- I just need to go and buy a sieve. Do you know what the Spanish word is?
My guess turned out to be wrong, so I’ll keep quiet about what it was. J___ wisely decided not to believe me and looked it up.
- How do you spell sieve?
- S, i e or e i, v, e.
- Well, that was the question.
Eventually, armed with the right word, J____ goes out to to shop at the bottom of the hill. In fact, you can walk round and pick stuff up in there, so knowing what to ask for isn’t essential unless you don’t see what you want. This is not the case in most of the hardware shops here, where you are faced by a big counter as soon as you get in.
It is then that one must play the ferret shop game. (In Spanish it is called a ferreteria. Since the panaderia sells pan - bread, the carniceria sells carne - meat, and the pasteleria sells pasteles - cakes, it follows that the ferreteria sells ferrets. Sorry, crap expat joke.)
The first move is to look around and above you, just in case the desired stock is on display. Normally there will be a great shadow board covered in saws, hammers, sickles, spanners and mattocks of all sorts. Behind the counter there should either be an area of fast moving items like vegetable seeds, glue and bleach, or in the really trad places lots of cupboards and drawers full of nails, screws, bathtaps, hinges and plumbing fittings. Hanging from the ceiling there will be three legged stools, shotgun holsters, watering cans, trivets, sunhats or umbrellas according to the season and - always - a full set of dozens of goat bells, from the big basso profundo for the bellwether to teeny little ones for newborns. The clappers, usually sold separately, will be there right by them. Always.
Well perhaps not in the big city, I couldn’t tell you.
Anyway, if you do see what you want, it’s not really the ferret shop game at all, but you rarely do, not that anyone could tell exactly what you were pointing at anyway.
So one way or other the ferret shop game proper begins.
- Who goes? - asks the shop worker. You noted who was there before you when you came in and said hello to the room, because of course queuing is illegal in Spain and everyone just keeps track of it in their heads.
Except in rare cases of disagreement about who was next, the assistant moves to face you across the counter. It’s time for the opening gambit.
- Hello. I wish to buy a thing that I don’t know the word for.
The acute student of psychology will learn much about the person opposite them in the second that follows.
The next move is yours as well, which is rather the nub of the problem, isn’t it?
Describing what it looks like is usually a bad plan. Tell them what it’s for, when one needs such a thing. Involve, if possible, other people who are waiting there. That last bit probably won’t be too hard, anyway. Especially if all else fails and you have to go for the ‘charades’ option.
I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how to win.
So now you know why J___ is firmly in the habit of doing her homework before going shopping. But the ferret shop game is not just for foreigners. After all, do you know the name for the little nubbins that joins two lengths of hosepipe together?