I did some shopping on my way home from fixing a computer today. I had a few things on my list – a phone card for my cell phone (present one hadn’t run out yet, but why delay?), pencil leads and hiliters, and thread and pins. So three stops.
The first one was easy – the cell phone card. The salespeople don’t even have to speak English to understand me. All I do is walk in and say "KIT card." And that’s enough for all to understand.
But the first obstacle is getting Mervyn the trishaw guy to understand.
I like Mervyn – he doesn’t overcharge us, he knows where everything in my life is, and he’s punctual. Three extremely important traits in my anal little North American cultured life.
Unfortunately, his English isn’t great. Well, my Sinhalese is even worse, so it’s fair. 🙂
To get him to understand what I need, I say to him "KIT card." He didn’t understand the first time, so I pulled out my cell phone and said it again, pointing at the cell phone. Ah! The light bulb goes on.
I’m getting used to this pantomime routine – not just with Mervyn, but with most people (except those at church) when I’m out and about without Fahim.
So Mervyn understands me, and he takes me to a store to buy a cell phone card.
This particular cell phone store I walked into was packed. Two salespeople with two customers, all Lankans. They look up at me, expecting me to interrupt, so I do. And I say my magic couple of words, and they ask the next usual question. 400 Rupees or a thousand? 400 please. And I have my card, and I’m walking out. Easy.
Now I’ll describe the store.
First thing to know. It’s pretty easy to tell where to buy cell phone cards. All the cell phone shops have large signs in front saying "Dialog GSM". Standard, one sign fits all kind of sign such as we’re used to seeing in North America. That’s it, that’s all. Dialog is one of the cell phone companies. There are others, of course, but this is the sign that is much more noticeable.
I step into the store, and it’s the standard squished size – about six feet wide and about six feet deep with a foot and a half or two foot wide glass display case in the middle, salespeople on one side, customers on the other. Very squished. Barely room to breath.
But I’m getting used to it.
Next stop: a bookshop. Remember, I’ve mentioned before that there’s a huge difference between a bookstore and a bookshop. Twice, even. So I’m in need of a bookshop.
So Mervyn the trishaw guy drives me to the usual one he takes me to, and I walk in and ask for pencil leads – and have to specify for a mechanical pencil and go through all sorts of motions to make sure the salesclerk understands what I mean – and finally she understands, and no, they don’t carry them. Oh.
I’m starting to wonder if there’s going to be a problem for me finding pencil leads here. As in, do they exist in the country? I sure hope so. I haven’t used an actual wooden pencil since I was twelve. That’s not even an exaggeration. I hate the feeling of wood between my fingers. EW!!!! I just can’t stand it. And they get dull so fast. And they make a mess. Smudge everywhere. And they’re just not as precise and convenient as mechanical pencils.
So yeah, I’m prejudiced against wooden pencils and I refuse to associate with them in any way. I’m a mechanical pencil kinda gal.
I ask for hiliters, and I’m really hoping she understands me. She does – hallelujah! – without even any pantomiming or ridiculous behavior on my part. She pulls out a yellow one. Just a yellow one, no other colors. Well, dagnabbit, be a little optimistic here, girl! I tell her I want other colors and please get me a blue one and a pink one, too. She pulls them out – I’m so happy! – I can’t live in a one hiliter colored world – that’s just too dull and boring and not at all my style – and I test them. The pink one is kinda dried out, so I tell her to pull out another one – which she’s not too happy with – and it works fine, so I pay for them and leave. 45 Rupees per. I hope I didn’t get ripped off.
There’s another bookshop just to the right of this bookshop, and honestly, Mervyn tells me to go to the left one first, and I can understand why. The left bookshop has better prices, first of all, for the exact same products. And the other reason?
So I walk into the right bookshop and ask for pencil leads. And I have to go through all the pantomiming and explanations of what a pencil lead is, and finally, one of the salesclerks (all female, by the way) pulls out a tray of mechanical pencils. Good! We’re getting close! But no, I don’t want the pencil, just the lead.
Another salesclerk – the manager, by all appearances as she’s working on paperwork – gets involved, and finally, one of them understands what I’m saying, and the junior clerk pulls out a pack of pencil leads. It’s the familiar plastic case, HB, 0.5 mm, 10 per a pack. 26 Rupees.
Yon salesmanager tells the clerk to pull out another pack instead. Angrily. And takes the first one away. The second pack is HB, 0.5 mm, 12 per pack. 86 Rupees.
Wow. Those two additional leads must really be special to cost an additional 60 Rupees.
The salesmanager says, "Better", pointing at the expensive ones. How? "Better."
I say something like, "Uh, no. I’ll take the cheap ones. Thanks." And I hand over a 1000 Rupee note ($10.00 US) and make them break it for me. No, sorry, I don’t have change.
Meanwhile, the pencil leads have yet again been put away, so now I’ve received my change, but not my purchase. Uh, yeah, could I have my pencil leads please? No, I haven’t received them yet. No, I didn’t take them. Can I have the pencil leads?
I tell Fahim all about this when I get home, and even though he didn’t say so, he’s probably surprised they showed me the cheap leads in the first place. Derned feriner. They kin afferd ever’thin.
After the bookshop, I needed to get thread.
Mervyn doesn’t know the English word for thread, so it was interesting getting the point across to him. I pointed at the hem of my shirt and then my shorts, and evidently he understood because he took me to a store that sold thread.
Although that was not immediately evident when I walked in.
I saw glass cabinets filled with yarn – you know, for crocheting and knitting. I saw displays of hair thingies – um, to hold hair back, or that sort of thing – and cheap – really really cheap – costume jewellery. The kind kids under the age of six would wear. So as I was looking around, I asked if they had thread.
There was a man and a woman in the store, and I suspect the woman spoke even less English than the man did. I said thread, and he didn’t seem to understand, so I repeated myself, adding "sewing" to the "thread" part, and then he seemed to understand. "Sewing thread?" he repeated. Yes!!!! What colors do I need?
Well, at this point, as I continue looking around, I’m still not seeing any thread anywhere, and I’m starting to wonder just how much thread they have and where it might be hiding. But he seems to possibly have some, so I start listing out some of the colors I need.
The woman, most likely his wife, I’m thinking, opens up a book that was lying on the counter.
You know how, in North America, when you go to a drugstore to pick out hair color, there’s a display book that has samples of colored hair so you can get a much better idea of what you’re dealing with rather than going just by the picture on the side of the box?
Okay. I can do this. I pick out the colors I want, and point to them. The woman proceeds to take boxes off the shelf behind her – boxes wide enough and tall enough to fit ten spools of thread lying down beside each other. In other words, half an inch, ish, by three inches, ish, by about eight inches, ish. Small, flat boxes all stacked on each other.
And that’s how they sell their thread.
I needed, what, five colors, and I got them. They have a decent enough selection that, while it’s not like the selection you have at a Fanny’s Fabrics in Canada, it’s still pretty impressive. There were easily over a hundred color choices there.
Then I said I needed pins. Straight sewing pins. After a few tries, he understood, and he brought out a box and showed them to me. Yes! I’m so happy that I can find what I need! He tells me that I can buy them by the box. Sure, fine.
He didn’t continue, but I suspect he was probably going to say something like ten or fifty pins at a time, or something like that. Well, I was fine with the box, so that was what I got.
Pins? 10 Rupees a box, or 10 cents US, and probably 250 pins in the box. Cool.
And they put the thread and pins into a paper bag. A paper bag created by folding and gluing the sides together from a phone book page.
Well, I’ve had paper bags glued together from old take away menus, so why not the phone book?