When running errands is not a five minute task…

I didn’t even grab a basket on my way in to the store. I really wasn’t going to buy much and it wouldn’t take me long… or so I thought. I’ve run small errands hundreds of times back home during the past few years (It seems to be intricately entwined with getting a license), so I really didn’t think it could be all that different or challenging just because I’m in France.

I was wrong. I think I spent a half hour in the store just to buy six items (and three of the items were identical to each other!). It didn’t take long for me to realize that although the language is not too challenging, I do need to beware several other factors.

The first problem cropped up when I let myself fall prey to stereotypical views of the French. I didn’t see women’s shaving cream. It should be right next to the men’s right?! Or near the haircare products in the next aisle. As I stood staring at the men’s options, I started to be convinced that French women simply don’t use shaving cream…. So I groaned to myself and selected a men’s brand (how different can they be?!). It was with a strange mix of relief and embarassment that I stumbled across the sparse array of women’s shaving cream five minutes later. I snuck back to the men’s aisle and put the first bottle back on the shelf when nobody was looking.

Once more assured that France is not really so different, I moved on to the second floor of the store. The idea of study abroad is after all to study (at least occasionally), so I needed to buy myself three more notebooks. Another easy task, right? This time I was truly thwarted. Every notebook in the store was filled with the spasmodic and horrifying little boxes that make up graph paper. I’m quite certain of that fact because I think I opened every notebook in the store in my fervent search for basic (American?) lined paper. I was stubbornly determined to find my preferred paper- it’s easier to write on with the wider lines, less painful for the eyes, and simply what I am accustomed to. It was not destined to be though, so i am now the regretful owner of three horrific graph-paper notebooks.

My last task was not challenging in terms of culture shock so much as simply learning to be a self-sufficient individual in a foreign country. I’ll be staying in a hostel for a brief period a month from now, so I need to have a lock. I didn’t realize that my choices would be quite so varied! Do I get one with a key and then worry about losing the key? And isn’t that type more easily thwarted by lock-pickers? But the combination locks were substantially more expensive and require me to actually memorize numbers- not my strength. The choice was further complicated by a rating system for level of security provided by the lock, ranging from one to six, with two and three being the most prevalent. I was about to make my selection when I realized that some also had little pictures that indicated that they’re perfect for luggage, backpacks, or lockers. My hesitation was brief though and I came away with a level three key-opperated lock and renewed determination not to let anything terrible happen while I travel.

If I can adjust to French products and organization as well as make my own decisions all in one place, then I might just be ready for solo travel when the time comes!

On a side note, this was all accomplished in Monoprix, which can be best described at the French Walmart as it had a little of everything at decent prices, but I can happily report that it maintains a slightly classier level than that staple of my own culture.

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3 thoughts on “When running errands is not a five minute task…

  1. You will get the hang of it soon enough, don’t worry. Think of it as a way to have some free language practice though! The other day I was in the supermarket in Rome asking for some facewash, but I didn’t know how to say that. It ended up in a fifteen minute conversation in which the woman would hold up every product, read the bottle, look back at my face to see if I had that problem that could be fixed by that bottle, and then put it back down again. Finally, she found the face wash and I was quite glad to be done with that activity!

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