Dazed and confused

Shopping day is always my hardest day of the week. We try to go to fruit stands and bakeries etc. every chance we get, and have found some favorites near Damascus Gate, but about once every 10 days there’s a need for a real, big, supermarket shop. Hunting and gathering. It’s exhausting. First we load up the hiking backpacks and walk to Talpiot, a gritty, industrial part of town full of car dealerships and outlet stores. Pretty much everyone else drives to Talpiot, but we can do it in 20 minutes on foot, now that we’ve found all the short cuts. Of course, we have to cross a disgusting, trash-strewn industrial area to do so. Among other environmental toxins, today I had to step over a dead cat on my way to the grocery store. It’s bizarre that a place like this exists less than a mile from some of the nicest neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

When I get to Rami Levy, the fun is just beginning. Dodge the trucks unloading (no separate parking lot for suppliers). Liberate an (always wonky) shopping cart for 5 NIS. Wander the aisles in total puzzlement. About the only thing I can understand are the prices (the cheapest around, but that’s not saying much). Today I stood dazed in the dairy aisle for about 30 minutes until I figured out it was organized by brand, not by product. So far I’ve been too afraid to approach the deli or meat counters. We are eating things I can easily recognize – pasta, tomatoes, bread. Israeli cheese is its own universe.

I learned the hard way to shop early in the week and steer way clear of the pre-Shabbat craziness on Thursday and Friday morning. People are not that friendly at Rami Levy; everyone is on a mission. Load the groceries into the hiking backpacks, stop for security inspection (the guy is as puzzled by us as we are by him) and head home which is, naturally, straight up hill. It’s a great workout, but normal people would take a cab.

Does this all seem lame for an otherwise-capable person with a good education and plenty of travel experience? In my defense — most other difficult/disorganized/annoying parts of living abroad don’t have this effect. I could handle Ben Gurion airport but Rami Levy makes me want to cry. In the bright light of the supermarket, I’m brought face-to-face with all the very basic things I don’t know, starting with the ability to read any word or even letter of Hebrew. (Duh, that would help). Most of the time, I can shield myself from some of my own cluelessness, by hiding behind my adorable/demanding kids and living in what is essentially an expatriate bubble. I have been walking and exploring Jerusalem, and getting lost in the process, but somehow that doesn’t upset me as much as shopping. Perhaps it’s because buying groceries is second nature to me back home and I love to shop, cook and eat. It should be easy and fun, but it’s not — yet.

Of course I can flip my perspective and recognize a series of small victories. Today I braved Rami Levy without Terence for the first time and I successfully exchanged some diapers for a different size. That’s a gold medal day.

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About hilarymead

Taking two young kids, a great husband, and a whole lot of questions to Jerusalem for a year's sabbatical.
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3 Responses to Dazed and confused

  1. launa says:

    Hi Hilary,

    Catching up now after the start of school (amazing what a part time teaching job takes out of one…) I am overwhelmed with identification and empathy, even as I see just how specific and precise your dislocation and discovery feels. The supermarkets were the worst for me too — you are right; it brings you face to face with what you don’t know, and it’s just so ESSENTIAL that you get the things you want and need. The rest of the time you’re wandering around and it’s kind of take it or leave it (we could go here, or we could go here) but in the supermarket, you need that damn yogurt or else. I’m impressed with your walking stamina and insistence. (At this point in our trip, I was longing for Diesel Liesel — such a spoiled brat was I.)

    And the first 10% is the most baffling, the most intense, the most uncertain. If you’re feeling pretty good most days at 10%, that’s great. There will be challenges ahead, but nothing will ever feel quite as intense as these first days. (Jesus’s cribby and the gold dome stories are my favorites so far… sounds like your children wisely lead you where you need to be.) So much love from my safe sofa, Launa

  2. Three days after we moved here, I broke down in tears at the customer service desk at Kroger while waiting in line for a customer loyalty card. For no reason at all. And this is only Ohio, where the language and the currency are the same (most of the time, at least).

    What is it about grocery stores? Is learning how to navigate one somehow emblematic of our learning how to live in a new place, how to come to understand ourselves in that place?

  3. Funny how culture shock hits hard in the grocery store. I’m going through the same thing, but this time in the US. I wander the store feeling overwhelmed and confused. I’m unable to find anything because there’s simply too much in there to search through (Oman has a good amount of stuff on the shelves, but nothing ever compares to the US selection that goes on for miles). I don’t know what brands to choose, why I can’t find any fresh fish beside the meat, what the real prices are compared to store card prices or whether I need a store card to get that price. I also find myself continually back tracking to find what I want in aisles I’ve already been down several times. It’s not quite the same as what you’re going through in Jerusalem, but it blows my mind how the supermarket is the one place that gets me every time when I move. It always make me realize that being a global nomad means being willing to learn all again. Now I just need to appreciate the Beginner’s Mind I’m blessed with in such situations and embrace it with open arms. Good luck in your shopping and hopefully there will be no more dead cats! 😦

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