by Brooklyn Kyrouac, Marketing major, Law Ethics and Decision-Making co-major, IU Peer Coach, Cox Scholar
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of living abroad is one that no one really warns you about: going to the grocery store by yourself. Monoprix seemed harmless enough, with its fresh market and wide selection of miscellaneous groceries and other items like clothing. It seemed homey, almost, like a mixture of Kroger and Target. When I walked inside, however, I was nothing but overwhelmed. It was around 12 pm and the grocery store was packed with people; I had never said “pardon” more in my life. It seemed like I couldn’t find even the simplest of items. I was confused why there wasn’t any turkey for lunch meat; I just wanted to make a sandwich. Finally, I settled for what I think is pepperoni, but am truly still unsure. Additionally, it took me about ten minutes of aimlessly meandering through the refrigerated section to realize that eggs aren’t refrigerated. Who knew? Apparently everyone but me.
After what I can only describe as a long, horror film titled “What Do People Even Buy at the Grocery Store?”, I went to check out with a bunch of hodgepodge and seemingly unrelated groceries in tow. The line was extremely long, so you can imagine how annoyed I began to be when a woman blatantly cut me. I didn’t’ say anything, but I was definitely confused and not used to this treatment of space. While people in the United States view treatment of space linearly and respect queuing culture, people in France are much more flexible, meaning this woman didn’t necessarily see that she was “cutting” me. However, I didn’t know this yet and was unnecessarily taken aback. When I finally got to the clerk, she looked at me is if I was stupid. She pointed at my potatoes and said something in French. “Pardon,” I said sheepishly. “Je ne parle pas Francais.”
“You have to weigh,” she said as if it were obvious. Indeed, I’m sure it was obvious to the hundreds of French people shopping, but I had zero idea that one had to weigh my vegetables before checking out.
Needless to say, I exited the grocery store feeling defeated and very un-French. I left the United States feeling brave and cool, but a supermarket had turned me into a shy, awkward girl. A lot of people talk about how being abroad is the most wonderful experience of their lives, but I posted this entry to show the sometimes frustrating and nerve-wracking side of living in a whole other country. It’s okay to feel down and unconfident sometimes; in fact, it’s something you should expect. Missing an American grocery store, your friends, or your family doesn’t make you ungrateful or unappreciative. It simply makes you human.
It’s my last week now, and I’ve come a long way from that socially confused outing. I’ve found a small, local market I like much better than the hustle and bustle of Monoprix, and I can now order confidently in French. I actually like going to the grocery store now, and I’ll miss walking to my apartment with a baguette and fresh cheese in tow. I look back on how I felt at the beginning, when simple errands caused a huge amount of stress and frustration, and I feel grateful for those moments. Maybe being abroad isn’t about being on a high all the time, but rather about learning how to ride the lows and, almost accidentally, growing exponentially because of it.
Brooklyn wrote this travel blog at the end of her spring 2018 study abroad experience. She is back on campus this fall for her senior year!