Shopping Schemes of a Desperate Expat

Do you have any idea how cumbersome it can be to shop for your favorite things as an expat? To what lengths we go (and what lows we descend to) all in the name of scoring that favorite pair of jeans?

And I should know what I’m talking about. This here is the jeans section in my closet two years after leaving Kansas:

shopping in south africa
“Toto, we’re not in God’s own Shopping Mall anymore”

I can’t even claim any shopping hardship here in South Africa. In fact I can already hear some of you grumbling, here she goes again complaining about her posh life, having to maintain a pool and manage a maid. And it’s true. I can get anything the heart desires here in Joburg. And anything the heart doesn’t desire, to be completely truthful, if I go by the acquisitions I unwittingly make from convincing street vendors.

And yet once in a while you need that special outfit from The Gap.

shopping in south africa
Technically, these were from the Easter Bunny, who of course delivers anywhere worldwide without so much as an order or change of address notice

Unless you want to gamble away your kids’ future college tuition by having it shipped here (let alone the substantial risk of it disappearing altogether), you have to find other ways. This one (shhh, don’t tell the girls) involved me feeding a friend’s cat and looking after their pool so as not to feel guilty when asking for a huge package from The Gap to be lugged across the world (and through South African customs) for me.

Or take this one:

It involved another friend going on a USboondoggle, carrying it from New York City to a wedding in Minnesotaand back. Or perhaps the other way around, I honestly don’t know. I do know that we shared a lovely cappuccino while doing the handover, which somehow always feels a tiny bit illicit, what with having outwitted South African customs so thoroughly.

Or how about these ones:

The handover for these admittedly rather bulky items is yet to come, as the container (of a newly arrived expat family) they are traveling in is still somewhere enroute between Somalia and Durban. Or perhaps kidnapped by pirates for all I know, it has taken so long.

Do you see what I mean? We expats are constantly bartering and exchanging favors for goods. Some of us travel a lot but don’t have a local bank account, so handing over hard cash for a coveted new camera lens can be a win-win situation all around. And some of us travel a lot but do it with four children in tow, so all our hopes of scoring twenty pairs of sneakers at Target and smuggling them back here are dashed when we discover all ten suitcases are already filled with the entire contents of our house in South Africa making a round-trip voyage.

Which made my recent discovery, at Pick n Pay no less, of one of the most coveted overseas items at our house all the more shocking.

Schokoknuspermüsli (it probably took them so long to export it because they had to translate that  name first)

We left Germany in 1991, and in all those 21 years since then, I have never been able to shop locally for Noisette’s favorite muesli (if you’re  new to this blog, Noisette is absolutely beholden to Milka Noisette chocolate bars, hence the name, but he will make do with any type of chocolate in a pinch). Anybody visiting from Germany knows that you might as well not show up if you don’t bring a bag (a large one, not the small carton) of Kölln Schokomüsli with you. So Imagine my surprise when I’m in the cereal aisle at the Hyde Park Pick n Pay, not my typical hangout, and find myself face to face with an entire row of Kölln Schokomuesli?Needless to say, I scooped it all up and into my trolley, elated at this find, wanting to tell every other shopper I encountered how extraordinary this was. I was somewhat deflated upon learning at the cash register that each 375 g package would cost me 52 rands ($7) when a bag five times as large might be less than half that price in a German supermarket.

But just imagine. No special orders via email with relatives who you know behind your back are questioning your sanity. No waiting for months for the goods, during which you give ration cards to your kids to be handed in at breakfast. No cold sweats under the withering looks of customs officials and drawing up wild schemes of bribing them with a bowl of muesli if you were to be discovered. No opening your suitcase and discovering that flakes of oats are now happily mingling with your underwear, while the chocolate pieces have formed a cohesive symbiosis with the pages of the new book you also bought abroad.

And yet, somehow I already feel a tinge of regret, a foreboding sense of loss. Most likely one day you’ll be able to buy the exact same things everywhere in the world, and what would be the fun in that?

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