Tuesday, September 18, 2007


In the United States people flock to Wal-Mart or Target for cheap household items. In Colombia people go to Exito or Carrefour. While the size and number of items are comparable, there are several differences. For instance, every time I’ve gone to Exito I’ve seen several young men standing outside the entrance donned from head to toe in camouflage, holding AK-47s. It makes you think twice about shoplifting. Inside, however, it is very welcoming. In the women’s clothing section there are posters of beautiful models wearing lingerie that you’d only find in certain magazines in America. In fact, there are similar billboard-sized posters on the store’s edifice. The female workers are very friendly as well.

This morning at Carrefour a young woman helped me find a work desk and chair, lamp, and heater. The heater came with a free coffee maker, both made by Black & Decker, not a bad deal for $30. And the young woman pushed the cart around for me. Maybe it was my suit and tie I had worn to work. Anyhow, I thought the store would deliver the desk to my apartment. I thought wrong. She recommended a taxi. I was a good hour away from my apartment. It was near my morning class and was generally less expensive than other branches. I told her I’d return and carry the desk home another day. After all, there’s basically two ways I travel long distances in Bogota, by bus or foot. No big deal. The lines are short on weekdays. Yesterday, Sunday, I had waited a half hour in the “Less than 10 items” lane to purchase a basketball and a jug of water for my basketball clinic in Santo Domingo. (Sunday is the only day most people have off work, me included.) When I put my items on the conveyor belt, I had a bad feeling. There was a man training a young girl. She looked like it was her first day. Then he walked away and the girl swiped my card about five times. Then she lifted her head with a confused look. She waved for the man to return. He did and handed me my receipt. She had charged me twice for the chair. She had a black eye and cut on her nose. I felt like giving her another black eye because I didn’t understand what they were going to do to remedy the mistake as I waited. I felt impatient. Finally another woman came over, a manager I suppose, and asked me if I had another credit card. I said no. She walked me over to the customer service both and gave me 20,000 pesos, the cost of the chair, rather than deduct it from my card. She asked me where I was from, Germany? I told her the United States. You have trouble with Spanish, she said with a grin. Just speaking it, I said. I’d be back tomorrow night for the desk. Chevere.