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by Dean Bartosh

Looking to stay on budget while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, we went grocery shopping at the “mega-mart” downtown. I found all the usual food that I was accustomed to, but soon realized that this was a store where you had to bring your own bags for your groceries. No big deal. I’ll just buy some bags. I found a clerk and asked him the location of the bags. “Yo no hablo inglés, señor,” the clerk said. Then it hit me. We were the only Caucasians in the store.

There had to be English-speaking clerks somewhere in the store. By the fourth clerk, I thought that I had better help out, so I pretended to put groceries in a bag hoping he would get the idea. I must have looked ridiculous playing charades in the middle of the store with these young men standing around me. “Ah, bolsa!” one shouted. He took us to the back of the store where we found an aisle filled with bags. Mission accomplished.

I next wheeled our cart to the deli counter and stood among the Mexican women who were waiting. When the woman behind the counter pointed to me, I pointed at a stack of meat which resembled ham and said in my best accent, “Dos kilos, por favor.” The women started giggling. I thought that I had just ordered two kilograms of ham but considering their reactions, I wasn’t feeling real confident in my elementary Spanish-speaking skills. The woman asked, “Dos kilos?” In my most confidant sounding voice, I said, “Si, dos kilos, por favor.” More giggling. The woman behind the counter gave me my mystery meat as the giggling reached a fevered pitch. After that, I was a little afraid to eat the meat but it ended up tasting like ham.

Next, we came to large vats filled with olives and pickles. Only one problem. There was only one spoon for all three vats and it was sitting in the pickles. I didn’t think that the locals would take too kindly to us sticking our whole arm in the olive vat. Well, my sister wasn’t about to let that keep her from her beloved olives so she fished the spoon out and went for some olives.

OK, problem number two. There was nothing to put the olives in and I wasn’t about to try to ask someone where I could get a container. We found some small plastic bags and spooned our olives into the bag. I was feeling pretty good at that point. There didn’t seem to be any obstacle that we couldn’t overcome.

Making our way to the checkout, we put our food on the conveyor belt. When the clerk got to the olives, she held them up, staring at them like she wasn’t quite sure what to do. She said something to us in Spanish, but not understanding her we just shrugged our shoulders. She laid the olives off to the side while she finished checking out our groceries. We bagged up our groceries and she showed us the price on the register.

That’s when I noticed the olives still laying there. Oh, our precious olives! The clerk pointed at the register again. I guess there will be no olives for us today. We paid the clerk and left without saying another word.

So, the next time I’m in Mexico, will I only eat at the restaurants? Not on your life! This was a great adventure. The chance to shop with the Mexican people is an experience that no amount of pina coladas will ever replace.

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