Friday, October 2, 2009

Shopping Sleuth

Millions visit the city of Madrid to see the traditional tourist attractions -- the exquisite museums, the gorgeous architecture, the open air markets, the Flamenco dancers and the bullfights, among other things.  Not so for my friend Taylor, who makes her first visit to Madrid to decipher the grocery market.

Being the gem that she is, she spends her first full day here accompanying me to Él Corte Ingles. A store the size of Minneapolis, our version of Bloomingdales houses a giant supermarket in its basement. Entering the store, Tay puts on her game face.  Gone are any visible signs of jet lag. Instead, this bright-eyed woman capable of heading a G7 conference takes in the scene. She scans my shopping list, scrap paper, used as a general guide, something to remind us we're out of milk. She chastises me gently: you haven't grouped the like items together

We start in the produce department, where I've been yelled at twice these past weeks for touching the peaches and pears. Only the fruit picker, a woman who stands on a raised platform with the fruit bins around her, is allowed to touch. After ordering our fruit, Tay decides that our best strategy is to divide and conquer.  We're looking for items for a specific recipe. She offeres to search for Sherry, something I've been trying to find for 6 1/2 weeks.  When she returns, victorious, 10 minutes later, she is amazed that I'm still in produce. (See annoyingly chipper photo with Sherry -held like a trophy - below.) She shrugs and tells me that this place isn't too different from the Stop & Shop back home. Again, she tells me gently, if I had grouped the items on the list...

Next we pick up eggs.  Oddly, (to Tay anyway), they're not refrigerated.  Are they usually, I ask? This tips her off to the fact that I don't have a clue about groceries in any country. She's irked that she can't check the eggs to see if they're broken because they're wrapped in a protective sleeve (BTW, all six were broken in one of the packs we bought). Milk and juice aren't refrigerated either, I point out.  This, she explains patiently, is because I'm buying ultra, ultra pasteurized milk. Unwittingly, we've been drinking the stuff that comes in cartons in the US and is used in fall-out shelters from Chernobyl to Secaucus.  An hour later, when we're still near produce trying to find unsalted cashews, she concedes that sometimes, even she makes substitutions.  We grab the salted nuts.

Next we hit the meat department where, with her beginner's luck, she points to a package with a hen on it.  There's the chicken!  Moments later, she staggers backwards clutching her heart after seeing a small purple chicken fetus with eyes staring back at her from a package. We're not in Kansas anymore.

I mean really, where's the pig leg (with hoof) aisle in Westport, Miss smarty pants?

This entire counter, almost a 1/4 mile, is full of cheeses.  And it's only one of THREE places you can buy cheese in this store:

Let's just say that, after a couple hours in the store, Taylor's eyes start to glaze over a bit. When two Él Corte Ingles employees can't tell us where the tea aisle is, we agree to leave without a few items. Leaving cornstarch, Earl Grey tea, dried cherries and frozen waffles (are there frozen waffles in Spain?) behind, we happily leave the food maze.

Eating, resting for the afternoon, and enjoying an early evening glass of Rioja allow us to better assess the shopping issues. Here's what we Taylor identifies:
  1. Some items can be found in several sections of the market -- creating confusion.  Olive oil, for example, is found in: "Products from Andalucia", the sale aisle, the "olive oil" aisle AND the other oil aisle.  No such thing as one long aisle that is filled with oils. Nuts can be found in produce, nuts, specialty items and see the problem?  People like me, who have a rare form of shopper's Alzheimer's end up seeing the nuts and saying, oh yeah, I need nuts!  I end up with 3 or 4 packs when I'm unloading the bags at home.
  2. MINI AISLES -- the worst thing ever!  I never thought twice about the long cereal aisle or canned vegetable aisle back home, but here, I long for them! It's like a cruel game of concentration to find anything. Why? because little areas hold food unrelated to the food in the next mini aisle.  So cereal is one place, but cereal bars? God only knows where...
  3. Taylor suggests using the signs, high up and in Spanish, to guide me.  Um, did I mention I don't know Spanish.
Él Corte Ingles- take notice - you need organizational help! Tay might just be the woman for the job. 

1 comment:

Mental P Mama said...

Just spit tea everywhere. And am thankful to be able to find some tea. I'll be there soon, my dear, and maybe we can find the mushroom store.