“Oh yeah, we drippin’ in finesse and gettin’ paid.” Stepping off of the bustling Viale di Trastevere into an Italian grocery, Cardi B’s voice is the last thing I expect to hear. But here I am, standing under the fluorescent light of Elite a little outside of Rome’s city center. Today marks my first venture into the local grocery store that I will likely frequent during my 4 month study abroad term. Pulling a green, small, and upright cart behind me, I embarked. Bright, Italian-flag colors from tomatoes and assortments of lettuce shout at me from neat wooden shelves. The tropical hues of pineapples, oranges, and avocados I am used to are replaced by the subdued yellows of stone fruit and grapes.
I move systematically to the cereal aisle, having grabbed only a bag of arugula and box of small tomatoes, datterinos. A father and son pass me, the boy pointing at the chocolatey cereal while his father grabs Honey Rings instead. As they squeeze by me I reach for the box of familiar Rice Krispies but, thinking about the little boy, smile and settle for fruit and nut muesli. Tall and proud, the refrigerator section behind me showcases rows of fresh pasta, pesto, cheese, and yogurt. I eagerly traverse its entire length, twice. An Italian girl with silky chocolate hair and golden skin collides into me as I turn to closely examine the formaggi selections. “Scusi, piccola!” I mutter with a bad accent. Tossing me a shy smile, the girl’s mother grasps her hand and tugs her down the adjacent aisle. The child’s big hazel eyes gaze questioningly at my blonde-haired, green-eyed, and pale complexion clearly marking me as a foreigner. I stare at my reflection in the refrigerator door, disappointed that I stick out. Refocusing on the parmesan, my spirits lifted.
Strolling through the olive oil and balsamic forest, I feel like a character in Candyland. I almost miss the one foot of shelf space dedicated to Kikkomans soy sauce, three packets of Old El Paso taco seasoning, a couple bottles of Tabasco, and two jars of salsa. Laughing, I made a mental note of their location in the case that I get desperate. Less than graceful at the register while fumbling for Euro coins, I silently rejoice that I at least remembered to bring my reusable bag. Emerging back out under the Roman sun, I am proud to be a bit more Italian today.
Three weeks after my initial experience, I entered Elite after class for my near-daily grocery shopping ritual. Shawn Mendes plays in the background as I move methodically through the aisles. I round the corner and almost smack into a girl about my age. “Scusi!” I say.
“Oh you’re good,” the girl answers. I stand, frozen, as she passes me, my eyes captivated by her oversized Vineyard Vines t-shirt, pale skin, and Vans. Quickly scanning the rest of the store I see many more of her kind carrying bottles of cheap wine, jars of Nutella, and loaves of white bread.
“Dude I wonder if they have protein bars,” a boy in fraternity letters says to his friends behind me. The infiltration of these American study abroad students into my grocery store is unsettling. Hurrying through the rest of the store, I see my favorite jars of olives replaced by overpriced peanut butter and maple syrup. I look at my now golden skin in the reflection of the freezer but a bag of smiley French fries stares back at me. I rush to the checkout, eager to get out of this overtaken place. While conversing with and presenting my Euros to the cashier with utmost grace, Vineyard Vines on the other checkout struggles to determine what “Sette e Venti” means. Stepping back out onto the Viale, I breath in the Roman sunshine, the “Pronto” of a nearby woman answering her phone, and a puff of cigarette smoke. I am home.