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Liliana’s shopping lesson
"Dear Aunt Flora," was a regular column appearing in The Santo Domingo News (the predecessor print publication of DR1.COM) written by a British expatriate living in Santo Domingo. The following is an adaptation from two "letters" first published in February, 1992 that presents a man’s view of supermarket shopping in the Dominican Republic.

 

Dear Aunt Flora, 

Inspired by her husband’s commercial success, Liliana thinks that she should also make a contribution to the joint bank account in the Channel Islands. She has now started a series of courses for foreign residents which, she believes, will considerably ease their mental strain and allow them to live with lessened frustration and greater contentment. Starting her battery of training with a single morning’s course called “Supermarket Shopping the Dominican Way,” she invited my wife, Samantha, to sample one. 

She told us to pick her up from her house at 9:30 am. We rang the bell dead on time, and advised the maid that we had come to collect the Señora. We were shown into the sitting room and a few minutes later Liliana appeared in her dressing gown. “Well,” she said, “this is a very bad start, isn’t it?” “Yes,” I replied, “are you sick or something?” “No,” she answered, “you’re just too jolly early. When I, as a Dominican, say 9:30 I actually mean 10:30, at the very earliest. So you will have to cool your heels until I am ready.” 

At 10:53 she was set to depart, dressed and coiffured as though she was going to attend a cocktail party in Belgravia, not to traipse around a bloody supermarket. She pointed out that Samantha was not at all suitably dressed, looking as though she was practically attired for shopping. “I’m not going out to try and impress men,” said Samantha. “Neither am I,” explained Liliana, “but I’m out to impress other women. If I can dress like this just to go shopping, won’t they start to panic when they know we’re going to the same social function?” 

So, off we went, yours truly driving, with Liliana in the back. Approaching the supermarket I edged over to the right side of the road and indicated that I was turning into the car park. “Carry on, carry on,” shouted Liliana and I quickly veered back to the centre of the road. There was a screech of brakes and the hooting of several horns. “Slightly redeemed yourself there,” said Liliana, “but go around the block again and follow my instructions.” 

Approaching the supermarket once again, she told me to stay on the left hand side of the road until the last minute. “Now,” she instructed, “don’t indicate, just turn right, across the traffic.” More squealing brakes, frantic honking of horns and the dull clunk of two vehicles colliding behind me. “Not in there!” yelled Liliana, “that’s the entrance, the next gap, that’s the exit.” Safely parked, Liliana said that although I showed promise, I probably needed her “Drive Like a Dominican Course” to achieve any standard of acceptable proficiency. 

Entering the supermarket, Samantha grabbed a trolley and started to proceed up the aisle. This called for a correction from Liliana. “What about your ice cream?” “I don’t eat ice creams unless I am seated,” said Samantha, “I was brought up to consider such behavior rather lower class.” “Well,” explained Liliana, “it’s not the case in this country. We’ll now go and buy the biggest cornets with the most expensive variety of toppings. Only by doing that can we demonstrate we regard such expenditure as petty and cause maximum annoyance to our fellow shoppers.” They returned, much to my horror, with two huge cornets that were running and dripping everywhere, except on them! 

Then Samantha really got a rollocking from Liliana. She had parked her trolley at the side of the aisle. “That,” said Liliana, “is totally and absolutely wrong! Your trolley must be parked dead in the centre of the aisle to provide the maximum obstruction to other customers. This is a fundamental principle which you must master to be a successful Dominican shopper.” “Why?” asked Samantha. “Why!” said Liliana, “why, because you have to demonstrate that expending your energy to make life easier for others is beneath your dignity. You’re far too important to bother about such trifles.” 

Samantha started to move along the fruit and vegetables. Only incurring one or two reprimands from Liliana because she had not positioned the trolley to obtain maximum obstruction, until we reached the plantains. Now Samantha, as a true West African, has little regard for Dominican plantains. She calls them small, sour bananas! Having seen and eaten plantains from her part of the world, I must agree. As usual, therefore, she ignored them. “Why,” asked Liliana, “are you passing by the platanos?” Samantha gave her opinion of this vegetable. “That,” instructed Liliana, “is of little importance. Please maul them about, break them off from their stalks at random, throw them back onto the pile and then select an entire hand for yourself.” “But I don’t want them,” said Samantha. “I didn’t say you had to buy them,” explained Liliana, “just take them and get your trolley back into the middle of the aisle; you’re causing no inconvenience to anybody when it’s parked on the edge. You must listen carefully and pay attention to my advice, otherwise, you’ll never get your Dom. Shop. (Hons.). 

After the slight contretemps with Liliana over the platanos, Samantha wandered up to the dairy section. Several times Liliana steered Samantha’s trolley away from the edges of the aisle to the preferred middle path down the centre. It certainly had the desired effect because many Dominican shoppers, naturally talented I suppose, were driving their trolleys on a meandering course against the stream. We had several collisions with Samantha, as a matter of principle, getting the better on each occasion. She actually managed to snare the shoulder strap of one woman’s handbag and snapped it! 

On reaching the dairy section, Samantha went for the milk. Liliana explained that not all the cartons were leak proof and each one should be well shaken. Samantha only wanted four, but Liliana pulled out six or seven before she found one that leaked. With a subtle squeeze to improve the flow, she then shook it like a drunken maracas player and several people experienced a “milk shower.” Liliana apologized profusely and complained about the poor quality of the packaging. 

Moving onto the eggs, Liliana explained that you never took the carton off the top of the pile, however satisfactory it looked. Rather, the approved technique is to take the one on the bottom, spreading the ones above all over the place. It is certainly quite wrong to make another orderly pile with the rejects. 

Now the sugar. Here Samantha was instructed to nick the bag with the end of her fingernail. Next she had to hold the bag half aloft and shake it vigorously, thereby satisfactorily scattering sugar over a large area. 

On to the meat. Samantha left her trolley in the middle of the aisle, she was getting the hang of things now! Liliana explained, however, that when the shop was not really crowded it was permissible to park it on the side provided you blocked off maximum access to the counter. Samantha now had to stand alongside picking over the plastic wrapped packets and it was quite in order for me, as her shopping partner, to stand at the other end and just gaze into space. This was really effective, blocking off five to six feet of access to the counter. Liliana taught Samantha how to reject the packets and drop them into the next compartment. By the time we had finished, quite a little group of frustrated shoppers had accumulated. With Samantha’s “resorting,” many of them could not find what they wanted. 

“Now,” said Liliana, “turn into the next aisle and stop about two yards down. I will appear at the other end and when you hear me call, move at top speed, timing to meet me where that boy has his big trolley parked to re-stock the shelves.” Liliana duly appeared at the other end and called out to Samantha with squeaks and other accompanying pseudo-emotional vocal effects. Samantha moved down the passage at a sharp pace, nicely sliding her trolley across the aisle just where the boy had already narrowed the gangway with his stock loader. 

With both of them acquitting a slight hop and a skip, Liliana and Samantha leapt into each others arms and with much hugging and kissing asked where the other had been for so long. I grudgingly have to admit that it was perfection. Completely ignoring the traffic building up on both sides, they managed to appear totally absorbed in nothing but this chance encounter with a long lost friend. Nobody complained; it was just accepted as normal behavior. Rather than appear “put out,” the other customers pretended to busy themselves in close examination of the coffee and the tinned goods. 

Samantha had selected quite a few items which were either not priced, or the figures illegible. This caused several delays and two trips by the packer back to the shelves. Liliana claimed that several items were “on offer” and this caused the cashier to closely study her copy of the newspaper advertisement pinned above the till. Samantha cleverly nicked the sugar bag again and I certainly had to smile at the mess it caused in the “check out” area. The platanos? These were rejected like many other items and the cashier was balancing them in her lap and on top of the till. 

Samantha started to get out her purse only to receive a short lecture from Liliana. Preferably, one should pay by cheque or have an account. You never mention this to the cashier, however, until she has finished ringing up all the items and waves the till listing in your face. If you are forced to pay by cash then, for example, as in Samantha’s case, the total was RD$1,013.97, it is mandatory to tender two RD$1,000 notes. 

After the goods had been loaded into the car by the packer, Liliana told us that it was necessary to tip him ostentatiously. At night you give him nothing because the effect is lost in the dark!

As I started to drive away, Samantha said she was absolutely exhausted and obviously did not possess the stamina of a Dominican shopper. Liliana thought she had done pretty well for a beginner and said that she showed promise. 

I was quite clearly not in the running. After shooting out in the road and causing a reasonable modicum of chaos to other traffic, I was reprimanded by Liliana. “You Britons will never learn,” she said, “do you realise you drove out of the exit!”

Your nephew, Peregrine.

 

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