Grocery Shopping… how I learned to stop worrying and love the chaos.

13 02 2011

If you know me at all, you know I hate to be rushed.  You also know that punctuality is not my strong suit.  One of my many Miguel-given-nicknames is “Pokey” (Gumby’s donkey who was really slow).  He calls me Pokey because, well, I’m slow as hell.  And, like an ass, I dig my heels in when someone is rushing me.  While I still possess this trait, I am getting better.  It may be because everyone around me is on “Tico Time” and is thus making my tardiness look punctual, or it could be because of the massive speed exercise that is grocery shopping without a car.  And, believe it or not, I have made an informed and conscience decision to make my grocery shopping experience rushed and chaotic.  This weekly exercise may be just what I need to shed that stupid nickname.

There are 2 ways the chore of grocery shopping can go.  The first way, and this is very rare and wonderful, is my neighbor (Andrea) will be headed to the grocery store and will ask if I want to go with her.  These grocery shopping experiences are great because I can take my time (kinda), not worry about getting a taxi ride back, I can even roam around the aisles until Andrea is ready to check out.

The second way is the most common and is a little bit more chaotic:

I start by making a list.  The list includes anything I wasn’t able to buy at the farmer’s market.  If we have taken a trip over the weekend, that means we missed the farmer’s market, and then I have to buy all of my produce from the grocery store.  It is more expensive, but not by too much.  Usually I will put some items on there just to check the price and see if we can afford it.  For instance, during this trip I was going to check the price of Chocolate Chips.  They were a little over 3,000 colones ($6).  I didn’t buy them this trip.

A short list for this week.


After making my list, I get all of my bags and water bottles together and call a Taxi.

Waiting for the taxi. Bottle of water and reusable bags. (Grandma Lorrie- that's a bag you bought me for Christmas a few years ago. It made it all the way to Costa Rica with me!)


While in the taxi and on my way to the grocery store, I ask the driver if he can wait for me.

This guy is super nice. I am always happy to get him as my driver.

It took me awhile to figure out that having a taxi waiting for me (and charging me per hour) is far better than having to call a second one to come get me.  When I first started out, I would call a taxi as soon as I started unloading my cart.  This didn’t ever seem to work out correctly.  The taxi would show up too early and would be honking maniacly while I paid, or they would be late and all of my groceries would be sitting in the sun in the front of the store.  It’s pretty embarrassing to have people step over and around your bags as you wait for a taxi you called 10 minutes ago.  It makes it even worse if a cart-guy is helping with your groceries, because then, he has to sit and wait around with you to figure out which strange and busted car is actually the taxi.  Obviously the method of 2 taxis was a pain.

The alternative is to have the taxi wait.  While they do charge by the hour, It only amounts to about $2 more than calling two separate cars.  The down-side to having the taxi wait, other than paying more money, is that I have to haul ass through the store.  After a few months of practice, I now have my shopping trip down to about 25 minutes.  The first time I had a taxi wait for me, I went too fast and left off a bunch of things on my list.  Now, I can get all that I need and still take some random pictures for the blog without breaking a sweat.

To make the feat of a 25 minute shopping trip sound even more amazing (considering how slow I like to go), you should know, navagating any public space in Latin America is also a challenge.  People here don’t have the same concepts of, “Maybe I should move my unattended cart out of the middle of the isle”, or “If I’m walking really slow, I should probably stay to the right and not take up the entire isle so everyone behind me has to creep along while I find whatever it is I’m looking for.”  My favorite senario is the, “Oh someone is turning down this isle, let me walk forward with my cart and play chicken until one of us moves or is hit by my cart.”  Many an old lady has received looks of death and firm-but-friendly bumps with my cart as a reminder to get the hell out of my way (I should probably start calling out “Twanda” every time contact is made).  I wouldn’t really care if my taxi wasn’t waiting… but I don’t want to be charged for some random meanderer.  And, after all is said and done, I do have to appreciate that it doesn’t take an entire afternoon to get my shopping done.  The chaos has brought peace to my Sunday afternoons.

I was side tracked-Sorry!  After telling the taxi, “Espereme.  Yo voy muy rapido” (I think I’m saying “Wait for me.  I go very quick”), I take off.  I shop at a store called Auto Mercado for most things.  It’s just like a Kroger or Safeway at home.

Auto Mercado- a gringo's mecca.

They have everything I need, generally.  I started shopping here because the meat is the best I can find.  It’s expensive, but I just don’t feel comfortable compromising on something like meat.  While the taxi waited, I tried to rapidly take pictures of things that I thought looked cool or would be different from the states:

The fruit is plentiful... especially pina!

Pejibayes are yummy potato-like things that smell funny. The sign reads, "When was the last time?"

Big bags. There are also Bolsas Pequenas, naturally.

Eggs: On a non-refridgerated shelf. Milk isn't refridgerated either!

Cheddar Cheese: $7

Chicken breast: $7.50

One of the cheapest things in Costa Rica: Tortillas. 50 cents!

Miguel's favorite cereal includes everything! $4

The efficiency of Auto Mercado is really apparent when I’m ready to check out.  As I unload my things, someone waits by my cart.  As soon as the last item is emptied from my cart, he will take it and put it back at the front of the store with the other carts.  Two guys usually bag my groceries, and one guy scans everything.  If he can’t scan a bar code, he sends another guy to go get the price.  If I have a bottle of water, he sends ANOTHER guy to go get that for me.  It’s amazing.

Labor is cheap- Everything else is not... Well, Ramen is universally cheap. 🙂

35,000 colones at the grocery store. This was a light trip. Food takes up a lot of our budget, as you can see.

After I pay, another person takes my groceries out to my “car”.  I tip him about 50 cents, and he unloads all of my things in the taxi.

These guys remind me of the "Cart Boys" at the commissary.

When I get home, the taxi driver helps set everything on my patio.  I pay the fare, and he leaves after I remind him that our speed bump is giant and to be careful.  I then proceed to unpack and fully enjoy my wide-open Sunday afternoon.  I have learned to stop worrying and love the chaos.





3 responses

13 02 2011
Mom Stevens

Honey, I love this post and I have to agree with Miguel’s nickname for you 🙂 Even as a little girl you begged me to slow down WHEREVER we went and occasionally just stopped until l had to! Not to mention the times you begged to just go home so you could take a nap! The only 5 year old I’ve EVER known to BEG for a nap!!! All just a few of the many things I love about you – Mom

14 02 2011

Love it. Whenever I go to another country, one of my favorite things is to check out the super markets. So much the same, but still so different.

I’d love a big bowl of All Inklusive right now! Everything’s included? How can you go wrong?

14 02 2011

Knowing how you operate at grocery stores and then picturing you in a Costa Rican grocery store, really makes me giggle! I would LOVE to check out your local grocery store when we come visit because I agree w/ what Brian said and we are geeks like that 🙂

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