Cultural Differences: Grocery Shopping

Never has grocery shopping been so stressful.


We rode in the church bus first to the U.S. Embassy to register, and then to two different stores. I had brought plastic bags to reuse. I have a deep conviction to care for the earth. I do this in different ways. One of the most basic is to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Since I don’t yet know whether or not recycling exists in Africa (so far it seems that it doesn’t other than reusing glass bottles), I have done what I can to reduce and reuse. Upon arriving at the first store, our friend who had accompanied us said that I didn’t need to bring the bags because the store provides bags. I then explained that I had brought them to reuse them because it is better for the environment. He understood what I was saying and was happy to hear it. However, he went on to tell me that the store employees might be offended if I brought bags that were from a competing store. This made logical sense and so I asked if fabric bags were acceptable, for future visits. He said that would be fine. I was slightly disappointed anyway but shrugged it off. We went in without the bags. Our friend ran an errand of his own and the driver of the bus came along with us. It was busy. Of course there were items that have different names and such, so that was slightly anxiety producing. It was a challenge to find the things on our list and not appear like the typical well-to-do person that buys more than they need or will use. I also had the feeling that, since I wasn’t sure when we would have another chance to visit a store that was fully stocked like this one, I should get the items on our list if they had them. A few differences between the stores here and the ones in America mainly have to do with cleanliness. This particular one was like a warehouse though. In general, Lilongwe is a little bit dusty. I’ve noticed a reddish dust everywhere, as the dirt is that same color. In addition to the sanitation bit, there are many highly preserved items that can go without refrigeration, which are so for the obvious reason that people might not have access to refrigeration. The photographer in me wanted to take some snaps (photos) but that would be a bit too much like a tourist, so I refrained. In the future, I might muster the courage to do so, but not now. We checked out, transitioned purchases to the bus, and then went ahead to the next store. The bags: so I did have some plastic bags that were from this store, so I grabbed a few to take. The driver stopped me, explaining once again that the store would have bags. Again, I explained that I like to reuse plastic bags. Unfortunately, he didn’t understand what I was saying and our friend was still on his errand so he couldn’t translate. The driver persisted, not letting me take the bags out of the bus, so with much anguish and even more disappointment, I relented and took deep breaths to calm down as I walked, empty-handed toward the store and toward David who was waiting for me in front. Now, I know this may seem like a small thing, but when adapting to a different country, the small things are what push me over the edge. I’m already uncomfortable because of how different things are, then the seemingly little behaviors that I do and have done ever since I could, for example, bring my own bags when I shop for food, when these get taken away, I have a hard time coping.



1 Comment

Filed under adventures, environment, food, Malawi

One response to “Cultural Differences: Grocery Shopping

  1. Lisa O

    Hailey! You are such a trooper! Sending you hugs and prayers for lightened anxieties. I had a few of those myself but nothing on your level. You and Dave are doing such an awesome thing. Think of you both often. Hugs! Lisa

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