Ah – you’re back for more of the curiously wonderful things that make Buenos Aires different than home. My last post was a bit drawn out on the subject of transportation. This one covers our near daily adventures of buying food. Less frightful than driving, but a true test of patience that most here have mastered. Check your “hurry” at the door.
- Don’t tell the pickpockets, but we walk around with wads of Argentine pesos in our pockets. It’s not that we want to be prepared in the event we see a new car that strikes our fancy, it’s a necessity because their largest bill is a $100 peso note (the equivalent of about CAD$9.
- Finding what you’re looking for takes time. If you have a hankering for natural peanut butter, you’ll have to hoof it to Barrio Chino (Chinatown). It’s only a few square blocks but it’s where you go to find grocery items you can’t find in any of the regular, neighbourhood grocery stores.
- This can be a deal breaker for some. Toilet tissue and paper napkins are whisper thin, we’re talking see-through thin. Both have a remarkable ability to fully disintegrate when they come into contact with any amount of moisture. And they are as far from soft as they are from thick, if you follow.
- The majority of ground coffee you buy to brew at home already has sugar added – yes, you read that right – sugar mixed in with the ground coffee. An easy lesson about the importance of reading labels on what look like familiar items.
- The small, independent grocery stores, referred to as “chinos” (but not located in Chinatown) have the best prices on boxes of cereal and alcohol.
- Lining up is a common and accepted fact of life at the larger grocery stores. There may only be four people in front of you, each with only 20 items, but it will take 10 minutes per transaction. No one is in a hurray, least of all the cashier – who just so happens to work sitting down.
- Locals pay for their groceries with credit cards at the larger, chain grocery stores. That adds about five minutes to each transaction. Identification must be shown and verified. When signing the receipt, they all seem to be required to write a short essay below their signature – an interesting read, I’m sure.
- One might think paying with cash would be far faster. Oh you foolish foreigner. Each bill undergoes scrutiny to determine if it’s counterfeit; fingertips rub certain parts of each bill for mysterious ridges, then each is held to the light at various angles.
- No matter where you use cash, they will always ask if you have the exact change. If you don’t, they call over a supervisor, who then disappears into an office then reemerges with the sacred small bills or coins, but only enough small change to cover that customer. There is an encore performance for the next person in line who won’t have exact change.
- Things you don’t get at any grocery store or pharmacy:
- magazines – those are at one of the trillion magazine stands on the sidewalks.
- fresh flowers – those are at one of the trillion flower vendors on the sidewalks.
- greeting cards (birthday, anniversary, wedding, etc.) – no, not on the sidewalks – you seek out an art supply store where you will find a selection of about 10 cards (or the supplies to make your own I suppose).
- lottery tickets – well, at the lottery ticket stores, of course – where you can also recharge your transit card and where you can buy postage stamps to mail the greeting cards you won’t find. (No, we have yet to buy lottery tickets)
- Fresh fruit and veg seem to be sold everywhere – yes, even on the already crowded sidewalks. If you buy produce on the sidewalk, you point to what you want and the vendor puts it in the bag for you. Forget about fondling the avocados. If, however, you shop it the grocery store, you can fondle to your heart’s content, but then you need to bag it, weigh it and stick a price label on the bag. One can only imagine how much slower the checkout would be if cashiers had to weigh produce in addition to verifying ID, inspecting bills, and rummaging for change.
On that note, I need to wrap this up. I notice we are out of milk (‘leche’ in these parts) so we must amble down to the sidewalk to find a farmer with a cow. 🙂