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…

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Big Supermarket that Wanted To

Since a year or so, the small town of Copán Ruinas has a Big Supermarket. A real one. As in a small cousin of the Wallmart family. And I don’t go there.

Well, hardly ever. I’m compellingly local to local producers, the market and of course Doña Berta’s (read my previous post for a description of that fabulous store) but every once in a while I go to the supermarket, especially when I have to buy lots of beers (I have lots of thirsty friends). The beer is $0,25 cheaper than at Dona Berta’s, so that’s a $3 discount on two six-packs. Worth walking the extra block.

So the other day I went there again (oh those thirsty friends!) and couldn’t help laughing at how out of place this store is. I mean, they did try. It’s not even as ugly as other supermarkets of the same chain, because the architect went out of its way to conform with Copán Ruinas’ never implemented urban plan and its restrictions. So there’s a lot of woodwork and tiles on the outside as well as all the conveniences offered at other stores, such as a spacious parking lot with a separate entrance and exit. There are even two parking spots reserved for disabled people, which is very considerate since the parking lot is actually the ONLY place in Copán where people in wheelchairs, roller scooters, rollators, the blind, the limp and mothers with pushchairs can move around without tripping, bumping, skipping or hopscotching. The entrance/exit is a different story, because the entrance is at the left, the exit at the right. People in this part of the world tend to keep right, so if you’re bored out of your mind and want to have some fun, sit at the steps of this supermarket and watch how cars regularly almost collide before the drivers get out of their cars for a stand off about who’s right (or left, in this case). Another very funny thing is the sign at the parking lot that says you can only leave kids in the car under supervision of an adult. Nothing about maybe leaving a window open. So I guess smothering kids in cars accompanied by adults are okay.

Less funny are the tremendous speakers outside the store that almost blast you from the stairs. No soft, soothing elevator musac on the background here. But you won’t find that anywhere in Honduras anyway. Here the retail philosophy is: the bigger the boom box, the higher the sales. I’m not the greatest fan of musac either, but the Honduran alternative is worse. I’m just glad I don’t live next door to the store.

Inside the store looks pretty much like every other supermarket in the world. The products are plenty, but basic, so unless you are in love with MSG, as most Hondurans are, there’s not much variety. Lots of Bimbo bread (a friend recently told me he uses it as a pillow when he’s out in the field. Says it works great, like memory foam!), sodas, beer (yes) and cleaning supplies. The supplies are clearly based on the demands in a small town, but the service pretends to be, or actually pretty much is, big city.

Now, that is a problem, because many people here, especially the ones from the mountain villages, have never been to a supermarket and don’t know how to act like big city consumers. So forget about waiting neatly in a line. Hell no, people will actually walk around you in the narrow passage between two checkouts, and lay their products on the counter without waiting their turn. And the idea about a quick check-out? Forget it! Just like at Doña Berta´s, each costumer needs to discuss the weather, the latest politics, and oh my, if someone has died, the line lasts forever.
There’s also no credit at this supermarket, so you can’t just buy whatever you want and have it written down in an old dog-eared notebook. So people load up a bunch of stuff in their arms (few people use the shopping baskets or carts, another novelty in town) without doing the math, so when they’re at the counter and are told how much they have to pay, they start taking things away until they can afford what’s left. No problem, but it sometimes lasts forever while the counter gets loaded with not such necessary stuff.

New are the signs on the many refrigerators that ask people to choose before opening the door. I guess there are many analphabetics under the customers. Also new in town are the coins. The prices are not neatly rounded as they are everuwhere else in Copán (even if you want to buy a 50 cent piece of candy each, you’ll just have to buy two!), so you always end up with a few coins which are a pain in the butt if you carry your money, as local custom for women’s requires, in your bra.

The one thing I absolutely do like in this supermarket is that they charge you for each plastic bag. Now, that might actually cause a riot in town…

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