The other day I was at our local supermarket (Bodega Aurrera) and happened to be in line at the checkout counter behind another gringa who embarrassed me. At first I thought I was embarrassed because I was behind her in line here in Jocotepec, but then I realized that I would have been embarrassed (or at least upset) to have been in line behind her ANYWHERE. Trust me, you’ll recognize the type.
I arrived at the one and only open checkout counter immediately behind her. I could see that she had a grocery cart in front of her, but I couldn’t see what was in it since she was broad enough to block my view. The gringa (let’s call her Red) pushed her cart up to the end of the checkout counter (you know, past the scanner) at exactly the same time as the woman from the pharmacy inside the grocery store arrived at the register with a few boxes of medicine.
This is not unusual around here. Often the person behind the counter at the pharmacy won’t or can’t take your money. I haven’t yet definitely figured out why this is, but instead of letting you pay for your meds at the pharmacy register, the pharmacy clerks walk the meds up to the grocery checkout counter and leave them there with the cashier until you show up.
I figure with gringo purchasers it’s fairly easy to indicate to the cashier who is buying what meds (we’re pretty obvious in Joco), but I’ve always been curious about how they indicate which one of the other customers are purchasing the drugs. Maybe the checkout cashier just asks every single person in line “Are these yours?” until she gets an answer in the affirmative, or maybe she gets a description (e.g. “the woman in the red blouse” or “that guy with the Raiders cap”). Anyhow, it always seems to sort itself out.
At any rate, the gringa in front of me said that yes, those were her meds and proceeded to pay for them. Figuring she was done, I began to put my purchases on the conveyor belt, only to have everything come to a screeching halt. Turns out that Red had a half cartload of items in her basket which she was apparently unable to lift onto the conveyor belt. So she summoned over the bagger to put the items on the belt, forcing me to push all my stuff back to make room for her stuff. In addition, I had to scoot myself and my cart back so that the bagger could reach the non-scanned item side of the belt, which, of course, created a domino effect of people behind me shuffling backwards.
As an explanation for all this, Red turned to me and said, loudly, in English, “You just never know how much money you have with you, do you?”, as if she and I were in this together. Well, personally, I do always know how much money I have with me. Or at least I know whether I have enough to pay for my meds and my food. And most all of my Mexican neighbors seem to know as well. Occasionally they return an unpriced item to the cashier, but that seems to be because it costs a lot more than they thought once they see the scanned price. They don’t hold up an entire line with a half-cart full of groceries while they figure out if they’re cash-sufficient.
This gringa’s method of checking out reminded me of those people in front of you in line at Safeway or Kroger or Publix or Wal*Mart in the United States who are going to pay with a check. You know, the ones who don’t even take out the checkbook until the last item has been rung up, and then, and only then, do they begin to write in the date, the name of the Payee, and sign their name to the bottom of the check. Now I understand leaving the amount due empty until the final total appears, but, for heaven’s sake, is the DATE or their name going to change during that time???
Just one of my pet peeves, I guess, but I was willing to stand idly by while the bagger got the groceries from Red’s basket onto the conveyor belt. The cashier ran them over the scanner and I honestly thought for a moment that MY time had come. HA!
What I hadn’t seen was that Red had some towels in the baby seat area of her shopping cart and she again needed the cashier to give her a total to see if she had enough pesos to pay for the towels, as well. The cashier gave her the preliminary total with groceries and then, at a signal from Red, began to scan the towels. But, of course, one of them was without a scanner tag and was different from the other five towels, so everything had to come to a screeching halt again while the bagger went off in search of a similar towel with a UPC code on it.
And it was at this point that I really got embarrassed. During the “lull” in the activities (after I had once again pushed back my groceries and backed up my cart and caused yet another domino effect), Red turned around, got a good look at me, and said in a loud voice “Say, don’t I know you?”
I’ve been living in Jocotepec municipality for five years, but I swear I’ve never met this woman. Of course, I don’t attend events that gringos in Joco attend and, really, I’m not that social, so I could honestly respond, “No, I don’t believe we’ve ever met,” while muttering to myself under my breath “Thank God!”.
“Well,” she announced in her booming voice, “I think we have met. My name is so-and-so and I live in such-and-such area.”
“No,” I responded again (truthfully), “I think I’d remember if we had met before.”
She then glanced over at my items on the conveyor belt and cried out, “Oh, I see you have several bottles of Kermato. I guess you’re going to make some of those whatchamacallits that the Mexicans like so much!”
As little as I wanted to, I really WAS going to respond to her with the answer “Micheladas,” but the bagger had returned from the towel area with a good UPC tag and thus I had no need to answer. My new “friend” was caught up in the second (or third) semi-total and now completely ignoring me again.
By this time, I probably had 10 other shoppers in line behind me, and I was absolutely thrilled that the 11 of us were going to get through this line in a very short period of time. We each only had a few items and I knew that I, for one, had enough pesos to pay for what I had and that I did not have to pay my phone or electric bill, both of which slow things down. I, for one, was at least headed out the door in a matter of minutes! The gringa in front of me had her cart packed up, towels included, had handed over the cash, and had had the bagger make arrangements to unload everything into her vehicle in the parking lot. It was full steam ahead.
Until, of course, as Red pushed her cart away from the checkout line she saw the pillows on sale in front of her.
So if you’ve ever wondered what daily life here in Joco is like, sometimes it is so different than it was for me in the United States……and sometimes, it’s just the same. Sometimes it just depends where you are in line.