Cross-cultural Shopping: A Goal Two Story?
Last Sunday, I went to the supermarket in my neighborhood to pick up staples for the week. I buy certain things every day, because some products don’t last very long and the stores are on my way, but I need food for the animals, cleaning products and certain Moldovan foods that I’ve come to depend on, as well as lunch food for the week.
I bought a large container of a salad I enjoy, some beer and cheese and meat and all the beverages I need for a week or so. This trip I had remembered to bring my day pack and so needed only one small plastic bag.
I packed my bags, paid and left the store.
I returned home and put away my purchases. Some time later, I was hungry enough for lunch and looked forward to “integrating into my country/culture by eating local specialties and drinking local beer.
I could not find the salad. It was in a large container in a plastic bag and nowhere to be found. Not in my back-pack, not in the fridge, not on the floor and not in the cupboard.
I concluded that it must not have been packed when I left the store. About two hours had passed since I left the store; nevertheless I still wanted to go back and find out if anyone had found my salad. I knew that I probably wouldn’t miraculously find it kept cool for me in the refrigerator in the employee lounge of the supermarket, but I had spent enough money that it was worth the walk back to the store to find out, just in case. I did remember our friends TIM and TINA, but I still thought it was possible that an alert Moldovan or Moldovanka had noticed that the crazy Amerikanka had left her damn salad.
My first step or possibly, misstep, was to see if I could find the cashier who had checked me out. I didn’t see anyone familiar, but the security guard asked if I needed help so I told him my story. He took charge, and soon there were four to six more people standing around the “customer service” area in the front of the store. To make a long story short, the Moldovan point of view was that I had packed the salad myself and I must be “mistaken” about it never having arrived at my kitchen.
My point of view was that I didn’t want to make anyone responsible and that I was just checking that perhaps someone had found the salad and turned it in to the lost and found. I was trying to explain the concept of “lost and found”, the idea that a stranger might think it was his/her responsibility to take a found package to some authority. I had some more things I was trying to explain, but with my somewhat limited language skills, I soon realized that I was not getting through and the best next thing would be to smile a lot, say thank you for your help and bow out of the discussion as gracefully as I could.
I bought another container of salad and left the store.
The following Thursday, I happened to notice on the floor in the kitchen, the wayward container of salad I had missed on Sunday.
The Moldovans were correct. I was indeed, a crazy foreigner who just didn’t look hard enough for her salad that had fallen on the floor, under the table behind a chair. The salad had been on the floor in the kitchen for five days, so it ended up in the trash, but it was a good lesson for me.
The following Sunday I was again at the same supermarket and saw the same security guard. I decided to demonstrate something that I think is an American cultural trait: the ability to admit when you’ve made a mistake and give the folks you were differing with their natural right to say or think, “I told you so!”
I told him the story and got a small approximation of a smile in return. He did remember and said he would tell the other workers involved that the mystery had been solved.
This of course wasn’t a formal 2nd goal activity but I’d like to think that my return to the store to apologize and explain would be seen as positive, and that my admitting I was wrong would be seen as “American.”