I'm in Spain. My Spanish language skills are woefully inadequate. As I fumble around creating a new life in L'Eliana, I have goofy experiences.
Personal Care Products
I hoped to find American cosmetics and body care products in Spain. No such luck. No Burt's Bees lotions or lip gloss. No Dr. Bronner's soap. No brand names that I recognized. So far I hadn't found any non-toxic products, but my search continues.
The stores didn't carry my favorite products; I had to start from scratch. Reading cosmetic package labels and translating them with my phone app was hilarious.
Switch to Plan B: buy a bar of soap. That seemed simple enough. I selected a bar that looked relatively non-toxic, with pictures of pretty white flowers and olives (for olive oil, I guess) on the wrapper. Of course, I sniffed the package. It had a pleasant citrus scent. Score!
I happily carried the bar of soap back to my AirBnB apartment, unwrapped it, and placed near the bathroom sink. But wait! What was that scent? Not citrus. It took me several minutes to figure it out. The soap smelled like CHERRY KOOLAID! Gaaaawww!
In this dry Spanish climate, I needed heavy-duty body lotion. The local Mercado (a market much like larger grocery stores in the U.S.) had a good selection. Once again, I opened every container and took a sniff. After all, I needed to be able to enjoy the scent with lotion all over me.
The only problem was, they all smelled the same. They had kind of a fishy overtone. That made no sense at all. Then I ambled around to the other side of the aisle and saw, to my surprise, the fresh fish counter! Aaarrrgghhh!
It was challenging for me to communicate in Spanish while paying for my groceries at the check-out counter. Truthfully, my conversations were rather limited. I could usually remember “Hola” (hello), “Buenos Dias” (good morning), and “Gracias” (thank-you). Although once, under pressure, I said “Buenos Dias” when I should have said “Adios” (good-bye). Okay, so I choked.
Giving the correct amount of money was simple enough. I held out my hand and let the cashier pick the right coins. Easy-peasy!
I needed fruit and vegetables. I carried my handbasket to the produce aisle in the Mercado and made my selections. I noticed other people putting their produce in individual plastic bags, so I followed suit, except that I used just one bag to conserve resources.
At the check-out counter the cashier rattled off something in Spanish that I, of course, couldn't understand. At some point it dawned on me that I hadn't weighed the food or applied UPC labels, since our produce in the U.S. has little UPC labels on each vegetable and piece of fruit.
By the time I realized what I should have done, the cashier had already hustled back to the produce aisle and weighed the apple, orange, carrot, green pepper, and zucchini. She returned to the check-out counter with my produce bag plastered with five UPC labels. It took her three tries to properly scan all the labels because the scanner had a hard time reading them individually. They were too close together.
After all was said and done, and I'd wasted at least ten minutes of the cashier's time, I learned my new word of the day. "Lo siento." I'm sorry.
The next time I went to the grocery store, I was prepared. Not only did I bring my reusable shopping bag, but I knew how to weigh and label produce. I was on my game. I confidently selected apples and oranges, put them in individual bags, weighed them, and applied the UPC labels.
I saw several people looking at me in an odd way. What? Wasn't I doing this properly? After careful observation, I noticed other shoppers were wearing a plastic glove on the hand they used to touch the produce. I made another grocery store gaffe! Lesson learned. Now I know where to find the plastic gloves. And I kept mine to reuse later and conserve resources.
Washing clothes when on the road can be a big challenge. It's difficult to find a self-service laundromat. In Spain, many homes have washing machines but do not have tumble driers. Clothes are dried on a clothes line or drying rack, which is a bit tricky on rainy days. In my case, simply purchasing laundry detergent became a daunting task that even my trusty phone translator app wasn't quite up to.
I located the aisle at the Mercado that had the best shot at having washing detergent of some sort. I attempted to read the labels. I made guesses based on the size of containers and the little pictures on them. I queried my translator app. I stood there for over an hour attempting to choose the right product to get my clothes clean.
The next word was quitamanchas. Translator responded “quitamanchas.” Not helpful at all. That could have been key, because it meant stain remover.
I didn't know that until I got home and asked my real computer what the word meant. Two more successes: lavadora was “washing machine” and manchas was “stains.” Now I was getting somewhere. But then another unanswered question: rozaduras. Translator responded “rozaduras.” What?
I settled on an orange box with a picture of what appeared to be Castille soap squashed into convenient little tablets. There was a picture of a happy tree, sunshine and a rainbow next to the words activos biodegradables. Even I could understand “biodegradables.” The front of the carton gave me joy: Detergente Lavadora Tabletas. “Washing machine detergent tablets.”