I’m in Italy right now. I came for a month, because, well, because I can.
I teach middle school during the school year and have the luxury of my summer off, so I decided to make the most of it. So I’m here in Parma, doing my best to learn my way around my new neighborhood, practice speaking Italian, and embrace living in Italian time.
Today’s mission: find the local grocery store. That’s one of my favorite things to do when I travel. You learn so much about a culture by what is – and isn’t – on the shelves at the local market. Peanut butter? Not a chance. Chestnut spread in the jam aisle? Absolutely.
Other interesting finds: pesto-flavored potato chips, lemon-burrata ravioli, and fun beverages: Lambrusco, the local wine, and Chinotto, the national soda.
I got my things home, including lugging a six-pack of 2 liter bottles of purified drinking water (the pipes are old so the water that comes out of the faucet is safe for cooking and bathing but it’s not advisable to guzzle it by the liter on a hot day). Then I realized I forgot to buy fruit. I wanted to go to the local fruit vendor, but couldn’t find him, and ended up back at the grocery store. I grabbed a few peaches, bagged them up, and headed to the checkout line.
The cashier lifting the bag, and looked confused. I didn’t understand her words, but I understood her body language. She kept lifting and dropping the bag, pantomiming that I needed to weigh the fruit.
I took the bag back, said a quick “mi dispiace” (I’m sorry) and headed back to the produce aisle, hoping I would see what other people were doing.
I saw one guy weighing fruit at a scale. Great! I followed him and put my peaches on the scale after he walked away, only to realize I had no clue how to tell the scale what I was weighing. There were no stickers on the fruit, and no product number (it seemed) on the price tag label on the shelf where I got the fruit. There was only a scale and a keypad with – get this – keys numbered from 1 to at least a hundred. It may have gone higher, I didn’t take notice of when the numbers stopped. I just saw blank number after blank number and no instructions on what to do with them.
I half considered leaving. Putting the fruit back and walking out the door was an option that was available to me.
But in that moment I became even more determined. I was buying that fruit! Those peaches would be mine! There was no way I was letting buying produce in a supermarket beat me.
There had to be a code for the scale. Nothing else made sense. I went back to the fruit stand. I looked at the tag again. And again. I saw the name of the fruit (peche), and the price per weight. I did not see a code.
I put my fruit on the scale, got the weight, and pressed a random number to see what would happen. My button rang my fruit up as l’aranche: Oranges. I had a clue!
The scale was covered with discarded bar code stickers, implying that people screw this up all the time or do exactly what i just did, and leave the discard stickers there.
I put the bar code sticker for the oranges on the scale with the other discards and went back to the peach display. I stared hard at the tag, looking for anything that looked like a code.
I noticed three tiny numbers, each in a separate box. There was a teeny tiny “1” in box. Next to it, there was a teeny tiny “8” in its own box. Next to that was another teeny tiny “1” in its own box.
I went back to the scale.
I put the fruit on the scale, and got my weight. I pressed “1” to see what would happen. The wrong thing rang up. I put the sticker on the scale and tried again. This time I pressed the only other number I had: “8.” It worked! The price tag popped out for my peaches and I headed back to the check out counter. The lady smiled when she saw me back with my properly labeled bag.
I’m still a little embarrassed by the fact that I actually considered giving up. Only for about half a second, but still. Then, on the way home, I found the produce vendor that I had been looking for from the beginning. I bought some apricots from him, no bar code needed.
I have fruit. I have wine. I have Italia. What more do I need?