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Shopping mistakes in a foreign country


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Everyone (I'll bet) who has traveled or lived in a "country not of their origin" has made a mistake while shopping for food.... share them here!

I'll go first.

I was a college student, picked out of a number of applicants to particpate in an exchange program for new language-speakers.

It only required a semester of foreign language and then.. off to university in Deutschland! (I could ask "Wo ist der bahnhof?") (Where is the train station?) but I couldn't understand the answer!!!

Anyway, embolded by mini liquor bottles and jet-lag, I set out early my first morning to the stores. (The fact that 10 dorm rooms shared a fridge the size of a dorm fridge should have clued me off.)

There was a butcher, a dairy, a bakery.. and then.. just what I knew... a "grocery store"!

I got a cart and ventured in... first mistake was trying to pick my own produce (at that time, you were just supposed to ask... "Zwei tomaten, bitte") Oops. Now I can't make anymore mistakes, right? :hmmm:

I ventured down a few aisles, picking cans of one thing or another, recognized only by the pictures on their labels... and then, a pleasent-looking German woman pulled up to my cart and said...

Something.

Not wanting to appear to be a stupid American, I simply smiled, chuckled and said "Ya, ya".

I moved on.

The pleasent-looking German woman followed and said..

Something more.

Again, a little uncomfortable, but not wanting to appear to be a stupid American, I laughed a little louder, smiled a little bigger and said... "Ya, ya".

I moved on.

The pleasent-looking German woman then aggressively moved her cart to block mine, while saying even more.

I then looked into my cart, and...

It was HER cart...her stuff.. her PURSE, her WALLET.

Oh yah, there's no myth to the "Ugly American"! :biggrin:

Jamie Lee

Beauty fades, Dumb lasts forever. - Judge Judy

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I should add, imagine that scenario in english..

"Excuse me, you've got my cart"

"Yes, yes"

"No really, you've got my cart"

"Yes, yes!"

"Seriously, you stupid cow, give me my purse, wallet and cart back NOW"

:laugh:

Jamie Lee

Beauty fades, Dumb lasts forever. - Judge Judy

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I love going to grocery store in foreign countries...mostly to look at the lables

we did oops the first night in France by ordering escallope normandy and thinking it was scallops....damn tasty veal that was

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

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Metric. Metric. METRIC. I can never get the math right. <sigh> This has yielded overages and underages of desired amounts of meat.

Then there was the pastry I bought for breakfast at a market in Vietnam that I thought had some sort of orange fruit baked on top. Wrong. Hardboiled egg yolk.

...wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile. --Alexander Pope

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We stopped by a fruit stand in Paris to pick up some munchies for the car ride to Antwerp. When the gentleman ringing it all up got to a box of cherries he asked us a question. We gave him the "I really wish I knew what your saying, but I really don't" look. He then pointed to two different stacks of cherries and we pointed to which we had gotten ours from. He pointed to the cherries we had gotten and rang up 32 euros (give or take a few)! He then pointed to the other stack and rang up something around 9 euros. Of course we switched cherries and thanked him profusely. I still don't understand why people characterize the French as being rude (or why such a small tray of cherries would cost so much).

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I arrive in Israel without my luggage. Air France has given me a pair of underwear so big I could wear it as a shirt, and a (dubious) promise to deliver my bags within a week or so. The next day I head to the supermarket (a mile and half trek, uphill) to look for food, and see -- underwear! I throw it in the basket. Checking out, the large disgruntled Russian says to me in accented Hebrew, "This is a strange place to buy underwear." Broken and sheepish, I admit, "Yes, it is." When I got home, I discovered that they didn't have a flap.

Or, months later, I go to the fish store to by a carp for matelote, having just read The Physiology of Taste. They pull one out of the tank, slaughter it, and give it to me. The surly clerk says to me, "You do the bones yourself." In my excitement I don't really understand what he says, and say, with a big grin on my face, "Great!!! Thank you so much!"

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I was living in Israel and a roommate, whose Hebrew was very, um, "new," came back from the supermarket with a large bag of coconut. For some reason she was very excited about it. Turns out that she incorrectly read the Hebrew for coconut (which is kokos) as couscous. :wacko:

Not food related, but after I had just moved to Israel I went with a friend to the dreaded Ministry of the Interior, where we had to fill out forms for a zillion different things relating to our immigrant status. There was an immeasurably long table (longer than any Seder table I have ever seen) filled with form after form, all in Hebrew. My Hebrew was also very "new" at that time, and I chose what seemed to be the correct form. My friend and I were waiting on line and filling out the forms when someone kindly informed us that those forms were for death certificates. :blink:

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I've lived for a few months here and there overseas, and have had to do my supermarketing in Germany and France and have negotiated my way around problems with sign language when necessary. The only insurmountable problem I had with the language (I'm a born and raised American) was when I lived in London! I had to make a business trip way up North, so I called Hertz to reserve a car for the next day. The woman told me, "I'm afraid the only car we have available is an Estate Car." I had no idea what that was, and said so. She tried to explain that it was, "well, you know, and Estate Car." So I asked if I'd have to pay any inheritance taxes, and she said "no", but she assured me I could drive it up north, and after quite a while (it went on for some time), I reserved it; when I got there the next day, I discovered it was a Station Wagon. And I'd have to say that of all my travels in France, Germany, and Italy, that's the worst language problem I've ever had.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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No one gets more nostalgic for their favorite junk food than an American lad living abroad, so when I saw Kellogs-anything in the local supermercado in Portugal I went wild. I dragged my mother over to the shelf and convinced her to buy the way over-priced box of sugary treats only to find it full of bugs when we got home. We looked at the expiration date and it was a year or so past.

That probably did a lot to ignite the culinary critic in me as I imagined a covert operation of grandiose magnitude selling and shipping bogus american foods all over the world. :hmmm: Check the dates, expats!

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

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I love going to grocery store in foreign countries...mostly to look at the lables

we did oops the first night in France by ordering escallope normandy and thinking it was scallops....damn tasty veal that was

tracey

I thought it was just me. I love the slight differences from country to country, and what you can find in a supermarket that you can't here.

This wasn't at a grocery store, but at a restaurant by the sea in Marseille. My wife and I saw down for lunch, and I ordered a crepe with marinara sauce and beef. Or so I thought. My wife asked me "Are you sure you want that?" When the plate came, with crepe, sauce, and egg, I realized that I mistook ouef for boeuf (and I do not like runny eggs). I should've just let my French-speaking wife order for me.

I made the metric-system error once, as well, but I immediately knew that I was wrong by the look on the face of the butcher and another shopper.

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I arrive in Israel without my luggage.  Air France has given me a pair of underwear so big I could wear it as a shirt, and a (dubious) promise to deliver my bags within a week or so. 

My wife missed her Air France flight, and they gave her a toiletry bag, as well. Inside: a very large t-shirt, toothpaste, toothbrush and...condom.

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No matter how many times I rehearse in my head the word for figs, it immediately gets confused with another word.

Me: "Vorrei un kilo di figa"

Grocery man or lady keels over laughing because I've just asked, in a very vulgar manner, for a kilo of vaginas. I'm getting better, I don't think my husband is even trying any more. By the way, the word for figs is 'fichi' and they are just coming into season. :wub::laugh:

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My shopping mistakes have nothing to do with language differences; rather, they arose out of cultural differences.

The first one occurred in the winter of 1999. It was time to start Christmas baking and that means butter tarts! So, off I went to the local Raley's in search of tart shells. I can actually make good pastry but tart shells try my patience so I use frozen ones instead.

They weren't exactly jumping out of the freezer case at me so I asked one of the employees where I might find tart shells.

Then I had to explain what exactly tart shells were.

Needless to say, my local Raley's doesn't carry them. (I did find out in winter of 2000 that the local Safeway does carry them but the turnover of their stock is questionable.)

So, I began the big pep talk about making tart shells from scratch as I headed off to get some lard.

I stood in front of the cold case, looking at box after box of butter or margarine or tubs of "non-dairy spread", unable to find the lard for the life of me. I must have looked lost because the dairy employee asked if I needed help.

"Oh, thank you! I don't see any lard here..."

The fellow looked at me like I was insane and said "No, it's in the Mexican aisle."

What?

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We had a bit of a problem getting our apple pies heated up in New Zealand. The bakery was perfectly happy to heat the mince and steak pies, but the idea of heating a fruit pie was a hard sell.

Trying to buy milk in a resort town in Mexico (we'd brought a box of cereal with us for my bf's afraid-of-the-food brother). Every day we were assured we had just missed the delivery. After 5 days, we realized there probably was no delivery.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I should add, that after the conclusion of my embarrassing shopping trip described above, I got to the checkout stand, and the clerk, after ringing up my purchases....

Said something.

Trying to take off on the clues of the moment, I assumed she was asking "Is there anything else?"

So I answered "Nein, danke".

She looked a bit stunned, but just shoved all my goods to the end of the counter and turned to the next purchaser's goods.

Shocked, I tried to mime "Can I get some bags?"

Turns out, you either brought your own or paid 5 Pf (Pfenning, pre-Euro) per bag.

What she had asked was "Do you need bags for this?" And this stupid American answered, "No, thanks"

:biggrin:

Edted to fix spelling error

Edited by Jamie Lee (log)

Jamie Lee

Beauty fades, Dumb lasts forever. - Judge Judy

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Not me, but my brother...who dated a Hungarian girl, and went to visit her family in Budapest. My brother doesn't speak a word of Hungarian, and he was at the supermarket by himself.

At a Budapest grocery store, he brought his items to the counter, and they got rang up. The counterperson blithely slid the items past to a bagging area, where they sat while my brother stood on, anticipating her to bag the items for him. After a long pause, my brother grabbed a shopping bag, and, with great exxageration, pantomimed how one bags groceries, for the benefit of the counterperson who dares to not bag groceries for this clueless American.

He threw his stuff into two bags and stormed out of the store. He later learned that stores there don't bag groceries, and the bags cost extra.

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when I was in Panama I was having my fish filet and wanted to keep the heads and bones for stock at the fish market and kept asking for the" caballos" instead of "cabesas" (sp?)

horses instead of heads

there was plenty of laughter and pity for me and my puzzled face

I got an extra fish out of the deal!!!

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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A co-worker once ordered "cucarachas" instead of "chicharones". The restaurant took pity and guessed correctly at his intended order.

"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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I had just moved to Japan(Kurume), and went grocery shopping for the first time. I merrily shopped and returned home put the stuff away and then slowly came the surprises. I go to pour the "milk" into my coffee, out came a thick sour something, hey yogourt. Went back, thought I grabbed a milk, it was comething even stranger, a product called ,I'm serious, calpis. It was good, but still wasn't cow juice. I also noticed that my t-shirts were basically disolving slowly after each wash, then discovered I had been washing them in good smelling but xtra strength toilet cleaner. There were many more surprisesbut those seem to stick out.

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A couple of favorite family stories come to mind. In 1933, my grandfather lost everything in the depression, so as he tried to rebuild, the relatives in Greece (who were actually much better off at the time) brought my grandmother, mother and uncle to live with them on the island of Euboea (Evia). Of course my grandmother had to learn Greek.

She went to the butcher and nicely asked for a quarter oka (an old measure) of calve's liver. At least that's what she thought she was asking for. She meant "sikotakia." What she said was "skatakia," or "little shits." The butcher laughed and said "are you sure you don't mean "sikotakia?" "Skatakia" is not a terribly bad word in Greek, but my grandmother was a proper southern belle, so she was properly mortified and never went back again.

Later she was waiting in a cafe for some friends. The waiter came and asked for her order. My grandmother said in her considerably improved Greek, "Thank you, I'm waiting for my friends to come down." A perfectly acceptable expression in Greek, but the waiter looked at her oddly, then looked up in the trees, and left. A bit later another waiter, a bit more hesitantly, came and said "are you ready to order?" My grandmother said "No, I just told the other waiter, I'm waiting for my friends to come down!" This waiter too looked up into the trees, went back to his colleage, and made the "wacko" sign. A bit later the friends arrived and they all had a good laugh - She should have said "perimeno na katevoun i fili mou." What she said was, "ta fila mou" - "I'm waiting for my leaves to come down."

Only sort of related to food, but when a woman asked her how old her kids were, she said "My girl is five years old, and my little cucumber is ten." - agoraki - little boy, angouraki - cucumber." And I made a mistake which is still talked about in the host family I stayed with on a foreign exchange program. We went to a wedding - gamos in Greek. I deduced that the verb to marry should be "gamo" - and I was right, but about 1000 years late...the modern word is "pandrevome" and "gamo" now means "to screw" (to the delight of thousands of Greek kids learning ancient Greek). So I asked the mother of the bride "what time are they [getting married]?" Understanding exactly what I meant but going with it, she said "e, perimene ligaki!" (oh, just wait a little!).

I remember saving one Norwegian couple from the wrath of an Istanbul fruit seller; their sin had been to try and buy exactly one fig. :laugh: He said "what the hell do you mean, one fig?! Who buys one fig?" I explained to him that where they came from, figs were really expensive and they had never had a fresh one before. He said "oh, then why don't they just try one?" and gave them one to try. He was incredulous when I said "you can't do that there."

There's a much repeated story in Turkey about the foreign woman who goes into the bakery and asks for two loaves of bread (iki ekmek) and mistakenly says "iki erkek" (two men), whereupon the baker smiles and says "I'm all you need honey."

Edited by sazji (log)

"Los Angeles is the only city in the world where there are two separate lines at holy communion. One line is for the regular body of Christ. One line is for the fat-free body of Christ. Our Lady of Malibu Beach serves a great free-range body of Christ over angel-hair pasta."

-Lea de Laria

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Okay, sazji, you win so far IMO.... those are precious stories!

Any one want to try to beat Sazji? :laugh:

I have at least one more, but they're not food related, so they may have to find another website!

Jamie Lee

Beauty fades, Dumb lasts forever. - Judge Judy

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