Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Things That Make You Go Hmmm...

I'm struggling again, and so I sit to write a few lines, poking fun at myself in an attempt to cheer myself up.

If I have learned anything during this "adventure", it is to have compassion for people who immigrate to other countries. No longer will I think of immigrants as uneducated, poor, lazy, unwilling to try to learn, etc. etc. (You fill in the stereotype). I am now one of those "immigrants"; although I do think of myself, at times, as poor and uneducated-- I am the one smiling and nodding when I have no idea what the other person is saying. I am the one who gets tired of trying to learn the language with little success. I am the one who cannot even identify basic household items. Let me give you a few examples:

One day, not long after arriving here, I was making dinner, and I needed to open a can of corn. I realized that I had not remembered to bring a can opener. I went down to my friend Marly's house to borrow one. The cleaning lady opened the door. Marly was not home, but I was not to be thwarted! I held out the can, shrugged my shoulders, and then performed my very best pantomime of a can opener. She knew immediately what I needed---phew! She brought me in the house and pulled open the kitchen drawer, handing me one of these:

(I have to say that this particular model is a lot more modern looking. The one she handed me looked like a crude, handleless knife).

I gave her a blank stare. She held the implement out to me, and so I tried, unsuccessfully, to jab the top of the can, Norman Bates style. (She was very kind to not laugh out loud.) She demonstrated. I tried. She was a pro. I was like a clumsy child with all thumbs. I now know why our Brazilian friend, Arthur, who visited us last summer, made fun of my electric can opener. Even my hand held Pampered Chef variety seems frivolous in comparison to these simple, but effective, gadgets.

The next day, I received a bag of gifts from Marly, including the above can opener. Also in the array, was a cellophane-wrapped package of three items:

I thought, "Well, that's cute--a flour container?, a random cup?, and a small Tupperware type container. Strange that these items should be packaged together like that."... Marly's 11 year old son, Renan, who delivered the goodies, had to explain it to me. The smallest container is for hiding a sponge next to the kitchen sink. The cup is a sort of "cozy" for the dish soap. And the largest container is meant to sit next to the sink to collect food scraps, and to dump the contents of the drain trap, as needed. At home, we call this a garbage disposal. The good news is, this model works even when the power goes out!

I think I've mentioned the mop before. Here is a picture of it:

This "mop" was at the house when we arrived.  It looks like a long handled squeegee. I thought, "Wow, they are really serious about clean windows here!" I went out shopping with our friend, Valeria. I told her I needed a mop. She took me to an aisle with these. I told her I already had one of these at home; what I needed was a MOP to clean the floor. (I think I spoke louder and slower here, and used gestures to get my point across.) She then kindly demonstrated how to use this type of mop with a rag (like the one pictured above). bad. (It's embarrassing to have someone show you how to mop when you are a 38 year old housewife.)

Grocery shopping is an adventure. I wish I had pictures, but I feel too conspicuous as it is, without pulling out a camera and taking photos of the meat counter. Let's just say, it's not what I am used to in America. Our friends tell me that at least the meat is refrigerated now. Let me send up a little prayer of thanks for that modern miracle. I do, however, and despite saying I never would, buy milk in boxes right off the shelf. How do they do that? It goes against everything I have ever believed in! But, it's not bad when you get it really cold.

The produce department is filled with wonders. In the last 10 years or so, with the convenience of worldwide import and distribution services, we have seen a lot more exotic items on our shelves in the U.S. (I remember a time when you couldn't find a fresh pineapple---gasp!) But, let me tell you, there are still items that we Americans have never seen--not even in text books.

I was brave enough to stealthily take a picture with my phone one day--right in front of the lady who weighs and marks your produce for you. I was amazed by the size of these:

 They reminded me of those overgrown zucchinis back home that people leave on their neighbors' doorsteps as a practical joke. I don't know what these are, but I think they would feed a family of 10 for a month. If you want more than one, they don't supply the mega jumbo produce bags at this store.You just have to hoist them on your back and haul them out to the flatbed truck.

I mentioned above the lady who weighs your produce for you. Most of the stores are like that here. You have to get the produce weighed and marked before you go to the checkout, as they have no scales up front. Thankfully, I very observantly noticed this one day before proceeding to the register...that would have been embarrassing.

And this brings me to the next different (not bad, just different) way of doing things--the multi-line checkout. At most stores (other than grocery stores), you take your purchases up to one counter, where the employee rings them up and gives you a receipt-like ticket. You then proceed to the next counter (usually located in a completely different part of the store) to pay for the items. It also seems to be necessary to place your things in a basket--it doesn't seem to matter if you have 1 or 50 items--this is an important step--placing your items in a basket. If you haven't done that, they do it for you at the counter. I haven't figured out the purpose of this multi-faceted system, but it seems to employ a lot of people, so I guess that's good for the economy. When I go to a new store, I just stalk customers for a while to observe the correct order for check-out before making any sudden moves.

Ah, I just heard the distinct call of the propane delivery guy out front. He drives around on his motorcycle a couple of times per week, sounding his horn, selling propane tanks. (We don't have gas plumbed into the house. Our stove is hooked up to a small propane tank. I'm not sure how you tell when you are getting low. I guess dinner just goes cold one night, and you say, "Oh, I must be out of gas.") Anyway, it took Marissa and I a few weeks to figure out what this clarion call was, but now I'm prepared for that fateful day. I just hope it happens around 2:00pm on a Monday or Wednesday.


  1. I love this post! oh boy we take so much for granted, and I'm not saying that our way is better we just have no idea how "used" to things we are and how the convenience of not having think all the time about simple things is totally taken for granted, hang in there, you are awesome

  2. The good news is that when you come back to Logan, you are going to miss a lot of things that right now seem so hard!! You can laugh at me but it is true! You are doing great--keep plugging and keep writing. Miss you xoxox

    1. I do not believe you, Deb. and I am prepared to eat my words if necessary. Keep guiding me through this, please!

  3. You can just imagine one of your friends there spending time at your house in Logan trying to figure out what each item is for and figuring out the shopping system here. They would be just as lost. Don't get down on yourself. By the time you leave you will be a pro. Miss you:)

  4. Kathy,
    Your blog is a great read. I always knew you were funny, but I just didn't know how funny. Not that I am lauding at your expense, just laughing (and at times almost crying) with you. Keep smiling. We really miss you all.

  5. You are so hilarious. I'm really enjoying reading about this. I used to be one of Tom's (ah-hem, Dr. Higbee's) students. This is very entertaining!