The Law of the Papaya

We are not married to any particular grocery store in Valencia. We frequent certain stores, but there are times when we must travel further afield for particular things that we can’t get near our home. Usually, we go together on these jaunts and it’s back packs only. But yesterday, I went to El Corte Ingles with the trolley, where the Supermercado is located.

For reference, if you’re an American, it looks just like an upscale Safeway or a Fry’s foods. And they have a gourmet section with 400 different kinds of olive oil, and truffles by the mile. Jeff had given me a list, but even he knew I wasn’t going to come home with just what he sent me for. There would be more.

Like any grocery store anywhere, generally, you enter through the produce section. Or very near it. And the first thing I saw was my giant papayas. I love these things and you can’t easily find them in the US. It’s as if three papayas melded together into one Jurassic Park papaya. I made a beeline for it, picked it up and put it in my cart. This is where the trouble began.

At the dreaded Mercadona I am allowed to pick up my own JP papayas. Even there, Our -Lady-of-Perpetual-Scolding trusts a gloved up layman to handle her own produce. But, apparently in a pandemic, at the Supermercado it requires expert training. She shouted at me to drop the papaya. I set it back down – appropriately chagrined.

We’re both already mandatorily masked, but then she freshly gloved up and slathered herself with hand sanitizer before picking up my offending papaya and slipping it into a small paper bag that was itself overwhelmed by the size of my Fintstone’s-sized papaya. It was sticking out. Then she weighed it and stickered it before handing it back to me with a grunt. I wanted to roll my eyes and move on but, after that performance I figured I’d need her again.

Consulting the list – Jeff wanted broccoli and celery. So I made my way to the broccoli and determined the one I wanted. Then I went back to the woman who had chastised me about the papaya and told her I need some broccoli. She looked at me like I had flown in from the moon and told me to get my own broccoli. Huh?! However, she informed me, I had to change my gloves having illegally touched the papaya. What?!

Whatever. So I re-gloved and selected my broccoli, bagged, weighed and stickered it myself. Of course my gloves stuck to the sticker and they came home with me – Jeff laughed. The woman watched me flail stuck to the produce sticker like glue, without amusement. Apparently, broccoli wrestling isn’t her thing. And she didn’t offer to assist me, either.

Then, I gingerly approached the celery., noticing it was hermetically sealed – not like celery in the US or even other stores here. I felt her gaze upon me and turned to see produce lady watching me closely. Eyes narrowed.

Oh no! I thought. What should I do? She wouldn’t allow me to bag my own papaya – and that has it’s own protective skin. But she made me bag my own loose broccoli. Where did celery fall on the verdura spectrum?

I edged closer to the bin. Her brow deeply furrowed. I reached out and stopped. Neither of us breathed. My hand closed around the giant stalk (celery is huge at the Supermercado). Still she didn’t react. I noticed it already had the price on the plastic. I quickly plopped it into my basket, looking to run from the produce department toward the leche de cabra – I needed goat milk. I looked back but the produce lady just shook her head as made my swift exit. I’m still not sure if I was in full violation territory or if she was just tired of dealing with me.

I completed the rest of my shopping without incident, then I went to check out stand. The man in front of me was still paying so I hung back on my 2 metre distancia social bright red floor dot – not wanting to violate the airspace by putting my things on the belt prematurely. The checker beckoned me to come forward but, still I hung back. My PTSD from the Mercadona was kicking in, big time. I’d seen this movie before. Her trickery couldn’t fool me. Finally, the man left the area so I turned my cart around backwards – as I’ve been trained at the Mercadona Shopping for Dummies course I’ve taken, and failed, a hundred times now, and I put my purchases on the belt to check out. The checker looked at me like I was crazy. And I know this because she told me.

So that, my friends, is what happens when every store makes up their own procedures on how to interpret the Valencian laws of social distancing and hygiene. Jeff calls it the Mercadona Law. I call it the Law of the Papaya now. Because its a crap shoot as to when they’ll allow you to pick up your own fruit.

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