When we first announced we were moving to Ecuador, I'm sure that many friends and relatives knew zero about the country and thought we were going to live in a straw hut in the jungle and become hunter/gatherers. I must admit that prior to our initial research I couldn't have located the place on a map myself. My Geography class experience in high school was an endless memorization of countries, capitols, products, and rivers that I found excruciatingly tedious and unworthy of retention.
If you've been following this blog you now know Cuenca, our new hometown, is a wonderful combination of old and new with many modern conveniences. The city has two Super Maxi's, the US equivalent of a respectable grocery store. After a meeting with our attorney yesterday we decided to visit one near his office to reacquaint ourselves with the prices and selection, and to purchase a few items to take back to our hotel room.
Some random observations: there is no milk in the dairy section--it's super-pasteurized, in boxes on the shelf, and requires no refrigeration; the rice section takes up almost an entire side of an aisle; beef and pork are butchered into unrecognizable cuts and are amazingly lean; most anything you would want is available, but imported goods from the US are a bit higher in price than there (which considering how cheap everything else is--like 6 apples for a dollar--makes them VERY expensive).
So we select a few things, put them on the belt at the checkout, and I push my buggy through to the bagging area as usual. Except it won't go through--the widest part in the rear is too wide for the space. Everyone of course laughs at my faux pas, because that's not what you do here. It seems that you unload, leave the buggy, and someone returns it to the front of the store. Who knew??
Apparently my cultural indiscretion distracted the checkout guy, because when I looked at my receipt he'd charged me for two bottles of wine when I'd only purchased one. Oh boy, the literally nonexistent Espanol is about to be tested. So far around town playing Charades, nodding & smiling have worked pretty well, and I haven't had to use the tried-and-completely-untrue American tactic of speaking slowly and loudly.
Fortunately the customer service girl knew some English and understood the problem. But her suggested solution was a bit odd: "Since you've paid for two bottles would you like another one?." "No," I replied, "if I had wanted two bottles I would have bought two bottles." Silence. "What I'd really like is my money back for the bottle I don't want." Quizzical look. "You would like the money back?" "Si." "Oh, OK."
While she was processing the refund (which involved manually writing the bar code down on a tablet--the items have bar codes but the stores don't have the scanner technology to process the information yet) I noticed you could sign up for a store card like in the States. Or so I thought.
"Tell me about this Super Maxi card," I said. "How do I get one of those?" She handed me a form and replied, "You fill out one of these." This was familiar. "And pay $44." H-m-m---I wasn't expecting that one. You know these are free in the US. "After I fill out the form and give you $44, what do I get?" Quizzical look again. "I mean. what is the benefit of having this card that I pay for?"
Her answer was brilliant. "You get 10% off everything you purchase in the store for a full year." What a concept. Spend less than $10/week to save money all year? Now that's a way to build customer loyalty--and this store doesn't even have any competition!
So many little cultural differences. Like last night we learned you can't call a cell phone from a land line. Why? I have no idea. Next time I'll tell you about a very unusual 7 AM wake-up call we get each morning.
Ciao for now.