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Ich bin heute nach der Türkei gefahren

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by Matt Potter  Lost in Amsterdam  >


Samstag 23. Mai 2009

Today I went to Turkey.

Actually, it was just around the corner, the fruit and veg and other kinds of Turkish foods shop. I wanted some beans (as in legumes), and everyone said they would be cheaper (and there'd be a larger range) at the Turkish shop.

Of course, in Moabit, (my Berlin neighbourhood) there are hundreds of such shops. And I was wearing new boots, so stomping the length of Turmstraße, earning blisters with each step, was out of the question. So I walked to the shop around the corner.

“Ich mag keine Erdbeeren,” I said with a smile, to the man flogging strawberries as I walked into the shop. Inside, shelves were stacked to the ceiling with tins and packets and bottles and jars, their Turkish labels bright and holding who-could-tell-how-many secrets. I love stores like this: even though they’re stuffed full, they’re very neat. No, you can’t walk inside with a handbag brimming with a lamb carcass or with a busload of people in wheelchairs, but if you choose your way and are mindful of others – through watchful eye contact or a few well-chosen Bittes and Schuldigungs – it doesn’t have to be too stressful.

But I could not see any fruit and vegetables. But of course – they were all outside. So I walked back outside and picking up a red plastic basket, picked out some tomatoes, a lettuce, a cucumber, two red capsicums and a bunch of spring onions and placed them in the basket.

And basket swinging, I walked inside again, past the well-stocked shelves of peanuts and lentils and marinated goats’ feet (well, maybe not that), to the glassed-in meat counter. Smiling a foreigner’s smile, I pointed to some mince (meat) with intent and said, “Halb Kilo, bitte.” But when the assistant scooped it on the scales, I said “Schuldigung, halb Kilo mehr, bitte.” It came to just over a kilo. So, “Ah, ist okay,” I said, and he slapped the meat into a plastic bag and stapled a print out price tag on the outside.

(The store advertises it’s Halal, which is great, knowing that if nothing else, I can eat their mince sure in the knowledge that it’s not pork!)

Then I retraced my steps past the peanuts and lentils and would-be marinated goats’ feet to look for chilli sauce and large tins of various beans.

I adore legumes. I love searching them out almost as much as I love fabric shops. I have this big thing for variations on a theme: I love buying the same pair of shoes in three different colours, and once planted six different varieties of abutilon (aka Chinese lanterns) in my garden. So buying four different kinds of legumes, all with similar labels but different pictures on them, makes me smile and satisfies my need for neatness, style and a fuller food cupboard. And I especially wanted kidney beans, their red colour hidden amongst the red labels. And found them. And putting them in the red plastic basket, I was even humming.

Then I stood in line at the check-out.

And realised that everyone else had print out price tags on their bags of fruit and vegetables as well.

And I didn’t.

Happiness can be so fleeting.

So that must be why the less vocal shop assistant outside (the one NOT flogging strawberries, the quietly helpful one, the one with bad teeth) had gestured to me about a plastic bag as he hovered beside the scales. And I had thought no, but I have cloth bags here already.

And had walked back inside.

So, I have to get the vegetables weighed and stickered, I realised. And this needs to be done outside because I could see there were no scales at either of the checkouts.

And I had goods in my basket from inside the shop.

But I didn’t want to create a tri-parteid German-Turkish-Australian incident by walking outside with a red basket filled with goods I had not paid for.

Oh, the pleasures of being a foreigner can be so fleeting too.

My heart began to beat faster and my eyes darted around for alarm systems and beefy food monitors.

The shop was filled with people, and if I was quick, I could whiz out, get the stuff weighed and stickered, and then whiz back in.

So head held high, I walked outside, hoping I looked quietly purposeful (as opposed to stealthily sneaky) and gave the assistant with the bad teeth the vegetables.

(It’s moments like these you wonder how far smiling like a maniac can get you, good or bad teeth notwithstanding.)

No alarms rang out. And no Turkish muscle queen grabbed me by the arm.

Of course the vegetables were underneath the tins of legumes, the meat and the chilli sauce, so I put the basket on the ground and handed the vegetables to the sweet and knowing bad-toothed assistant.

(With or without a maniacal grin, he probably thought I was the village idiot.)

Only the tomatoes and the capsicums needed weighing and stickering (the others were set prices) so moments later I was back inside queuing at the checkout again. I may have inadvertently jumped the queue, but if I did, the man behind me did not seem to mind as I placed my purchases on the conveyor belt, ready for the woman in the head scarf to total. Maybe he was admiring the determined set of my jaw or the beads of relief on my forehead.

I paid the woman in the head scarf and with my two cloth bags now filled with groceries, walked west up Turmstraße and turned right into my street.

I will go back to this shop again, and with the confidence of the experienced, select what I want from the bins and shelves and meat counter, have them stickered, pay for them, and walk home again.

And who said shopping for vegetables was boring?


published 17 September 2011