I learnt something when I came to Mexico. Supermarkets aren't just supermarkets, they're a lot of other things too. If you take a trip down to your local Superama, it's much more than merely a place to buy your veggies and meat. Here's why.
A Superama shop
Supermarkets employ a lot more workers than just the cashiers and people who stack the shelves. First of all, when you arrive at the car park, there may be a dozen men of varying ages all waving at you and blowing their whistles. They indicate to you which spaces are empty (not that you couldn't see that for yourself) and then stand in your blind spot whistling hard and making signals for you to keep reversing or whatever. Meanwhile, you are busy trying not to run them over since you cannot see them, only hear them. Among this group are some who will appear with a bucket and cloth and offer to wash your car for 40 pesos. "Can you get rid of these sticky white marks they left after towing my car away? You know, when they seal the doors?" "Si, señorita, no problem." I've still got them more than a year later but they all swear they have the product to remove them.
Next you approach the entrance of the shop and there's a helpful man distributing shopping trolleys so you thank him and go in and fill yours with bananas, guayabas (guavas), pasta, frijoles (beans) and an assortment of yoghurts, cheese, ham, fish and meat. Very conveniently you can also get your heart tablets and painkillers as there's a farmacia inside with someone to advise you. The man next to you is dithering over the thousands of medicines and products to deal with stomach problems. A common ailment, given the large amount of fiery chillies consumed with everything.
All kinds of chillies
Then in the larger supermarkets, there's also a busy bakery churning out fresh bread, pastries, cakes and tortillas. You grab a huge round metal tray and a pair of tongs and succumb to the display of mouth-watering pan (bread) and panqués (cakes), smothering the tray with calories. A masked lady clocks up the pesos and off you go.
As you wheel your trolley around, you are stopped regularly by señoritas, their faces covered in blue masks, holding out plates, offering free samples of Mexican coffee, or mouth-sized bites of chorizo (spicy sausage), smoked turkey slices or cheese spread on crispy crackers. If you decide to try what's on offer, they will then direct you to where the product is on the shelves so you can buy some or go off to find you a free recipe including the foodstuff. On average, I collide with about 6 of these ladies as I'm attempting to steer my uncooperative cart around the supermarket maze. If you taste a bit of everything, you can actually forego your lunch and save yourself some money.
When you have finally decided your trolley is full enough, you make your way to the check-out, and discover that your wait is made more bearable by the reams of glossy magazines sprouting from the racks to your right and left. Everyone is helping themselves and catching up on the latest gossip, or flicking through Cocina Vital in search of a new recipe. For those more seriously inclined, the selection includes National Geographic and Mexico Desconocido. Everyone sportingly replaces the well-fingered magazines on the rack when it's their turn to empty their trolley. I sometimes wonder whether anyone buys those dog-eared revistas.
Nearby you will notice a whole fleet of youngsters waiting to help pack your goods into bags. Young enough not to have much shopping experience, since they insist on putting the shaving cream together with the ice-cream, the washing-up liquid with the yoghurts and the toilet cleaner with the Cranberry Juice. Never mind, they help move things on a bit and some of them make up for it with an enthusiasm that defies explanation. Meanwhile, the señora at the check-out is showing exceptional multi-tasking skills, swiping your newly-acquired groceries and carrying on a lively conversation with her colleague at the next check-out about how she bought 1 kilo of delicous taronjas (grapefruit) for her mother last Tuesday.
As she finishes and you hand over your debit card, she asks you a number of questions which vaguely go in this order. Boleto de estacionamiento? Have you got a ticket for the car park which you would like stamped? I had to learn about this one. If you get it stamped, you only pay 3 pesos as opposed to 16 pesos. I fumble through my bag to find my boleto. Retiro en efectivo? This one had me stumped the first time I heard it... She's asking if you want to withdraw some money from your bank account. Yes, Superama doubles up as a bank and you can draw out up to 1000 pesos a time. Quiere tiempo aire? Now, you may be wondering what on earth she's on about. All she's asking is whether you want to top up your cell phone. You jot down your number, and that of your son or daughter, or all three of them, and the amount you want to pay. At long last, to the relief of the other customers behind you in the queue, the transactions are all done.
Whistling and waving
You leave with all your groceries, your medicines and your topped-up cell phone and are met by the whistler again. Quiere ayuda?. No, it's alright. I'll push the trolley myself to the car. He appears at your car anyway in time to open the boot and start helping you load the shopping. You pay the boy for washing your car and admit it looks much better than when you came in, despite the stubborn white sticky marks. The whistler starts signalling for you to reverse out, stopping the rest of the cars for you and you give him some loose change because you can't understand how, after all the years of whistle-blowing and energetic waving, he's still smiling. You show your stamped parking ticket to the person at the exit of the car park and they lift the barrier. You can make your way home after a productive visit to the supermarket.