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Monday, February 6, 2017

Shopping Adventures - 2

Scene: very busy grocery store, late in the afternoon

a local grocery store

I greeted the cashier with the typical "Dobry den" and watched as she started scanning my items.  After scanning my bag of onions, she tossed it in the cart and said something which I didn't understand.  Believing, as my friend Rachel says, that people in general like me, I assumed she was trying to help me and said "Dakujem".

She didn't respond and the couple standing behind me in line seemed to be interacting with her.  I interpreted that conversation to be something along the lines of the conversations you have with people where you are both in an undesirable situation, but you aren't angry.  I assumed they were annoyed with how busy the store was.

The cashier turned back to the conveyor belt and blew the onion "dust" (for lack of a better word) and muttered something I didn't understand.  The couple standing behind me put their hands up [like you do when you indicate that you are not at fault] and said "We're only the customers".

The cashier replied, "What am I? A monkey?"

This was the point that I began to notice that something seemed off.  As my language capabilities are quite child-like, I recognize animal names but not other possibly more important words.  I wasn't really sure what being a monkey would infer in Slovakia, but I gathered it wasn't positive.

As I do when I'm not sure how to read the situation, I remained mute.  Probably not helping the growing tension about....???

To make matters worse, I did not have small change to pay for my groceries.  As the cashier put my change down roughly, she again said something that amounted to this in my brain: "Next time...static...onions....static...bag...[I am very grumpy]"  I smiled and nodded [please note: this is my default response.  It doesn't necessarily mean I'm smiling and it doesn't necessarily mean I understand what I'm affirming with my nod.  It means that I feel that this is the easiest and simplest way to exit the situation and start over at the next one] and said "Dovidenia".

I turned away from the cashier and was walking out of the store doing some delayed processing of what had just happened and realized suddenly that I must have been supposed to put the bag of onions in a small plastic bag to prevent "dust" from getting everywhere.

the incriminating bag of onions

I fumed all the way home.  How was I supposed to know that?  She probably thought I was a rude, smug, snobby woman who only thinks of herself and not of anyone else.  How could she assume that about me?  I was just trying to save the environment and the onions already had a bag!

And again, I was confronted with the complexities of culture adjustment and discovery.  I'm not in a vacuum where the only variable is culture.  I'm in a chaotic equation of culture and language and personality and all the things that happen in any given day and in our lives in general that effect how we interact with people.

And I encountered in myself that strong feeling that I am right and other people are misunderstanding me that most often rears it's head when I feel uncertain, confused, overwhelmed, hurt and insecure.

I calmed down.  Now I see the story as pretty comical.  I'm still a little nervous that I'm going to be in that cashier's line when I go to the store.  And I now put things in plastic bags.  Just in case.


  1. I am sorry you had that awkward experience. My wife and I have never moved to a place where English wasn't spoken. But even in our moves within the US, we have made various "mistakes" because we did not know the culture. Your not knowing the language well would make your discomfort even greater. We will continue to pray for you and your assimilation into a new culture. ... Alan Taylor

    1. It's true, we don't even realize how subtle culture can be. :)

  2. That's a great insight at the end, all from a bag of onions! That's also a great quotable line, which I'd like to start using myself: "What am I, a monkey?" :)

    1. Hee hee. Your kids will think you're crazy! :)

  3. Ha, oh no! Will and I have similar stories from our first year in Austria. It's usually really embarrassing/infuriating when it's happening, but really hilarious later on when you're able to laugh about it. You're doing awesome! :) And props to you for trying to save the environment. Get on board, cashier!

    1. Yep, I remember standing in the rain freezing on a youth group trip and one of the leader's saying "We're making memories right now!" The main thing is trying to keep a light-hearted view during the frustrations. :)