The Ticked Off Locavore

Gone Shopping in 1957

Whoever put a Tesco Express at the metro station was a genius. It’s got to be the most convenient placement of a shop in my neighborhood. I take the metro everyday and being able to walk upstairs and into a shop right on my way home from work is enormously simple and easy.

Look, I know what you’re thinking. I should go to the other, local shops. I should support local businesses in lieu of a big megastore like Tesco. You’re right, but so do you. A lot of us have foregone patronizing local shops, and for pragmatic reasons, too.

Convenience is a big one. You can get everything on your shopping list at a big local shop – meat, dairy, veggies, kitchen utensils, prophylactics. To get these things at local shops, you probably (hopefully) have to visit five different shops. And if your butcher has condoms in his window, do not buy meat from him.

In the Czech Republic, there are other factors that lead to choosing a chain store over a local one. Tesco takes credit cards and has set opening hours. This isn’t always so with local Czech places. Many don’t accept credit cards. And anyone who has tried to buy a loaf of bread from a local shop on a Saturday afternoon (or a Thursday, Tuesday, or Monday afternoon or evening) has been frustrated by the rhymeless and reasonless operating times. A Czech shop’s Saturday hours may be from 10:30-13:45. That is, if they want. You might show up at 12:15 to find that they are ‘closed for repairs.’ So it’s also about some level of reliability.

A Czech cashier is the human barometer by which misery is measured. They are some of the grumbliest, more unpleasant people in the city. I understand to some degree. Their job might not offer huge satisfaction or personal reward, the money probably isn’t great, and people can be rude. So I get it. Nevertheless, I smile, I speak Czech as well as I can, and I am always polite.

If you are a non-fluent speaker of Czech (or any language really) you know that you are sometimes treated well by your interlocutor and sometimes not. Czechs are often seriously chuffed that a foreigner is stumbling through the hačeks and declensions of their particular linguistic minefield. This Czech interlocutor often tries to help said foreigner by speaking slower, offering correction, being patient.

Others are not so kind. They speak very quickly, build complex backwards constructions meant to confuse, and lace their discourse with insults. This frustrates the hell out of me for three reasons. 1. I am fluent enough to know I am being mocked, 2. I possess the language to call his mother a dog-fucking slut, but 3. I don’t have the lexical range, the nuance, or the eloquence of language to be able to justify doing 2 with examples from 1. So I grit my teeth and leave with my linguistic tail between my legs.

Last weekend I made the inexcusable mistake of picking up a grapefruit before the cashier had been able to weigh it. This was rewarded by a diatribe of snide language, of which I caught about 39%. At the end, I said goodbye and decided to do what I always do whenever a waiter, cashier, or employee pissed me off with rudeness: I decided to boycott the place.

Anyone who knows the Czechs will tell you that boycotting a restaurant or a shop in Prague in order to punish a Czech employee is like punishing a six-year-old by making them eat ice cream cake at Disney World. So it was surely a symbolic gesture, but one that allows me to walk away with a drop of pride. Also, it’s the only arrow in my quiver, and one way to rid myself of people I no longer want to see.

So, while I’d love to tell you that it was a sudden sense of civic and local duty that made me a locavore, it was really just the dickhead cashiers at the big bad chain store. So instead of the uber-convenience of the metro store, I am shopping in Podolí, the hidden neighborhood down the hill from my flat that time has seemingly forgotten. There are two butchers, one for red meats and the other for white meat (called, to my unrestrained glee, Chicken Paradise), a vegetable stand, a flower shop, a pet shop, and a local shop. And, to satisfy my list, I need to visit all of them. (ooh, the drug store, too.)

There is a definite old-world feel to the shops. In part this is due to the selection, which is 90% different from the selection at the Tesco. Things here just appear far less…corporate. There is milk in glass bottles, soup in tubes with handwritten labels. There are no packages to the meat and the ham is better and cheaper. The eggs are covered in (dear Frog, I hope) feathers of its former owners. The vegetables are free range and roam around the stands and shelves. I bought a bag of chips which looked as though they had been wrapped in plastic that morning.

Aside from the fun of shopping in (apparently) 1958, I am finding the people nicer. They smile and ask questions, clarify my language with patience. I suppose they figure I must be from the neighborhood or I wouldn’t be shopping there. And so I shall continue to forego convenience. I just hope these guys don’t get rude, if I boycott them I’ll have to move to another part of the city.

  1. #1 by Pavel on May 23, 2017 - 1:35 pm

    I must say that I admire your decision to choose local shops, despite its less comfortable for u. I would be pissed off because of that cashier in Tesco, but I would probably continue with my shopping there because of convenience. I boycott one wine shop at my neighbourhood. Because their employee was rude at me, when I came back with a spoiled french sausage which had been sold there, but that’s only the wine shop… Thumbs up fot you!

    • #2 by Damien Galeone on May 25, 2017 - 8:03 am

      Thank you, Pavel. We’ll see how long I can hold out!

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