entire aisles with their carts while talking to their friends/niece/nephew/grandchild. I have tried to ask for permission to pass, I have tried (in vain) to push my cart around them, I have also tried to move their carts so I can pass which usually ends with them yelling at me for being so uneducated impatient.

To make matters even worse, the stores hire an army of employees that are paid merely for standing around: in, at and along the aisles – making it impossible to push your cart anywhere. In theory, they are there for marketing purposes, and are supposed to offer you special products. In practice however, they just hang out and gossip. I am also not sure why it has to be 8 employees per promoted product. This incredible number of 8 promotional employees is further increased as their buddies from other departments usually join them. Obviously, if I try to ask one of them a question, they react very annoyed, as I have dared to interrupt their gathering.

Besides the hyper-presence of people and animals, another giant obstacle for me is the way the Colombian supermarkets are organized (or not organized for that matter). There seems to be no logic whatsoever in putting the toothpaste next to the candles, and the matches next to the notebooks, the chips next to the cheese and so on … Of course, this “organization” leads to me having to run back and forth for every little thing I need, through the aisles, around the employees and the dogs, past the couples and the old ladies.

While I am desperately surfing through the aisles trying to avoid any major accidents, I suddenly remember that I forgot to get a number for the meat counter line. Big mistake. By the time I get to the numbers, I get number 104. They are helping customer  number 86 now. In my experience with Colombian supermarkets, every customer seems to buy an entire cow with very specific instructions as of what part is supposed to be cut in which way. So really, 20 customer means at least one hour waiting. I am not sure why the supermarket managers never thought of introducing a fast lane for customers like me who just want to buy a pound of ground beef! Would that be so hard?! I am also a bit shocked to see how much meat Colombians devour, but that’s a different issue. On the other hand, if you have to wait in line for one hour, a LOT of thoughts cross your mind …

Once I finally get the meat, it is time to go to the cash counter. On a scale from 1 (fast) to 10 (slow), Colombians are probably a 12.5 when it comes to handling the cash counter. It doesn’t matter if there are 20 people with fully packed shopping carts waiting, they still take FOREVER to pick up a product, find the bar code and slide it over the scanner. Sometimes they also like to point out that you didn’t get the best deal on the eggs and advise you which eggs you should get instead. Of course, they are happy to wait for you until you made your way back (anything from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the number of old ladies in the supermarket). Which is very nice of them, but not if you are (as in my case) customer number 20! There is never a rush to speed up the process by any means. While scanning your groceries, they might even check out the things you bought to make sure THEY haven’t missed a deal. Somehow it also seems to be their common understanding that a packed supermarket with impatient customers is the best time to chat with other employees while completely forgetting that you (and 20 others) are still waiting in line. Finally, they also take the time to pack everything you bought into plastic bags and tie them up with the tightest knot ever. Even though there are baggers that are supposed to do it. Even though I told them that I will do it myself to save some time. Even though I said I have my own backpack and don’t need bags. Once they realize the mess-up, they take 5 extra minutes to untie the knot, take everything out of the bags, and place it in my backpack. While 19 people are still waiting in line. Of course, they also never have the right change for me, and have to run outside to the supermarket next door to get my money.

By the time I finally make it out of the supermarket, I am a sweaty, angry mess. Next time it is definitely Samuel’s turn to go grocery shopping!

Suspicious Sprouts

If you are not completely grossed out by my rat saga yet, let me give you another gory story. I am sure, this is just what you need on a Sunday morning while eating breakfast.

The other day, Samuel went out to get some Chinese food. While this normally would only lead to watching House of Cards, this particular Chinese food freaked Sam out. Most of the times, I ignore his complaints about food. He is probably the pickiest person I have ever met. If there is a funny spot on a tomato, he won’t eat it. If something even hints at the resemblance of mold, he throws away the entire package and spends the next hour checking every food item in the fridge for mold. So when he told me: “There’s something weird about those been sprouts.”, I ignored him. “I am sure your sprouts are fiiiiiine!” “No, they are not! Look at them! They are blue!!!”

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Blue sprouts? Instantly, I remembered a YouTube video we watched on strange food in China. One of the many stories of the video involved a woman who left the food out over night and found it glowing neon-blue in the dark. He had my full attention. We started inspecting the sprouts, and there was no doubt about it, they were blue! “Maybe it’s just a different type of sprouts they use here in Colombia?”, I volunteered. Obviously, this wasn’t a very convincing argument. Since neither of us wanted to eat the food any more, we did what anybody would do in that situation, we looked it up online. And were shocked. There was nothing, I mean ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on blue bean sprouts on the internet. No pictures, no blogs, no videos, absolutely nothing. We looked for it in three languages and still: no results. Seriously, when was the last time you googled something and turned up with zero results??? We panicked, grabbed the food and threw it out – a perfectly reasonable reaction in that situation. For all we knew, it could be poisonous or at the very least rotten stomach ache material. To sum it up in four words: worst Chinese dinner ever (even worse than the “vegetarian” tofu dipped in gravy I ate at a Chinese restaurant in Antwerp)!

We never found out if blue bean sprouts are normal or why and how sprouts can turn blue. So if any of you guys out there know ANYTHING at all about blue bean sprouts, please let me know!!!

Invasion of the Killer Rats Part IV–the Final Chapter?

It has been quiet in our house. Rat quiet. After the killing of the beast, there have been no more rat sightings. No more droppings, no more running into rats at night – nothing, nada, zip. After one week, we felt it was safe enough to tear down the walls. I mean, literally. We figured that the killer RATS had been (or were still) living under our bathroom drawers. A temptative peep through a whole showed something that looked like a bone. So it was time to dig deeper and finally uncover the whole truth. Leading our expedition was Esteban, our landlord, armed with a hammer and ready to tear down the entire bathroom if necessary. Right behind him (totally hiding) were: our cleaning lady, armed with a broomstick, Sam and myself, armed with our camera and ready to document everything (of course), and our French roommate, armed with encouraging comments.

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Cautiously, Esteban took his first swing at the furniture. It cracked. Everybody stepped back, just in case the killer RATS were about to make a run at us. Esteban started hitting harder and harder, until everything was smashed. I had really expected at least one or two dead rats, but instead there was only an awful smell, a piece of meat and 4 bones – very reminiscent of a BBQ we had at the house a few weeks ago.

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And then, amid the bones and the smashed wood, we finally understood. There were no killer RATS, there was no army of rats out to get us. It had been only one smart rat all along, living off the leftovers of a BBQ, probably having the time of her life … until we killed her, that is. Sometimes, figuring out the truth can be life changing or inspiring, in this case our catharsis took the form of loud, relieved laughter. We had finally defeated the beast!

Until one night, we heard the French roommate scream and scream and scream. “The RATS are back!”, we thought and ran downstairs, ready to kill anything rat-like that came in our way. “What’s wrong?” He seemed fairly relaxed, a little bit too relaxed actually as he was sitting on the couch: “Guys, you HAVE to see this episode of House of Cards. It will blow you away!!!”

The End