Living in Honduras or Guatemala as a foreigner is sometimes hard, mostly fun and never boring. This Blog is about more than just the oddities of my years in the not-so tranquil, cobble-stoned town of Copán Ruinas and, more recently, Antigua Guatemala. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Forever waiting in line



If you’re slightly suicidal and you happen to be in Holland, then you might like the following experiment: Go to any regular, well visited stored, let’s say a bakery, and instead of carefully checking out who is last in line, you walk up front and loudly ask for a half a whole-grain, sliced, please.

It’s likely you’ll get killed.

Although not as polite or obsessed with queuing as the English, for the Dutch it is an unwritten rule that you never EVER go before your turn. NEVER!

So, being born and bred in Holland, during my first few months in Honduras I spent quite a bit of time waiting for my turn, until it finally dawned on me that there is no turn.
In the big cities it’s probably a whole different story (there you have such things as supermarkets), but in Copán most shopping is still done in small neighbourhood pulperías. With their own set of rules…

I’d go into a store and politely wait behind two women until the store owner would be so kind to pay me any attention. It’s not that the women were actually buying anything. Or at least not a lot. But there is always a whole lot of chatting and laughing going on. This would go on and on until I would get so frustrated that irritation would override my genetic politeness and I would interrupt the conversation and ask for a pack of toilet paper. Nothing would happen. At least nothing what I expected, such as killer looks, flying daggers, or a condescending up- turning of noses. Instead, the lady behind the counter would grab a pack of toilet paper from a shelf behind her, tell me the price, accept my money, give me change and all of this without even the slightest pause in her conversation!

It took a while, but I finally learned that you don’t go shopping to buy stuff, (that’s sort of collateral damage), but to see what‘s going on in the world. You go to the store to discuss the weather or the price of eggs and of course to hear the very latest gossip. Shopping is a social event that should not be hurried or interrupted. It’s an almost sacred ceremonial exchange of information that is not disturbed by other customers, whining children or salesmen.
If you actually need to buy something, you send your kid to the store.

This way of shopping, as much as I’ve come to respect it, is really not my thing. But that’s fine, it’s just not for everybody. Now, years later, I have shopping in a hurry down to an art. I walk into a store, ignore everybody else, ask for what I want and am attended instantly, happily exiting the store seconds later with my purchase.
But every once in a while, while I’m being attended, someone else comes up from behind and will yell out whatever he or she wants, while it is still my turn!!! That’s when the Dutch part of me awakes like an angry orange lion. I’ll turn around and snarl and the intruder.

Hey you! Wait for your turn!

I can’t help it. Even though I know very well that the response will be a blank stare.

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