Day 24.5: Awkward

Have you ever walked into a grocery store, and see someone you know checking out? Sometimes, you make eye contact, acknowledge each other, and the other party smiles and kinda motions you over or says your name out loud. You go over to each other, exchange some pleasantries, give the 30 second hello if you haven't seen them in a while, ask when you're going to {go to dinner/see a movie/come over/church/etc} next. Then, you shake hands/hug/spit in their face/whatever, and go about your shopping.

Then there are the other times. You see the person at a store, you make eye contact, and no matter how much you know each other, the first thing the person does is to look busy trying to get something from their purse/wallet/billfold, and pretend not to see you. They don't want to signal you over; they don't want you to come over; they just wish at that moment that they were invisible.

Why does the second part happen? Well, there could be many reasons, but since I like Ockham so much, let's analyze the scenario. First off, we're at a grocery store. You can get:

  • Food
  • Drink (alcoholic/non alcoholic)
  • Tobacco
  • Toiletries
  • Prescriptions

Typically, most people don't shy away from having people know about Food/Drink/Tobacco/Prescriptions. These are not socially taboo. However, toiletries are another thing all-together. Bodily functions of all kind elicit a response that when I first came stateside I did not understand at all. (Note: I grew up overseas on Guam, and so my definitions of modesty or privacy are a little bit warped compared to most people that I run into)

These are really private things. Because, God Forbid - let's not let people know that we use the restroom (toilet paper or adult diapers, depending on what's going on in life), that we have sex (condoms/lubrication), that some people are female (tampons/pads), that we stink (deodorant/baby powder) or whatever. But everyone has been there - everyone needs these things. Otherwise there wouldn't be a market for them.

I bring this up because I cannot tell you how many times I've run into the second scenario, and since I have no problem with any of these things, nor did I realize that a social taboo existed around this for the first year or so of my time back stateside at 19 years of age that I had my fair share of awkward encounters with friends/colleges/acquaintances at a grocery store. I know the approximate size and shape of condom boxes, of tampon boxes, of pregnancy tests, of the things that people are private about so that if I run into this situation, I can quickly eye what someone is buying and adapt. I don't understand, but I know how to socially respond. I've become accustomed over the last 8 years to responding to this social situation.

This brings me to my story that happened yesterday that amuses me, and equally befuddled me. I walked into the downstairs grocery stop to pick up a bottle of my favorite Philippine drink - C2 (a fruit infused green tea drink - absolutely fantastic), and saw out of the corner of my eye a co-worker that works at the PDOC that is female. I saw in her hand what looked like a box of something that set off my warning bells. Naturally, I took evasive action and went... well... somewhere else.

I walked around the store, and then went back to the checkout about 3 minutes later (sounds like enough time, right?). I started to walk to the checkout in order to take my C2 to work. Who would I bump into? The co-worker! She was holding in her hand a pregnancy test.

Not knowing what would happen next, I just kinda braced. You know that brace - all of your muscles tense, spider sense goes on alert, and you just... Smile Really big.

The co-worker, sees my smile, and greets me warmly.

Co-Worker: "Ah! James! Hello!!!! Guess what?!?!" (holds up the pregnancy test). Me: Wow! (still not sure how to respond - this is my default) Co-Worker: Yeah, I'm hopeful! Me: That's awesome! I know this isn't your first, right? (a bluff - I could be one of those fake psychics) Co-Worker: No, of course not (chuckles). Me: How old is your first? Co-Worker: Four years old. I'm so excited! (Grinning from ear to ear) Me: Well! I'm hopeful for you! Co-Worker: Thanks! Wish me luck. Me: Good luck, of course!

Good luck.

What I noticed next was something else all-together. I walked up to the checkout, and hadn't noticed before that right next to the obligatory Mentos/Chocolate/Gum area was a whole row of pregnancy checks. Lined up. Okay. Went to another store, and sure enough, same thing. Gum/Mentos/Pregnancy checks.

Filipino families as a whole are very family oriented. Not the nuclear family of Husband/Wife/2.5 children. Extended families. Grandmothers/Grandfathers/cousins/uncles/aunts/in-laws/etc. All over the place. And there is always a desire to add another 4 or 6 to the family. It's part of the culture - have big families, procreate, you know. There is even a huge debate here in the country about Reproductive Health, and whether the government should provide options for preventing pregnancy. Suffice it to say that the Catholic Church believes that preventing childbirth in any way is murder. More on this as the story unfolds.

I can say now that I've experienced a fair spectrum of response to what I will now refer to as the Grocery Paradox. In Guam, things just were. Nobody cared, people just needed things, babies were born, whatever. In the US, people enjoy babies, but not the process - it's private. Don't talk about it. And then Philippines - very open, and even proud.