Over the summer I went back home, to the USA, to visit my family. I hadn’t been back in five years, and we all enjoyed ourselves so much, Alhamdulillah (Praise God). Before I share some of our adventures, let me just tell you about two things that I noticed during our visit, which I think are kind of significant.
First, no one seems to believe in cash anymore. Everyone pays with a credit card…for EVERYTHING. I even saw a woman at The Dollar Store put two dollars on her credit card to buy balloons. TWO DOLLARS!! I find it kind of weird, to be honest. I don’t understand anything about economy, but the fact that no one actually has any cold, hard cash can’t be good, right? And what about just logistically…I mean, what if you see the Girl Scouts and want to donate? There was a too-cute-for-words little girl whose curly black hair was tied up into two pom-poms on either side of her head standing outside of Dunkin’ Donuts collecting donations for her cheerleading squad. I think her little red tin can must have remained empty…forevever!
The second most significant difference was the increase in the Muslim population in and around my hometown. Whereas back in the day, it was just us and one other family in the area, now there are so many, that I never went out without spotting one or two families. Alhamdulillah. Praise God. Alhamdulillah that the new Muslim generations growing up there now won’t feel quite so isolated.
It was kind of funny to see how my kids reacted to that, actually. To them, normal is everyone around being Muslim. So when we were in the USA, although I was finding it ‘strange’ that there were so many women covered up, to them it was completely normal. But for some reason–and to this day I don’t really understand why–I felt like I stood out more this visit than I ever did before. There is no logical explanation for why I felt this way: I was born and raised in the USA, and I went through all of high school and college covered up. But for some reason, despite the increase in the Muslim population, I felt like I stood out, like I didn’t fit quite the way I had before. One trip to the supermarket just intensified this feeling….
We just needed a few items, so once we had grabbed them, I surveyed the cashier lanes. Although the lines weren’t super crowded, I decided to go through the self-check out. How hard could it be?
So I swiped the first couple of items,then decided I should just bag as I scan…that would save some time.
“No, mom. Don’t put it in the bag,” my eleven year old said to me.
“I don’t know. Just wait till you’re all done.”
“Why? I’ve already scanned it. I’m just gonna bag as I go.”
“It’s not a good idea, mom,” he gave me one final warning.
But, unfortunately, I didn’t listen. As soon as I put that first item into the bag, a loud electronic voice screamed out, “Unexpected item in bagging area.” And it was just down hill from there.
I followed the directions of the electric voice, and managed to clear up whatever mistake I’d made, but the problem was that it kept happening with EVERY SINGLE ITEM! And after the first few, it stopped letting me clear it…so the voice just kept screaming out, relentlessly, “Unexpected item in bagging area. Unexpected item in bagging area! UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA!!” It might as well have been screaming, “Foreigners need help in lane 10! Someone please help out the foreigners in lane 10!” My son suggested we just take the things over to another self-check out, but I was fairly certain that would just make matters worse. I fully expected someone to come over and relieve me of the embarrassment, but they never did.
Now, this was the same supermarket that i worked at while I was in high school. And back then (ok, so a long time ago, but still!) the manager was always out front, waiting to head off issues, checking IDs for customers purchasing cigarettes, all that stuff. But that day this summer, there was no manager around.
So I went over to the nearest cashier and told her (as if she didn’t know!) that I was having some trouble at the self-check out and needed some help. She came over right away and cleared the issue so that I could continue where I had left off. And as soon as I thanked her and she walked back to her lane, off that voice rang again, “Unexpected item in bagging area! UNEXPECTED ITEM IN BAGGING AREA!”
I just wanted to leave everything and book it out of there as fast as I could. I looked up to see the light above the cash register, which had been flashing green at the start of our issues, was now flashing red. So now the “Unexpected item in bagging area” was code for “Foreigners trying to steal stuff in lane 10! Alert! Thief-Foreigners in lane 10! Alert! Alert!”
A different cashier came over and helped me out till we finished. I didn’t use the self-checkout for the rest of my stay, and I have no intention of doing so EVER!!!
What had my head spinning (besides the embarrassment, which sent me into a laughing fit, of course) was the fact that my son knew.
“How did you know? What made you tell me not to bag?”
“I saw aunt K use the self-check out and she bags at the end to avoid those issues.”
Okay, so two lessons here:
1. NEVER use the self-check out at the supermarket, especially if you look like you may be someone visiting from another country. (Which is a huge percentage of the American population, so people…just don’t do it!) The alerts you get will end up sounding like, “Someone come save this foreigner from the predicament she’s put herself into!” Not fun. (Definitely funny, now…but…not fun when it’s happening.)
and 2. When your kids give you advice, listen to it, even if you’re not quite sure why.