Sunday, October 6, 2013

Shopping in Panama

My expat friends warned me, "If you see something you want, buy it. Don't wait, because it probably won't be there the next time you go."
Eeep.  This requires a major change in the way I do things. I like to pre-shop, price compare, brand compare, and style compare before I make a selection. Having to just grab the first thing that appeals to me goes seriously against my grain.  Now some would say that I am just procrastinating.  And some would say I have gotten seriously tight fisted.  Others might congratulate me on my shopping skills.
"Some" might be right.
In any case, the warnings were absolutely on target. By the time that I finished comparing, contrasting and evaluating, my preferred item was usually gone, never to be seen again. I saved quite a bit of money using this program, but I didn't get the things I wanted.
This maxim is apparently true of all stores in Panama. Even the grocery store.
I was appalled the first time I went to buy milk and there was none. The segment of refrigerated shelving where the milk was bare.  So were the shelves where I usually could find the 15 different styles of the ultra-pasteurized stuff.  Nothing there, either.  Because the shelves are reorganized daily and products are constantly being shifted around the store (which is another reason you can't find what you're looking for) I asked a clerk where the milk was.
His response was a shrugged, "No hay," meaning “There isn't any.”
Well, when would there be more?
He didn't know.
I was bursting with the desire to learn why. Had they simply run out? Would more be coming with the next truck? Would there BE a next truck? Was there a strike? Were the roads blocked again? What? My Spanish was not yet strong enough for me to pursue this, so I had to be content with "there isn't any."
After that I switched permanently from fresh milk (which often went bad the day after purchase anyway) to the ultra-p stuff in a box that keeps for six months. And I made sure that I always had a few boxes stashed for the next time "No hay."
In the deodorant, shampoo and hair color aisle, there always seem to be a minimum of three store employees restocking or reordering the shelves. This always seems to involve blocking the aisle as completely as possible with cartons, product and bodies.  If a customer should be so bold as to venture into the restocking area in search of a product, she will receive either a glare or rolling eyes. This is because, I believe, no one has bothered to tell the employees that the purpose of the store is not to provide them with jobs, but to sell product. And for this to happen, the customers have to be able to get to the product and select it. Not all stores have this attitude, just a few big ones. No names.
Another, similar manifestation that amazes me is the employees on guard duty in front of certain products, such as frozen meats. Apparently they are there to prevent shoplifting. In effect, they also prevent shopping. Having someone stare at you with icy suspicion while you pick out next week's lunch does not improve the shopping experience.
Me, I would just quit going to that particular store.  Except, for some things, it’s the only game in town.   
Well, I moved here because I wanted an adventure.  Someone very wise once defined “an adventure” as “a bummer re-framed.”  That's true.  It's all in how you look at it.  And frankly, I'm having a ball.  I love it here.  Even when I run out of milk.