Moving to a different country naturally brings about a lot of challenges. In the beginning, you spend a lot of time trying to figure out where to shop, how people drive with the hundreds of roundabouts in town, which pubs are dodgy, how to get your trash collected, and how to put fuel into your car. But these things are expected, and you tackle these challenges with good humour because once you’ve mastered something, you’ve got it and you can move on.
But there are some challenges that are unforeseen and harder to overcome… Like your own stupidity.
On my first big grocery shopping trip, I was shocked to find that one has to pay for a trolley, and even more shocked that it would cost between €1 and €2 each time! I could hardly believe it. Furthermore, I thought this was real discrimination against moms with small children, and the elderly. I later concluded that there must be a special arrangement for people who fall into these categories; there had to be! I also had the idea that if supermarkets would allow people free trolleys, surely people would buy more; it simply made no business sense to charge for trolleys. In South Africa, you just took a trolley and carried on with your shopping; no hassle.
As a point of pride, I refused to pay for a trolley. €2 is half a pint! I’d much rather save my €2 and have an extra guilt-free pint every now and then.
And so, the challenge began. I had to plan my shopping trips so that I’d only bought groceries that I could carry to the car myself. This meant more frequent shopping trips and visits to different supermarkets. The positive spin on this was that I really did save a lot of money; there were no impulse buys, and I could shop around for the best prices.
There were, however, times that I needed some extra help (there was just no way that I could carry a bag of potatoes, 3L of milk, two cans of tomatoes, a 1L tub of yogurt, juice, two packs of meat, apples, carrots, muesli, oats, and a massive box of cornflakes all on my own. I have tried and failed). When I knew some heavy lifting would be involved, I would strategically plan my shopping trips around times when I could take Henry with me; and then I was sure to buy all the super heavy stuff, and some flowers for myself as a ‘congratulations’ on a job well executed.
Other times, I reached the checkout only to realise that I’d bought much more than my ‘weight allowance’ permitted, but the items were already on the belt, and everything looked so good that I couldn’t possibly return any of it. So, I’d soldier on; I’d brace my back, engaging my core muscles, and I’d carry my heavy shopping bags to the car with as much grace as I could. It must have been an impressive sight; arms bulging (ha-ha), face drawn with concentration, overloaded shopping bags swinging precariously in front of me. It was during one of these excursions, as I was preparing for the festive season, that I actually managed to strain my arm muscles during the walk from Tesco to the car.
My arms were in agony for a week, but I took it all with good humour; how resourceful was I!
The paid-for trolley situation kept bugging me though. It just seemed too bizarre. And then, just over a year after we’d arrived in Ireland, the realisation hit me. If you pay for the trolley, where does that money go? I’d never seen any fancy coin collector or anything. What if…? What if you weren’t actually paying for the trolley, but just using your coins to rent it; and then once you return the trolley, you get your coins back? This idea was further supported when we joined the gym and saw that the lockers worked on the same principle. I kept brooding over this, but by then I was almost too afraid to know the answer. Was my resourcefulness actually just stupidity?
One night I plucked up the courage to ask some of our Irish friends about the trolley situation, and they confirmed my suspicions. There was laughter, surprise, embarrassment, and shaking of heads. They kindly offered us a basket pin, a €1 and €2 ‘coin’ that you can clip onto your keyring to use for the trolleys; they clearly saw that we needed some help!
All in all, there are some upsides to this whole debacle.
1. I’ve learned that if a situation looks too bizarre to be true, you probably have it all wrong.
2. I have slightly more defined arm muscles.
3. I now know where to find the best prices.
But most of all, I’m just relieved that I can now confidently go to the shops without the fear of straining my arms, and I can still have a guilt-free pint now and then!
If you are curious to learn more about Donegal, you might enjoy the story Rhubarb and Ginger about Rose who’s prize-winning jam changed my life. Or take the road less traveled with No time for lonely roads.
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