Friday, January 28, 2011

100 Days in Thailand :: Day 9 - The Grocery Store

Today was our first full day in Chiang Mai. We spent most of the day looking for an apartment online and getting settled. Since we don't yet have our own apartment, we are staying with Ray & Candace for a few days (and their daughter Maele, and two missionaries that live with them too - our old friend Mark Stratmann and our new friend Charity). So, part of that "getting settled" required a trip to the grocery store so that we could pick up some snacks, drinks, and lunch/breakfast food.

I'd been telling Rusty that this trip felt very different to me than any other trip, probably because I hadn't felt very much "culture shock" here in Thailand. I guess I've traveled enough to feel somewhat "normal" overseas... and honestly Thailand reminds me a lot of India (only cleaner and quieter). Well friends, I definitely spoke too soon. Nothing will culture shock you more than a trip to a foreign grocery store.

I've actually been to two different grocery stores at this point (remember, I'm catching you up ;) and both times were stunning. And by stunning I mean, I walked around wide-eyed and STUNNED....unable to efficiently grocery shop.

Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of these experiences, so let me try to paint a picture for you. Just imagine walking into a store that is completely unfamiliar. It LOOKS like a grocery store, so you feel like you SHOULD be comfortable....except you don't know where anything is.

Add to that, the fact that you don't know WHAT anything is!!!

90% of the packaging is in Thai - sometimes more than 90%. You can't read the title. You can't read the ingredients. You have no idea what you are buying. Keep in mind that THAI not only sounds different, but it doesn't use the English alphabet. So - it's not like French, Spanish, Latin, Swahili....the list goes on.... the letters don't look like letters to us. They look like symbols (think Chinese or Arabic). So you can forget trying to sound anything out or look for a "root word".

 This screen-shot will help you understand what Thai looks like. My computer is geographically sensitive, 
so now my google, blogger, etc is almost all in Thai too! It makes everything a lot more difficult to find, 
and I can't figure out how to make it go back to ENGLISH!

Also keep in mind that the items for sale are VERY different than the items for sale at home. This is a different culture, so they like to eat different things. If I go shopping for CHIPS, I try to look at the pictures on the bag so that I can pick out a flavor I like (since I can't read the flavors). But the pictures aren't just CHEESE, or BARBECUE, or things like that.... they are pictures of SQUID, or SEAWEED, or FISH. And I don't want any squid flavored chips.

Now, add to those obstacles the fact that there is a LOT of produce that I've never seen before. There are fruits like palmello, mangosteen, and longkongs, just to name a few. And as exciting as it is to try new things, it can feel overwhelming to have no idea if you're going to LIKE what you're buying!

As the final factor, you should know that anything you find that DOES look familiar will probably cost 4 times the price it would cost in America. A tiny jar of JIF Peanut Butter = $5. A small package of decaf black tea = $9. American cereal can be anywhere from $2 - $10. Hairspray (if you can find it at all) = $10 a can.

Oh, and how could I forget the CONVERSION rates?! All the prices are in Thai Baht, which means for everything you see, you'll need to divide by about 30 in your head to know the dollar amount for it. Did I mention I hate math?!

Nothing will make you panic faster than seeing a grocery bill for $1,899.50! And this was just for 5 bags of groceries! 
Good thing it's in Thai Baht (this would be approximately $63 in USD :)

Now then, can you put yourself in my shoes? Great...because now you'll understand why I wander around these places wide-eyed and overwhelmed for an hour before I can find 3 or 4 items I want to purchase! I'm sure the people here think I look insane! HAHA!

It has definitely been humbling, and it's helped me realize what it must feel like for foreigners who come to America for the first time (who do not speak or read English). It's always a good thing to put yourself in the shoes of someone else... I'm sure many Americans would have more grace for foreigners in our country if THEY had ever been a foreigner in another country!

I'm sure it will get better....through trial and error we will figure out what we like, and we will learn from our friends what new fruits and vegetables we should learn to love here. I'm sure 3 months from now I will hate leaving the beautiful FRESH produce and special items that will be impossible to find in America! But for now... I'd better plan some extra time for my grocery shopping trips! ;)

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