Today I read a blog from my fellow blogger, La Gringa (go to http://lagringasblogicito.blogspot.com/) and read her blog about "Would You Buy a Dress Without Trying It On?" At first I thought it was going to be about the experience I had about 2 years ago in La Ceiba but, no, it was a well-thought out blog about people wanting to make the move to Honduras. Her blog is something people should seriously consider when making any move to a foreign country.
My blog today will be about some of the interesting "new" experiences I've had in this country.
About two years ago, a friend and I went to La Ceiba to shop, visit doctors and just get away from the island. Yes, once in a while one needs to leave what everyone refers to as "Paradise" and get into the "real" world, even if that "real" world is the Coast of Honduras!
During our shopping trip, my friend wanted to purchase a bra. Now, if you are a woman you know that you cannot buy a bra without trying it on! It is just one of those items which must be tried to see that it fits properly and that it is comfortable. We went into one of the larger department stores in La Ceiba (there are only two really named "large stores") and headed for the lingerie department.
We got there and were disappointed at the limited supply of bras available. Very little to choose from in style and size. My friend found a few that she was interested in and went to find a fitting room. Now when you enter a store in Honduras a sales-person is with you immediately and they are on your heels the whole time you are shopping. I have determined that 1) they either work on commission, 2) are told to watch people for possible shop lifting or 3) both. Anyway, the girl following my friend advised her that one of the bras she had she could not try on - against store regulations. We could not believe this. The other 2 she was allowed to try but they informed her only over her clothing! For some reason one of the name-brand bras are not allowed to touch human skin until you purchase them. This was so ridiculous that we questioned the girl as to why the policy. However, as experience has shown in the past, the employees of any store have no idea why their employer instigates any of the rules! She had no idea why my friend could not try on the bra but insisted that if she tried any of them (with the exception of the one), it was to be over her clothing. My friend reassured her that would be the case, went into the fitting room and tried in on to her bare skin anyway! Gee whiz - they didn't find out, we weren't arrested and she didn't leave some foreign disease behind on the bra!
I have also found, and probably to the store's credit, that anything you buy must be removed from the box and checked completely for cracks or breaks before they will let you buy it. Electric bulbs are removed from their cartons and tested that they light, and containers opened to make sure the number of items in the box matches what it says on the front. Either they have had people return old light bulbs saying these were the new ones and they didn't work or went home, broke the plate or whatever was in the box and returned it for a new one or full refund! You do not get refunds in Honduras! If you return something even after a long explanation and an argument you may only trade it for something else in the store. One store on the island told me that since I didn't return the item on the Friday I bought it, when I came in on Monday it was too late! They are closed Saturday and Sunday so I guess the expiration date on the sold item was no good! Gee, it was a clock! One store finally relented and said they would return the cash but not for 30 days!
I bought an 8 place setting of dishes once and each and every dish was inspected. If you are not in a hurry and have all the time in the world to shop, then I guess one would not be bothered. If you have a schedule to keep (such as an airplane to get to), then it is totally frustrating. Well, the dishes were fine but when I arrived home I noticed that they were what we call "seconds" in the States. Heck, these were "thirds". I noticed that on some of the plates the design was slightly off center and some of the decorations on the edge did not get imprinted fully. In the States they cannot sell these items to people unless they let them know that they are "seconds". Well, "seconds" sell in the States, but I am convinced these were "thirds" because of the poor quality of the printed design. Plus, I had to pay more for them here than I would for the "good" plates in the States, so it was disappointing to end up with poor quality merchandise.
As I have mentioned before, one does not buy a whole bottle of aspirin on the Island - one buys the number of tablets you need at a time. You can buy 2 ribs of celery, 1 cigarette, a few bouillon cubes cubes, etc. This is because the people 1) can't afford any more than a few items a day, 2) don't have proper refrigeration to keep items that require it and/or 3) buy only what they need to cook the meal for that day - maybe because if they store the item it will attract bugs. I'm not sure of all the reasons or rationale (if you can call it that) but I am sure it is because of one of the foregoing.
People do not budget their money here and when building a home they simply acquire an amount of money (very few people have a savings account), start building and when they run out of money they wait until the next windfall! Unfinished homes stand for years here. Even on the Mainland I see this and have to assume they are just houses in progress! Besides, trying to determine what building a house will cost or even making repairs is almost impossible as you can never get anyone to give you a price for their services and the cost and availability of, say, lumber may vary from the time you see it to the time you return to pick it up. My rule is that when in the store, if you see something you like or want, do not leave and think about it for when you return it will be gone. Of, if you buy an item with the hope that they will continue to stock it and return next week hoping they will have more of the same product you will find it is gone never to be seen again! As, to saving money, well, I can understand why people don't want to put their money in a bank here!
I have found maybe one book store in La Ceiba (a new one at the Mall) and one in San Pedro Sula! That is it! There are a few more stores, but they sell only Christian books. I never have found magazines for sale, even at airports. All book stores naturally sell only Spanish books - haven't found a book printed in English yet.
Sewing goods are sold in separate stores; fabric in one, buttons/zippers in another, thread in another. This makes shopping for material to make something a real chore because you may find a fabric you like but no thread, buttons or zippers of a matching color to sew it with. Thread of all types if highly inferior and I avoid purchasing it here. I have found very few "craft" items and recently, to my amazement, discovered hand-made paper in a large hardware store. I make books, crochet panels of various designs, make my own cards and gift boxes, sew baskets from fabric covered clothesline, sew quilts, etc. I have to get all my supplies from the U.S. (with the exception of some fabric) and do a lot of craft shopping when I'm in the States as certain items, such as Velcro or iron-on Pellon cannot be found here.
We have a local Deposito here where we can buy soft drinks and/or beer. You pay for the bottles up front when you buy a new case of whatever drink you want but never expect to get that deposit back. They say they will give you the deposit back if you bring back the original receipt! We have had some cases of beer for years and no longer have the receipts. This was important a few years back when one of the local beer companies no longer printed their logo physically etched onto the beer bottle and chose to replace it with a paper label. The Deposito refused to take the bottles back (even with a receipt) because the new ones had paper labels! We no longer get "Fresca" in large bottles and now are stuck with a case of those big Fresca bottles! We put a deposit on a large plastic bottle once which contained bottled water when our cistern ran dry (see my blog at http://featherridge.blogspot.com/2008/02/anyone-know-good-rain-dance.html). After the problem was solved and we no longer needed the over sized bottle, we returned it for a refund on our "deposit". The salesman looked at us like we were crazy and said "no one ever returns the bottle." They refused to give us our money back! So why do they call it a "deposit" when what they mean is "You buy it and it is yours no matter what our sign says!"
So, we are always surprised by the next newest experience and wonder at the ingenuity of people here to make life a challenge for us!