May 31, 2007

Counting Apricots and Counting on Change

Thursday last day of May 2007 - 3:30 p.m.
Another rainy day here in southwest France, mid 60's to 70's outside with a light breeze.
Most of the "votes" from my survey indicate a preference for the continuous format, and I am happy to provide. I will warn you though, I get a little political today. Quiche last night with spinach, and a touch of ham/bacon? Not sure, so read on....

I am starstruck every time I enter the local SHOPI, it is a small store by USA standards, but with a good selection of everything I need. Some American items seem unavailable; cottage cheese or ricotta cheese, for example, and no cheeses look quite like cheddar. Bacon seems to take strange packaging; either small chopped pieces, or in packages as "Jambon" (ham), and usually smoked but not quite the color of ham, and not quite the color of bacon. Chocolates of all types of sizes and colors, with up to 80% dark cocoa/chocolate, and M&M's sit nearby in easily recognizable packages. I could easily spend an hour in the store, "reading" labels and comprehending maybe 20%, maybe 50%, maybe more. I wandered around the laundry soaps, amused that it is a universal marketing ploy to present this type of soap in either bright blue or orange plastic bottles, with brightly-colored labels offering all types of magical properties. The soap I purchased was on a whim based on the name; "Le Chat" (cat) with a red cat's cartoon face on the front. I like cats, although I'm unsure how they get laundry cleaner.

The language difficulties make me think of how foreigners to USA must feel overwhelmed by the choices in our grocery stores. I've been in line in USA when the person ahead of me does not speak English, and is trying to communicate with the cashier. Do they understand the cashier is describing the special of the day, or asking for coupons or "store discount card"? I know I have been nervous when the cashiers here, ask me questions in a language I do not understand. I also remember looking at books a month or so ago at my local library, and being aware of a mother with two children entering the library. The eldest daughter asked the librarian for the "Spanish language books", an area around the corner from where I stood, and I did not know it existed. I walked over after the family had left, and was disappointed in the library/city/government for the small area of only one shelf that offered limited choices for someone who probably did not read English very well. With what little Spanish I can read, the choices were lousy. Then I realized I should not be angry at the library, a struggling institution limited by taxpayer's dollars for every book they put on the shelf. I am angry at myself - for not being aware of others who also may be nervous about entering a foreign-language business. This person wanted to be part of the community by utilizing the same library as her children, but with limited choices may not return for choices for herself. <<<>>>
Here I am using children's books and menus, and listening to foreign-language radio to try to grasp as much as I can. I am nervous every time I interact with someone "of the town", but I'm getting better. I requested fresh fruit and vegetables at the farmer's market today and the farmers did not "correct" my pronunciations this week, although one laughed with me, as I tried to hold up the proper fingers (counting with thumb first, then index, then middle, then ring finger - but no pinkie!), to indicate only four apricots. And I understood the small amount of money he requested -offering the correct combination of coins needed.

I am struggling here, and I am struggling with how to make opportunities better when I get back; where my home is, where my grocery store is, and where the library where I grew up is.
Wherever you are, enjoy the knowledge you possess and be charitable to those who do not yet understand the traditions or language of your land.

1 comment:

l/elle said...

Actually, EM has one of the LARGER collections of Spanish language books available, thanks to grant funding. They're quite proud of that shelf. Goes to show you how perspective makes a difference. Just call me library lady. L/Elle.