About twelve years ago, I took my first ever trip abroad to Ireland for business. My Irish colleagues were fantastic hosts and went the extra mile to ensure that my stay was enjoyable. In addition to being tour guides and accompanying me throughout my stay, my colleagues educated me on some of the nuances of foreign travel, like weighing and tagging produce at the market before proceeding to the checkout.
During my stay in Ireland, a colleague enlightened me on the expectation that produce should be weighed and tagged prior to proceeding to the cashier. It was an odd concept to grasp at first, only because the process of purchasing produce in the U.S. differs in a couple ways. First, scales do not print price tags and second, cashiers weigh the produce for you.
This was a handy lesson for our subsequent travels throughout Europe, as it appeared that weighing and tagging produce was the standard. However, during our three month stay in New Zealand and Australia, we felt right at home making our way directly to the cashier without having to weigh or tag our produce. And thus, we quickly reverted to our old habits.
Once in South Africa, we were quickly reminded that shoppers need to tag their own produce. We did our shopping and then proceeded to the cashier at a local Cape Town market. We had a pair of un-weighed and un-tagged bananas! The failure to comply to the local custom drew an immediate reaction from the clerk. Whoops! If our accent did not give us away as tourists then our failure to comply with the standard procedure certainly did. Our options were limited. Either we forego the bananas or we venture back into the store to correct the situation. I offered up an apology and since we were short on time elected to abandon our bananas.
We are not always fortunate enough to have locals help us navigate new cities, so, it was a good reminder for us to be more observant of our surroundings. Sometimes the best way to learn the ropes is by quietly observing locals and then mimicking their behavior. On a subsequent visit to the market, we watched locals take their produce to a manned weighing station. Now we knew! South Africa, like Ireland, requires shoppers to weigh their produce before heading to the check out stand. Now that we know we can blend in a bit better.