Discussion Topic: Standing at the check-out counter can get uncomfortable!!!
January 30, 2013
How much do you need to say when you are going through the check-out line? Not much usually. Just get your items through the scanner, swipe your credit card, bag your goods up in a reusable bag that you brought and then you get on your way.
It is not always that easy though. Every once and awhile you get a cashier that decides to have a chat with you. If you don’t know the local language so well, then situations like this can become a challenge for you. Sure you know the word for “receipt” and “thanks”, but when the cashier strays from those simple words, things can get a little bit uncomfortable. How embarrassing when you can’t understand what is going on? How even MORE embarrassing it is when there are many people (locals) standing in line waiting for their turn and rolling their eyes at you?
Even if you do know the local language, it is not always an easy thing to speak up in public. One colleague of mine just mentioned to me that even after 20 some years of living and working in her host country, she specifically plans the right time to go to her local bakery. She prefers to go during a time when there are less people there; when they are not so busy. Even know she is highly proficient in the local language, she is still uncomfortable at times yelling out her order when everyone around maybe judging her on her pronunciation, etc. It is not always fun to let all the locals know that you are not from their country/not a native speaker. Whether the other people in the bakery even care or notice, this is a very common feeling to have when living abroad.
Unfortunately you can’t live you life in your host country trying to avoid all linguistic encounters with the locals. You must eventually go through a check-out line and you will eventually have a cashier trying to tell you things.
One time a cashier confused me by asking me whether I would like to charge more on my debit card so that I could get cash back by him. That situation definitely threw me off-guard as not many cashiers are outwardly offering that service to their customers. I would guess that is more customer initiated. Another time a cashier was trying to give me shopping tips; if I would buy three of one of the items I was purchasing, then I was to get a small discount. Adding a bit of public service help to me, the woman just leaving the check-out counter told me in English that the discount wasn’t that amazing.
Not all linguistic encounters with the cashier (while living abroad) though end up in embarrassment for you. Some situations might end up being quite funny. They might be quite memorable for you and a good experience; giving you a good story to share with your other expat friends. One time in Spain, I was checking-out at a grocery store. As the cashier was ringing up the items I was going to purchase, she motioned towards a one liter bottle of Fanta. I thought she was trying to get me to buy it. In turn, I told her no. But the cashier kept on trying to give the bottle of Fanta to me. Finally, I realized that she was trying to just give it to me for free as it was a special promotion (it was a new flavor of Fanta…pineapple!). I told her “OH, es libre!” Of course, some people around me and the cashier laughed a bit at me. The word libre does me free, but it is the word free that you would use like when you unlock a cage of a zoo animal and letting them be free. I should have used the word gratis.
This comical situation is what happens all to often to expats. You are in a situation that you weren’t prepared for ahead of time. Because of the unpreparedness, you get nervous. And because you are nervous, your brain does not think too clearly to either try and understand what was being said to you or get the words that you know in the local language out in the correct manner. It is all part of living abroad I guess. How boring and monotonous to go through a check out line in your own home country, when you can go through multiple check-out lines in your host country and experience the unexpected?
If you have a culture-related story to share about your experience living abroad, send us a message here and we will see about getting your story as a guest author on our International School Community blog!