Groceries- Experiences adjusting to life in a new country
This post is a reflection on some of my first experiences as an immigrant into a new country. I recently uprooted myself from a life in the Mid-West, United States to live and study in Ireland. I am quite aware that I am privileged as a white female so my experiences can be quite different than other migrants. However, there is still a lot of adjusting to be done when moving from one country to another. The following narrative is about my first trip to buy groceries when I arrived in my new home. Something that may seem so very trivial, but was actually quite a learning experience.
All of my life, grocery shopping has been one of the most mindless things to do. Everyone has their different methods of grocery shopping but the concept is generally the same; Go to the store or market, get your items, leave. Simple. Never in my life would I have thought that something as simple as buying groceries would have made me so anxious.
It was my first day in Ireland after moving from the United States. I had just put my only belongings (which fit into two suitcases) in my room that I rented and freshened up after a 14 hour day of traveling. Food soon became my top priority. First order of business, where do I go to buy groceries? The lovely man who helped me carry my bags up to my room named off a few places and gave me directions that I tried my hardest to remember and understand. His accent was thick and I was trying to listen for words like “North”, “South”, “East”, “West”, but it was more to the lines of “you take this road here, and take the turn at the end, etc.” I am sure any local Irishman or woman would have been able to follow those directions and know exactly where they are going, but my American brain is used to grid roads and precise directions. I probably would have ended up walking in circles (which has actually happened to me before, but that is another story). I am glad I had a GPS on my phone and that I was able to spot out directions to at least one of the stores he had mentioned.
Second order of business, how to get there. I was so used to just hopping in my car and taking a short drive to the store. My directions told me it was a 15 minute walk to the store. Walking is normal here in the city, so I didn’t feel too out of place except for the fact that I had to keep checking my phone every minute to make sure I was still going in the correct direction. Then I saw it! The sign that read “Tesco”. I made it!
Once I got into the store, I felt a bit more at ease. Picking out groceries is easy peasy. I made sure to grab a basket instead of a cart, remembering that I couldn’t just throw everything into the trunk of my car like I normally would. Anything I buy, I need to be able to carry it back. I strolled along the isles, grabbing a few staple items. Everything is still in English so I didn’t have much difficulty knowing what was what. It may have taken me a bit longer because there were some brands or foods that I had never seen in the United States. When it came to the meat, trying to calculate weight on kilograms was very new to me. I grew up on pounds! The conversions that I learned in grade school weren’t coming back to me! Honestly, I ended up just throwing a package of chicken into my basket and hoped for the best.
Some confidence regained and happy that there wasn’t too much confusion over what I was purchasing, I headed towards the cash register. Everything was as it normally would be; I put my items on the counter, had a small chat with the cashier about the weather, and waited for her to give me the total. When she tells me the amount, no surprise there. I started rummaging through my purse, trying to find the correct bills and coins to pay her. During my struggle, a few people come into the line behind me and were waiting for me to finish my purchase. I glanced up apologetically. Did they have impatient looks on their faces or was it just my own brain thinking that? Either way, it made the process much more nerve racking. Hands shaking, I handed the cashier what I was hoping was the correct combination of this unfamiliar currency. I bagged up my items and walked to the exit of the store. My phone was dead by the time I was done with my shopping, so I walked home hoping that I could remember the way and not get lost.
All in all, I survived. I didn’t get lost. I didn’t starve. I figured it out. But I never thought in my life that something as simple as grocery shopping would be such a big experience for me. If I was somewhere in which I didn’t know the language, this task would have been much more daunting.
Alas, there is a happy ending to this trivial ordeal. My second trip to get groceries was with my flat mate and it was a more relaxed experience. Having someone there to “hold my hand” was reassuring. Even though it still took me longer than the average Irish citizen to fish out the correct coinage for my purchase, it was nice to have someone there to ease the pressure off of my self-perceived ineptitude. It helped me to gain my confidence and I now know that this will get easier as time passes.
Moving to any new country, there is an adjustment. My advice for those who haven’t experienced this, don’t take for granted the things that have been your natural surroundings your entire life. What is old news to you, can be completely confusing to someone who has never experienced it. Patience, lightheartedness, and understanding are things that will be cherished by someone who is adjusting to a new country. For those of you who can relate to any part of this story, just know that it eventually get easier. What helps the most is to get connected with people who know the area and who can help guide you through the process. You’re never alone.