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A while ago (maybe a year or so), a friend of mine and I were talking about how much she hates going to the grocery store. Part of this is just the way she’s wired, part of it is that she goes seldom, and by car, thereby having to fight traffic, parking and cart-driving all in one trip. And part of it is where she goes. She lives in a little gated community up on a hillside. They have a supermarket, but it’s not very complete, so she prefers one of the bigger ones out in the suburbs. Here the supermarkets are huge, and require a lot of walking around. Also because the area she lives in doesn’t have a lot of gringos, and she is very pretty and both light-eyed and light-haired, she gets the major fisheye everywhere she goes.

I was comparing her experiences food shopping to mine, and came to the conclusion that the main factor that makes her stare-worthy is not that she looks like a gringa. I too, do not pass for Chilean most of the time. The issue is one of familiarity. Because of where I live, in part of downtown with cobblestoned streets and old, old buildings, and little tiny minishops, one with fruit and veggies, one with bread and empanadas, another kind of a drygoods shop, another drygoods plus meat, all the stores are family-run. At most they have two or three employees, and these same people see me every day, or every other day as I hop in to buy some grapes, some olives and today a little tray of cut up veggies which I was planning on stirfrying but ended up eating most of raw with my lunch.

Later I’ll bring the returnable 1.5 liter bottle back to “my” other minimarket and get another dose of diet coke (terrible vice, I know). They’ll try to sell me on the Chilean avocadoes, which are delicious, but much harder to peel than Haas. They know me well enough to not give me a bag, to ask how work is going.

One of the many things I love about living in this neighborhood is how much of a neighborhood it is. People are a little nosy, and I’m not sure the guy living on the bench in front of the building isn’t tipping someone off to certain dwellers’ comings and goings, but it’s just a nice place to live. People know me, are accustomed to me, don’t act surprised when I come in and gab about the weather and ask them to please cut the hardened end off the cheese before slicing some for me.

But the best thing about the neighborhood and the local stores in it is that today while I was buying my little tray of cutup vegetables I decided to buy a knot of ginger to tasty-up my lunchtime treat. And the lady at my local veggie shop, with whom I’ve spoken at length about bags and several other environmental issues just tossed it in my backpack for free. La yapa, she said, the Chilean word for a freebie added on to something you just bought. And I looked at her and I said, “oye, gracias, me enchulaste el almuerzo.” (hey thanks, you just pimped (as in dressed up) my lunch.) It’s not the free ginger I value (though it will be tasty). It’s that she accepts my presence without batting an eye, as if I belonged here. Which is the best yapa of them all.