We are five in our flat and we share our food. Not all of our food, of course, otherwise the perpetually-high household members would surely take unfair advantage. But once a month or so, each of our names come back around. The kitchen chalk board, full of smudges, doodles, English, Spanish, and Catalan, is likely the most photographed feature of our home; a handy shopping list/passive aggressive tableau. We shop and share, essentially over-paying rent each month to create a surplus. A “slush fund.” Money to be used on eggs, milk, coffee, dish soap, Halloween parties, and emergency, second-hand washing machines. And, as with all parts of a convivial society, there is a code to be followed.
Oath of the household shopper (penned long before my arrival to the flat, but in a constant state of democratic evolution none the less):
“I promise to never buy anything but Mercadona-brand milk in quantities of no less than 8 tetra-briks at one time. I promise to buy the pink box (not the green or the blue), and I promise to check that it is indeed cow’s milk (a rule carelessly overlooked one fateful day by our distracted housemate who bought us 8 liters of goat’s milk and caused a meeting-worthy, household dilemma because goat’s milk is fucking disgusting).”
“I promise to buy the ‘regular’ tostadas (none of that multigrain shit), and I agree and submit to the fact that the ice from The Chino is superior to the Mercadona ice (it melts slower, duh) and should be bought on a separate shopping excursion.”
“I promise to remember and respect the fact that ‘pasta’ scribbled in white chalk in no way means fusilli, rigatoni, or fettucini (or god forbid those multi-colored, far-too-flamboyant farfalle that are clearly guilty of containing vegetables and have that little pinched part in the middle that “never gets fully soft” when boiled). Spaghetti (and maybe ziti) is expected.”
“I promise to buy Fairy dish soap (better suds).”
“I promise to buy the largest jug of water available, as tap water makes you (apparently) shit uncontrollably.” However, I have found the previous statement to be grossly untrue.
“I promise to buy one gigantic role of paper kitchen towels instead of the slightly more expensive multi-pack (note: this rule has since been revised to include Mercadona-brand single-ply paper towel in packs of 6 or more).”
“I promise to buy toilet tissue in no less than 12-pack quantities, and to buy the soft kind (it’s okay to splurge on your ass, obviously).”
And finally (to keep this short), “I promise to remember what kind of all-purpose cleaner we use.” This is an important one, as asking what the bottle looks like is practically a full admission that you in fact have never cleaned anything in the house to date.
Okay, so you get the picture. But, what happens when you finally understand how to uphold the code, and have honed your shopping trips through the Mercadona maze to stone-faced extraction missions, when they suddenly move the brown sugar? Or when you get to the front of the line and haven't weighed your apple?
It may be the fact that I was severely hung-over this morning and that my drunk housemates woke me up 3 times between 5am and 7am, but by the simple act of moving the azúcar moreno and other baking products to be closer to the bread, filling the previous shelves with baby food, and turning my landmark display of canned tomatoes at a 90 degree angle, Mercadona left me confused and helpless. I sort of had a melt down. I walked in circles and scratched my beard, distracted and disoriented by the mirrored columns and disconcerting proximity of the pre-cooked tortillas de patatas to the deodorant and face wash. I had to ask directions, and also couldn’t figure out why they had zero bags of baby spinach when the shelf is usually overflowing (until I remembered that for the next two days the market would be closed and that the spinach they sell is nearly always developing a slimy sheen before I even fling in into my awkward hand basket on wheels anyway).
I admit that this was my second trip to Mercadona in two days, and that the first time I forgot the azúcar moreno. But thank god the nearly-empty box was helpfully placed right in the middle of the kitchen table this morning to remind me. I didn’t even need to take a picture.