Today’s Art of Manliness assignment was to talk to 3 strangers, which I was very not excited about.  A week ago I had a conversation with a stranger who just talked about how he hates Snoop Dog and the “gangster thug” people.  Was I to be like that guy?

I thought hard about how to execute this task.  I thought about talking to a waiter/waitress about what they’d like me to eat, asking random dudes at the gym to teach me their exercises, or going to Michael’s to find a congenial old lady who would teach me something about crafts…

In the end, I went to Superior market, where a lot of Latinos purchase their groceries.  There I would be perfectly justified in being ignorant about Spanish-named things, and asking people what I should buy.  Brilliant!

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Stranger lady #1 and Candy.

At the candy section, I found a coconut candy, which I’ve never had.  It was perfect for asking somebody whether it’s tasty or not.  Being more scared than I should have been, I stood there looking unusually fascinated by this coconut candy, as I remained silent while a couple families passed by.  Then I decided that I needed to stop examining this candy and just ask the next person that walked by.

So came this Latina Stranger Lady #1 and I asked her what this was (although it says coconut candy in English).  She said it’s coconut candy, which is good, but too sweet.  Desperate to continue the conversation, then I simply repeated, “So it’s good.  But it’s too sweet.”  Somehow I fail at carrying on a simple conversation, and I end up making her believe that I’m in a strange situation of wanting to buy unfamiliar Mexican candy for my little nephew, whose preferences are completely unknown to me.

The stranger recommended Cucharas, Mini obleas, and de la Rosa Marzipan.  I thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief as she walked away.

 

Stranger Lady #2.1-2.3 and Beans.

At the produce section, bulk pinto beans were selling for $0.99/2 lbs, but packaged “Springfield” brand pinto beans were selling for $2.69/2 lbs.  So I asked Stranger Lady #2.1 if these two beans are somehow different beans.  She actually didn’t answer my question, but instead talked about how these beans are cheap and that she always gets them.

Then Stranger Lady #2.2 appears, pointing to the beans and talking to me in Spanish, from which I only heard, “…something something something (pointing to the bulk beans) bueno something something…”  So I tried to confirm in English that the bulk beans were better beans, to which the Stranger Lady #2.2 responded with more Spanish.

Thankfully, Stranger Lady #2.3 materialized randomly and translated that the packaged beans are older and darker, whereas these bulk beans are newer and lighter.  So the cheaper beans were better beans!

 

Stranger Lady #3 and Pork Rinds.

At the meat section, I approached Stranger Lady #3 with a bag of pork rinds and asked her what it was (I knew perfectly what it was).  She explained it’s fried pork skin, and that it’s really good.  She seemed genuinely passionate about pork rinds, explaining how it’s really good and that I should get the ones that are fresh and crunchy rather than ones that are old and soft.  So I asked her if I should buy it, and she very enthusiastically said yes, and mentioned once more that it’s really good.

 

Extra Credit:  Stranger Man #1 and #2.

While waiting in line for checkout, there is inevitably awkward silence among strangers.  In the spirit of adventure, I felt the need to verbally engage more strangers today.  Stranger Man #1 was an expressionless man in line, who smiled when I got him to teach me how to pronounce Marzipan and Chicarrons.  Stranger Man #2 was an unfriendly cashier, who became a kindred spirit as I complimented the credit card swipe machine’s full-color display (as opposed to an ugly green-black display).

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Today I learned that talking to strangers is scarier than is logically, and that you can learn about Mexican candy, bean quality, and pork rinds by overcoming that fear.  Moreover, the luxury of superfluous communication can put a smile on a straight face and make the world a better place.

Simeon Koh

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