Sunday, July 13, 2008

Grocery Shopping Spree - Mexican Style

Family going grocery shopping

Wednesdays have become our weekly shopping routine. It is on Wednesdays that fruits and vegetables are on sale at one of the Mexican supermarket chains, Chedraui, and so we have decided to make it our official grocery shopping day. Surprisingly, it is not something I frown upon, but quite to the contrary, I actually look forward to it!

Maybe it is because on this particular day in the week, we stock up on our items, and I can buy the necessary groceries, yet there is something strangely soothing about the whole process. Although I am a staunch enemy of shopping in general, and it bores me to death, grocery shopping has become a form of entertainment and relaxation to me.

My wife and I have our own preferred areas. We divide most of our chores; when it comes to groceries, I am usually the one responsible for limes, cucumbers, and peanuts. Those are, if you will, my areas of expertise. I have learned how to pick and select juicy limes - there are strangely no lemons in Mexico only green limes – I roll them in my hands, and basically assess them. Experience has taught me that the prettiest, completely green limes are not to be trusted. They may look beautiful on the outside, but lack on fluids in the inside. And juiciness is important as I use limes to make either lime-onade or eat them with cucumbers, my other responsibility.

Every once in a while I need to stock up on coffee. That is another mystical experience. First off, although the coffee section is relatively small and lacks variety, I enjoy the smell that the packages still manage to emit. I imagine my mornings, especially lately my vacation mornings, when I make myself my batch of coffee and enjoy it with breakfast or with a book.

If you are ever in Mexico, or if you are simply curious and want to try Mexican coffee, there are two regions that I mostly recommend. The best coffee for me comes from Oaxaca; the other, a close second is from the region of Chiapas. People always rave over coffee from Veracruz, and although I love the state of Veracruz - its people are probably the best of all Mexico - their coffee, unfortunately, leaves a lot to be desired.

The worst coffee I had was apparently made in the European tradition, but tasted of, and I am not kidding, cigarette butts! Another one, where my curiosity could not resist, and for which I have saved up because it is rather expensive, is Kenyan coffee. It is not as overwhelming and mind-blowing as I hoped it would be, but nonetheless, I am looking forward to my next cup tomorrow morning.

After filling up our cart, - and for some reason it always fills up despite our weekly ritual - we look for a cash register. The principal criterion is that the baggers, usually seniors, be male, as we had had our share of disagreements with the female baggers. I find that senior women, at least in Michoacan, are grumpier and more verbally aggressive than their male counterparts who are much friendlier and much more tolerant. All we ask for is big bags, not the flimsy small ones they usually want to get rid of in the first place, and a more or less even distribution of our shopping items.

After which, we check the receipt and almost always there is a mistake or two. We get overcharged. It is surprising how one-sided the procedure is; it is never in our favor. Why it happens beats me as it is all scanned and computerized. It must come down to human error, or, I hope not, human deliberation.

The best one was when instead of watermelons they put chicken, and four kilos of chicken cost much more than the same amount of watermelons. Then we go to a customer service section, as the cashier is not authorized to do any changes. We have always ended up in the right about our complaints so that customer service returns the amount they owe us.

Finally, we leave, asking for a taxi ensuring they do not overcharge us by giving them our own calculated quota to our destination. If they disagree we take another cab, but mostly they deem our price both reasonable and fair.

(At this point, I am aware that it may seem we are on the stingy side, but that is not entirely true. Mexican groceries are not that inexpensive, especially when you are earning Mexican pesos. On the other hand, I hate it when people try to take advantage of us. I may be a Canadian foreigner, but I am rather familiar with the Mexican way of life.)

In the cab we often engage in conversation with the driver and then get off at our apartment. As such we make our way back to the comfort of the home after another day of shopping, looking forward to the same ordeal next Wednesday.

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