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On Shopping Abroad

[Spetses, Old Harbour]

I’ve been a very lucky girl in the past two years: I’ve traveled to Greece (Thessaloníki, Halkidiki, and the mountains), Norway (Oslo, the mountains, and the southern coast), Iceland (Reykjavik), and Greece again! And I’m not (yet) completely broke!

This time ’round, on Spetses, I stayed in a little apartment that cost 50 Euros — about $70 — a night with dusty, gray tile floors, a real shower in the bathroom, a patio where we sat with ice cream, a rumbly air conditioner — and a kitchen. It was a tiny one, admittedly, but it still existed; I had a two-burner hot plate, a small oven, a mini refrigerator, and a few pots and pans with which to occupy myself.

So what this meant was, of course, that I could avoid having to go out for every meal, and that a trip to the local — and only — supermarket was in order.

On my first visit, with Kurt, I rather predictably wandered the aisles looking at the options and remarking on the differences between what I saw on the shelves there compared with the States. Orange juice, for example, was more expensive than here in San Francisco, and in a smaller container, and there was something in the refrigerated aisle entitled “Russian Salad” that I — wisely, I’m sure — steered clear of. I found a plethora of Nivea sunscreens attractively displayed (the spfs ranged from 4 to 10, and no higher) and lotions; lots of feta options; the brand of retsina I learned to love two years ago; a kind of candy made from pistachio nuts and sugar. I picked up a bottle of the ubiquitous “Fairy” dishwashing liquid (also available in Iceland) to outfit my little kitchen, and took a deep breath and committed to a small jar of Nescafe (I now enjoy, not just tolerate, it).

I knew before I left America that I wanted to eat a lot of yogurt, and I so got some of that at the market, too. Oh, Greek yogurt! I shall sing your praises for as long as I am able, for you are thick, creamy, rich, and with so much more character than some of these wimpy American yogurts (forget about forgoing the fat). I can’t handle sheep or goat yogurt, but my favorite cow’s milk variety came in a little earthenware container I was able to bring home with me to the States and will now use for … something.

One night after we made dinner, we had a quick and easy dessert of one nectarine, sliced, arranged around a plate of yogurt drizzled with honey; I am making a reprise of that tonight it was so good. I ate yogurt and muesli for breakfast about half the time, and the other mornings I had a piece of bread spread with strawberry jam and topped with a piece of cheese. Though it sounds a bit odd, it was delicious.

I lingered over my cup of Nescafe in the mornings before I packed up my bag with my daily essentials: sunglasses, towel, water bottle, and swimsuit. One day I got up early enough to swim a few laps with the fish off the main beach, secure in the knowledge I could come ‘home’ to eat a good breakfast before going on about my day.

[My typical Spetses breakfast.]

In Reykjavik, I was pleased and delighted to be able to buy tofu in the “Bonus” supermarket; in Norway there was a strange abundance of broccoli and wheat flours in the bigger markets; in Greece, there were two kinds of oregano potato chips from which to choose, and I tried them both. Going to my local Safeway the other day to buy my bus pass, after the memory of my more exotic grocery shopping sprees, was somewhat deflating; life is back to normal, then.

There’s really something special about being in another country for a short time but acting for that brief period as though you live there. I always get a secret thrill when I’m able to move through the supermarket, quietly filling my basket with products I couldn’t get at home, carefully counting out my euros, and making a successful purchase — all without coming across as a gauche tourist.

I hope I was able to pass, this time; you never know for sure.

But I sure was tan enough to blend in.

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