I’m sitting in the car – a huge improvement from an hour ago. I’ve been trying to convince myself to go grocery shopping all day. If I wait much longer the stores will close and my husband and I won’t have anything to eat for dinner. The steering wheel and myself are on the right side of the car, this being Ireland. It’s pouring rain – not much of a change from any other day.
I know it’s silly to be this scared. I know it’s a normal thing to go grocery shopping, even for foreigners. And yet the newness terrifies me. I feel ill. It could be the anxiety or maybe it’s the shot of vodka I just had to help myself out of the house. As I sit in the car I wonder how many of the neighbors in the brown brick townhouses are watching me. The Irish are nothing if not curious.
I sit in the rain and I try to analyze the problem. I try to convince myself that it’s fine, that nothing earth shattering will happen to me. But I keep imagining horrible scenarios. I imagine myself buying something too strange, having the other shoppers think I’m weird. I imagine myself not going to the right lane to check out or being without a wallet (even though I checked several times before I left the house). I alternate between almost ready to go and hyperventilating. Maybe we can just go to the pub again for dinner and wait until the weekend to go shopping.
Eventually I stop thinking, turn the ignition, and start out the gate. Driving on the left is confusing, worse because of the large hedges and stone walls that choke the sides of the roads, barely allowing space for two lanes. Not to mention the tractor I’m following and the pounding rain.
After half an hour of driving I get to the grocery store – a looming grey building that seems much bigger than it really is. I grab my cloth shopping bags that are a requirement in Ireland (and unfamiliar to me coming from the US in 2002). The strangeness of the act terrifies me. But at the same time the fear of being out of place in my new home helps me remember the green sacks. I wouldn’t want to get to the checkout and not have bags. How horrifying.
I put my euro into the cart to detach it from the rest in front of the dripping store. Another ridiculous act. Why can’t these Irish just give you a cart instead of making you put money in? They don’t keep the euros – you get them back when you re-attach the cart. It’s just to waste more time, I’m convinced. The Irish are not only curious but great wasters of time.
I walk into the store and I’m immediately aware of other shoppers. There is a youngish woman sniffing a tomato, trying to keep a screaming toddler in the cart. An old lady with a push-cart stands near the bread. She eyes me as if I’m going to steal the cart from her. “I already have my own” I want to yell at her.
The Irish grocery store is similar to ones in the U.S. but different enough to make me uncomfortable. Bread flows loose out of big bins. To get bread you pick it up with your bare hands and stick it in a plastic bag. I steer clear of this section. I’m dumbfounded by the procedure for buying produce. They have strange scales that print things out and I’m not sure how to work it. I need onions and tomatoes but decide I’m fine without them. Best to let my husband figure that one out. Chickens are odd and have feet attached still but I get one anyways because it’s wrapped in plastic like in the states and it doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary. Plus no one is around this section to see what I’m doing.
The checkout is fairly uneventful. Standing in line I worry about how to give the checker my bags but she grabs them out of my cart before I can think too much about it. I fumble for my card and can’t figure out the machine and the she mumbles something to me with a thick accent I can’t understand. I try again and get it the second time. The card runs and I hear, “Cheers, yeah. Bye then.” And I’m off. Free. Shopping done. Maybe I can live through this crazy adventure after all. If the stress of being a foreigner or the Irish roads don’t kill me before it’s time to go home.