Since I’m doing my best to be a proper local in each new place I live, however short-term, I’ve been exploring the local shops to find my groceries. As usual, grocery shopping is simultaneously the most stressful aspect of living in a different country, and one of the most engaging.
It’s difficult not knowing where (or what) anything is, particularly when you’re hungry and you need toilet paper and you have to work in half an hour. But it’s also endlessly interesting to try to guess what various items might be. You get to use all your logical reasoning abilities but you probably won’t know for sure what you wound up with until you get home and try to put it on a sandwich.
In Budapest I almost got kicked out of a shop by security because I was using Google’s handy live photo-translate feature to try to figure out what kind of bread to buy, and they thought I was taking pictures, which is apparently not allowed. It’s (ironically) extremely difficult to explain Google Translate to someone when you don’t share a common language. Now I’m prepared, though; I translate “I am not taking photos, it’s for translation” into the local language and save a screencap on my phone, so that I can show it to grocery store security guards and in museums etc. I haven’t had to use it yet, but I expect it’ll come in handy at some point.
I discovered that “American cookies” are a thing in Hungary:
I learned the Hungarian word for rye bread, as well as the words for ham and turkey in Hungarian and Serbian, even though two separate Europeans have told me that they may as well be the same and I should just eat ham and stop worrying about it (“but I don’t liiiike ham”, I whined, and my German friends just rolled their eyes).
I also discovered my favorite brand of toilet paper in Budapest, because what on earth:
I’m confused (and saddened) by the lack of Doritos (and other corn chips, come to think of it) in Central Europe; they don’t seem to exist, or there will be one flavor in a local brand on a high shelf. Cheetos (and/or the local puffed-corn-and-cheese equivalents) rarely come in normal cheese flavor, but you can consistently find them in peanut, pizza, hot dog, and ketchup flavor.
In Budapest I bought pizza-flavored Cheetos in a moment of snack food desperation, and in Belgrade I tried the local version in peanut flavor, for science. Both were bad choices, and I don’t recommend them to anyone else.
The biggest confusion so far, though, which started in Morocco but has continued here, is bagged milk:
I cannot understand why milk is sold in bags. What do you do with it? Do you pour it into a carafe? Do you put a clip on the bag to seal it back up and hope it doesn’t leak all over your fridge? Do you use it all at once?
Here in Belgrade, mayonnaise is also sold in bags, but they have spigots so it’s not as strange. I was late for work one day because I couldn’t find it in the store, but I’ve got a handle on it now.
One of the many great things about Belgrade is that there’s a 24-hour bakery one block from my apartment, so when I discover I’ve run out of sandwich supplies late at night, or when I have to go to the grocery store but I’m too hungry to calmly treat it as an adventure, I can go find delicious spinach pastries or little cornbread muffins with cheese baked in.
Next I’m heading deeper into the Balkans, and am excited to see what other sorts of groceries I’ll find.