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Provisioning in Papeete

By Chelsea McBroom

March 14th, 2014

Grocery shopping in other parts of the world is not like grocery shopping in North America. The Picton Castle‘s agent here in Papeete drove me, our new cook Lily, Anne-Laure (apprentice and our French translator for the day) and Maria to the Carrefour – the biggest grocery store in town similar to a Superstore. None of us truly understood the amounts of food we would be purchasing.

Lily had organized a list, categorizing the items in a way she thought the store’s aisles would be grouped and sent us to gather each category on our own. Each of us had a shopping cart about the size of a wagon, what I think to be the average sized shopping cart, and very soon I realized we would need many more.

My first mission was pasta and rice. The list told me to get about 20kg each of fusilli, spaghetti, bowtie and elbow. I threw fusilli, spaghetti and some bags of bowtie into the cart and realized there wasn’t room for anything more. I awkwardly threw my weight behind the cart, guiding it over to where Lily might be so we could figure out what to do next. We decided we would gather our full carts and place them in front of a couple closed cashier isles at the far end until we were done and ready to pay for it all.

And so the madness really began, and it continued for about five hours. I filled bags with tomatoes, green peppers, apples, cabbage, carrots and more, realizing very quickly that they needed to be weighed and labelled before they could be bought. For some reason things like pasta and rice were in very separate sections of the store and since they didn’t have signs in French or English, we found ourselves speeding through aisle after aisle scanning the shelves for what we were looking for. The employees were friendly and tried to help us; they knew looking at us that we were in the same group when we were found searching for an item, but often the language barrier prevented it. On more than one occasion, as I went to drop off a full cart, I would see a kid looking at the piles in awe and counting them in French.

We left frozen items for last and Maria and I ran to grab them as the others started to place everything on the conveyor belt to be rung through. The girl working at the cash kindly turned away people trying to wedge themselves into our line and bagged groceries even though that wasn’t something they did at the store regularly. Clearly our lineup of about 20 full shopping carts was a cry for help.

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