I’ve lived in the city of Pamplona, Spain for just over a month now. I feel like I’m pretty good at doing life here now, but that wasn’t always the case. I’m gonna tell a story of how I epically failed in my first few days here.
It was just a trip to the grocery store. I had gotten moved into my apartment and needed food. My roommate told me to go to Eroski, a supermarket just down the street, and I was excited- grocery shopping is one of my favorite activities in the States. I made a list in my mind of the things I wanted to buy, and headed out the door. As soon as I entered the grocery store things started to go south. I’m walking around the produce section looking for sweet potatoes to find that they just aren’t present; picking out avocados and hearing a worker tell me something in Spanish I don’t understand and point to plastic gloves she wants me to wear as I select my fruit. I move on and as I walk through the aisles a million questions go through my head. Why are the chickpeas in jars? Where are the canned goods? Are black beans not a thing here? Why does this brown rice look weird? Why is there so much ham? Do I want ham? What was I looking for? Is this soap for dishes or laundry? I know my Spanish isn’t great, but I’m pretty sure there’s nothing on the bottle that says what to use it for. I see ten shelves of Nutella but where’s the peanut butter? Why are there so many kinds of coffee? What’s the difference?
I walk each aisle at least three times, not really sure what I’m looking for and having forgotten what I came in wanting to buy. Now I’m dreading having to check out because I know the cashier is going to talk to me in Spanish and I’m not going to understand. I get in line. When it’s my turn I put my things on the belt and step forward. The cashier is pointing to my produce and saying something I don’t understand. I say “lo siento, no entiendo” and he proceeds to take all of my produce to the produce section, weigh it, and print out stickers with the price. I’m so embarrassed. People are waiting in line behind me. He returns, I thank him. He asks if I need bags, I say yes, start bagging my groceries. They fill three bags and it’s time to pay- something goes wrong with the card reader and he does it for me. I’m so ready to leave. I take my bags and walk out; my house isn’t far, but the three bags are heavy and people are looking at me as I pass by. I climb the steps to my apartment sweating, make it in and put all my things away. Take a deep breath and sit in my feeling of defeat.
Fast forward to the next morning when I make my coffee and express aloud that it doesn’t taste right. My roommate asks what kind I bought and I show him. He proceeds to tell me that it’s both decaf and soluble- really??? How could I have purchased something so not correct? Weeks later he asks what kind of laundry detergent I bought because I had said how good it smells and when I show him he tells me that its not detergent at all but rather fabric softener. I think I went to Eroski four days in a row that first week, correcting my mistaken purchases and remembering things I had forgotten to buy. It was rough.
My latest trip to Eroski was two days ago. I navigated the aisles knowing what I wanted and where to find it. I picked out my produce, glove on hand, weighed and stickered each item. I picked out some jamón to try for fun and told another customer where he could find the rice. I greeted the cashier, bagged my groceries, paid without a problem, and strolled home, one reusable bag on each shoulder. No one else would have thought anything of it, but that’s exactly it. Being able to grocery shop like a normal Spaniard is an indication to me that I’ve made it here. I feel like I can do anything; I’m not just a tourist anymore. A week ago I even purchased ingredients for and made a Fourth of July style meal for my friends to celebrate the holiday. It’s knowing how badly I failed the first time that helps me see how far I’ve come. I honestly think it’s my biggest success since arriving in Spain; a close second is navigating the public transportation system.