The Foreign Grocery Zone
On request from my wife I’m in a Spar in Budapest searching for rice milk. She’s read somewhere that it’s great for breastfeeding Mums.
"Plus Mila really likes it", she adds.
Our four month old baby might still be getting to grips with her bodily functions, but she's a woman who knows what she wants, and that's rice milk.
My quest, you may think, is simple enough, but you sir/madam are naive. I’m sorry to break this to you, but you are. For this place is a jungle of Zs, És and the eternally baffling Ös. It’s like The Crystal Maze if The Crystal Maze had a foreign grocery zone. I’ve been wandering up and down this forest of similar, but not quite familiar food items for what seems like days now and I’m flummoxed. I can’t find it in the refrigerated section, I can’t find it with the soya milk.
“Where art thou rice milk!”
I’ve been racking my brains without success. What on Earth is the Hungarian for rice milk? Usually on occasions like this I would turn to my trusty companion, my Man Friday, my Dr Watson, my Ant or Dec. I’m of course referring to my translation app on my phone, but as luck would have it, the Spar near my home in Budapest is isolated from the rest of the Earth. All around it, perfect signal. Step through the Spar doors, it’s 1995.
I eventually decide that enough is enough and locate an elderly member of staff to help me.
“Beszel Angolul? (Do You speak English)”, I ask hopefully.
“A little”, he replies.
“I’m looking for the rice milk?” I say, instantly wondering why I’ve made that a question.
The old man stares at me blankly. It would appear that his little English doesn’t include ‘rice milk’. But it’s okay. No need to panic. I know exactly what to do. I’ve got this.
“Riiiiiice meeeeeelk?” I ask hopefully, now sounding like Dracula.
“Ah!”, the man says, and directs me to follow him.
And off we go, slowly mending our merry way through the Spar, my guide leading me, skilfully navigating through the aisles one by one. I’m full of gratitude as a part of me was beginning to wonder if this was it. If I was to spend eternity in this place, forever searching for an unsweetened milk substitute derived from brown rice. I study him as he slowly trudges through the store. I think to myself how nice of the Spar to employ someone of his age. They should be commended! He must be at least 75, and not that easy on his feet any more. Bravo Spar!
And then it hits me.
HE DOESN’T WORK HERE! Oh dear Lord! I’ve accosted a random elderly gent wearing a red top and convinced him to help me find rice milk. It’s now also beginning to dawn on me that he doesn't actually seem to know where the rice milk is! He’s led us to the confectionary aisle and is currently scouring it at a snail's pace! Who is this mad man!?
I’m beginning to panic. We are now two men who don’t speak a common language, inexplicably tied to one another until we find the elusive rice milk. My palms are getting clammy. I need to do something.
“It’s okay.” I say. “I’ll find the rice milk on my own.”
The man simply smiles back at me and then gestures for me to follow. He has no idea what I’m talking about. What on Earth is the Hungarian for “It’s okay. I’ll find the rice milk on my own.”
About twenty minutes later and I breath a huge sigh of relief as we accidentally stumble across the rice milk (bizarrely by the tinned peaches). I express my gratitude to the old man by saying “thank you”, but with Dracula’s accent, head to the check-out and leave the shop as quickly as my little legs will carry me. I arrive home and hand my wife the rice milk. Go for your life mammary glands!
“Why have you bought rice pudding?” says Zsuzsa.
Damn you random old man wearing red in the Spar.