Monday, October 24, 2011

Grocery Shopping

I chose this as my first topic 1. because it's what I have done the most of so far and 2. because it's something so normal and commonplace that we take it's simplicity for granted.  There's a regular MAXI supermarket about 3 blocks from the Embassy, not to be confused with the Mini MAXI two blocks from the Embassy.  The Mini MAXI is basically a 711 with a bit of produce less the slurpee machines, but the MAXI is about the size of a small grocery store in a mid sized city, not the shopping palaces of suburbia or Chevy Chase.  At first it's all pretty easy, I get a cart and go through the aisles.  I don't recognize about 80% of the brands, but on the most part you can figure out what everything is by the picture on the containers and the few words that may be in English.

My first "bump" was finding nail polish remover, easy enough it was in the aisle I was expecting (beauty products) and in a very normal looking container, but then I see the label says "Sa Acetona" which I guess means either with, or without acetone.  So I turn to the lady that works there (there are way over staffed at every single place you go to in Serbia, I guess labor is very cheap, or they actually do care about customer service) and I try to ask what Sa means, but then it all just gets more confusing.  The more I ask and explain myself, the more this poor confused lady is talking in Serbian and I just don't even know how to tell her to stop and to nevermind. Mental note: don't ask questions.  

Then came the produce aisles.  Now, the produce here is just AWESOME.  There is not a lot of variety.  Acutally, there is NO variety, there're carrots, onions, tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, garlic, potatoes and lettuce and that's it.  And for fruit there are grapes, apples and bananas.  But they are the BEST apples, grapes and bananas EVER and sooo cheap.  I got 4 apples for about 30 cents. Total.   Anyway, apparently, they haven't set the system up to have your produce weighed at the checkout line, so you have to weigh it and bag it first at this little station next to it, and the entire thing is in Serbian, so I am there memorizing the characters in my head to then keying them in unto the machine to print my little scan label for my apples.
It's a good thing I have all day, because I keep forgetting the symbols.

Then there's the meat.  They don't sell meat in frozen stacks or pre-packaged, you have to go to the butcher section and talk to a real human and ask for what you want.  This is where I become Charlie Chaplin and point and nod.  I point to what I am hoping is ham and she picks it up and takes it to the gigantic slicer.  I am so proud and happy that I am getting what I want, I don't even realize she's asking me a I assume she's asking how much I want ..and I don't really know. So she says "one kilo"..and I shake my head and say "no, half", for some reason, my whole life I have been thinking that the international symbol for half was the time out symbol where one hand is completely vertical and the other one is palm down on top of it, but horizontal.  This did not mean anything to this lady, so I keep repeating, half kilo.  I guess half is not a common word.  Finally, someone else notices our awkward scene, and tells her "500" and I nod quickly, "yes, 500".  Well, she gets to work and it looks like 500 grams is A LOT of ham.  But, oh, well.  It was good.  Same thing happens when I tried to get some beef for a stew.  I pointed to this piece of meat that looked good but was gi-normous and asked for half and this time, he totally got it.  I assume people just name the cuts of meat they want and how much, but I don't even know the cuts of meat in English, let alone in Serbian.

So after browsing some aisles full of Serbian specialties, such as the Nutella-esque chocolate spreads featured in the pic above and which I will do my best to stay away from, and dairy sections, I went to check out.  I went from using my credit card for a .85 cent purchase at CVS to only paying cash because we don't have a bank here yet and probably never will.  Anyway, turns out that all my hard work at the produce weigh station was fine, except that I totally spaced out and forgot about the bananas and the lady at the counter is asking and I'm just like "I'm sorry, I totally forgot" and she just leaves me standing there with a line of like 3-4 people behind me to go and weigh them herself.  I felt really bad and kept telling people "so sorry" but unlike DC, where people huff and puff over wasted time, here, it's nothing. No one sighed or gave me the evil eye.  The cashier wasn't pissy or mad. I was the only one flustered. It's so weird how they really don't have a sense of urgency and they are not always hurried.  I felt like in DC my life could have been titled like a book they read at the middle schools, "Always Running" and now it's like "Always Chillin"  

One last thing before I finish this.  Everything IS smaller in Serbia, portions, supermarket carts, appliances, people, etc.  Even the receipts.  The one on the left is a Serbian receipt, the one on the right is American standard. 


Katrin said...

That's a lot of chocolate spreads!

Shannon said...

You make me laugh. Miss you V.

Rey Chaguens de Machín said...

Mi'ja you need some Google translate on your phone. (If they even have Serbian.) But at least a notepad so you can write numbers. They are the same mostly everywhere!

Marcel said...

OMG I forgot I had that display name on blogger. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Hi, great blog :-)

SA means WITH, BEZ (pronounced like Pez candy but with a B) means WITHOUT.

POLA (Like pole just add an A in the end) means HALF, next time you go to the butcher :-)

Also, yes, Google has Serbian translation (a pretty good one as well), however, if I remember correctly, it gives you translation in Cyrillic which I'm guessing wouldn't be much of help to you. In that case, just go for Croatian, as it displays Latin alphabet that you can read more easily.

Č= CH sound, as in Chair
Ć= CH (a softer sound) as in Chia Pet
Đ or DJ= Can't think of anything, sorry
Ž= as in "Je t'aime" French for I Love you, so the "Je" part.
DŽ= as in Jambalaya
Š= SH as in SHoes

Hope this was helpful :-)

Enjoy your time in Serbia!

Blackbird said...

Nuce story, well told. Having just returned from a month and a half in Serbia, I appreciated it a lot.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Belgrade, Serbia and live in DC. I was there for a month this summer. Here is a tip: most places in BG do not put enough ice when you order a soda drink. The key is to ask for example for a coke and an extra cup with ice. Something like this "Molim vas jedna Koka-Kola i casa sa ledom" :)

Utnapistin said...

Hi! Welcome to Serbia :)
If you care to try the BEST chocolate spread in the world, try to find "Linolada". You'll forget about Nutella, trust me :)

Anonymous said...

Đ is like Gi in Giordano Bruno :-)

Anonymous said...

C'mon people. Dj or Đ is like Đokovic or Djokovic (can't miss that pronunciation in Serbia and even in the world!). Great posts - I am from Belgrade, living in Toronto.