I’m attracted to and daunted by outdoor markets. After a couple of hours in Costa Rica’s National Museum, we walked through the market nearby (where I found turtle and other groovy textiles). I had an agenda: a few small gifts for the folks who helped me with this trip (the reader will recall my previous posts about transporting a microscope, not a one -woman operation).
I didn’t have much time, or the luxury of comparison shopping.
Also, I suck at bartering.
This was not setting myself up for success.
Wisdom often arrives from unexpected sources. Deep in my first-world micro-dilemma, I remembered a transformative moment in my shopping life. I was melting down about an upcoming job interview and nervously browsing at J Crew. A personal shopper approached me and asked if she could help. Could I explain how much I wanted this job, and how I still felt like that little girl trailing after her meemaw in the Kmart rather than a woman who could buy a suit in a store without shopping carts?
“Shopping should always be fun,” she said, and brought me a hot pink shirt to try on and a bottle of water.
So in this San Jose market, a young woman, Chantal, struck up a cheery Spanglish conversation with me. I wanted to bring back a token to my cat sitter, and I liked the prancy, bright wooden gatos with the long vertical tails. For anillos,Chantal said. You could store your rings on the tail. She offered to personalize the gift, so I wrote my cat sitter’s name in her book of graph paper, and she wrote it in on the cat’s belly with a silver pen before she taped him up in bubble wrap.
Rosi, one of the staff at my school’s Costa Rica campus, had asked me early in my visit if I had a husband or kids. Two cats, I said. Como hijos, like children, I clarified, and made a cradle of my arms to rock back and forth. Rosi laughed. I was getting a reputation.