Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The first grocery store trip. And the second.

My first night here, my roommate Mira made me a delicious dinner of salat (salad) and laks (salmon-- and since I'm Jewish, I've gotta mention the "lox" similarity).  But after a breakfastless morning and a meagre lunch of cookies on Day Two, I was ravenous.  I asked Mira where the nearest, cheapest food store was, and it's a place called Faksa a block north of our flat.

I thought I was passing.  I tried not to show my complete confusion as I entered the store and browsed familiar and not-so-familiar foods with labels like "leverpostej," "danskvand," and the most frightening-looking "agurk."  I didn't have time to wait for my first Danish class.  I was hungry, and I needed something resembling a meal.

I stumbled to the line with a basket full of muesli, sour peach yoghurt (I think), tomatoes ("tomater" is recognizable), grapes, avocados, brie (the same in all languages?), two baguettes, pasta, shredded mozzarella, and vegetarian tomato sauce.  It occurred to me that 1), my basket was fuller than all the Danes' around me, and 2), none of the food I bought, with the possible exception of muesli, was a local staple.  I had a little French cheese and some Italian supplies, and avocados are definitely not Nordic.  (In fact, my roommate seems to eat them hard and unripe, and maybe I should get used to them that way, as they don't seem to soften here like they do in the States.)

The guy at the cash register didn't look at me as he calculated the tab, and I'd watched the people ahead of me to gauge what to do.  I thought I was blending in.  "132 kroner," he told me in Danish.  I handed him 400.  The game was up.  The girls behind me looked confused and annoyed as the man handed me my 200 DK bill back and repeated himself.  He thrust the receipt into my hands as I finished bagging my own groceries (yes, you do that for yourself here), and I tried to run out, flushed with embarrassment.  But of course, I'd tried to stuff my American-sized grocery run into two thin, Danish plastic bags, and they tore almost immediately on the walk home.  Lesson heartily learned.

DIS doesn't exactly leave us high and dry.  Today and tomorrow, we get two sessions of "Survival Danish," the first of which was this morning.  We had the lesson on going food shopping, complete with field trip to a shop called Netto.  (Netto is a little more recognizably a food store than Faksa, it must be said.)  I know now that I don't want to buy liver pate or sparkling mineral water, but that terrifying "agurk" is really just a cucumber.  Albeit a more natural cucumber than my American palate is used to, given the apparent Danish distaste of all genetically-engineered food.  The fruits are smaller, the vegetables thinner, but everything, it turns out, tastes pretty much the same, or better.

Someone conveniently mentioned today that the European habit is to go food shopping once a day, instead of once or twice a week, and to just buy the food that you'll eat for the next one or two days.  This resolves a lot of my fear that Mira doesn't eat, given our spare kitchen, and explains the weird looks natives gave me on line yesterday as I tried to stuff a week's worth of groceries into a handheld basket.   But the payment mistake wasn't culture shock.  Even or especially in Denmark, my math skills are pretty questionable.

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