When you don’t know where to shop

We’ve just had one of those moments where we are painfully aware we’re not in our home country, despite all the trappings of modernity that resemble the U.S. We’ve been driving for a day and it’s abundantly clear that we’re going to need a microUSB charger for the car if we want to have any hope of keeping the phone alive and navigating on this continent. Great, we just need to pick one up from the store. But the question is what store?

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Spoiler: it’s here, for those of you just on this page looking to buy a phone charger.

Back in the U.S., we’d just search for the nearest Target or Walmart, but here in New Zealand, neither of these big box chain stores exists. Likewise for electronics stores; a search on Google maps for Radioshack turns up nothing. Alright, it looks like Google Maps isn’t going to be particularly helpful. We could try searching online for the name of a big box store chain here in New Zealand, but that could lead us down a rabbit-hole of all the possible stores in New Zealand. And the phone battery is already dangerously low.

We resort to some simple logic. Where are big box stores normally found in the States? Strip malls and suburban areas, alongside supermarkets. So we search for PaknSave, the only supermarket chain we know here in New Zealand, and get a lead. Ten minutes later we’ve located the PaknSave and a few monstrous parking lots down, there’s a massive store called The Warehouse. It turns out to be the functional equivalent of a Walmart, complete with bargain basement prices on everything from USB cables to cheap fleece blankets. We buy our charger, a blanket for picnics, and as a splurge buy a $11 boogie board for the beach. We’ll have to shed these things when we leave our car camping behind, but hey, for now they’ll be fun. Three hours later and about $20 NZD poorer, we’ve got our phone charger and a few other things we don’t need. And we know where to get more if we want it.

This is all a reminder of how much innate knowledge we take for granted in our daily lives, from where to buy things to how the world around us works. We were in “easy mode” here, since at worst we could have used English to ask people for directions, though that would have taken more time. But what if we were in a country where we didn’t know the language, and what about all of the foreigners still learning English that visit the U.S.? When people ask simple questions like where to shop, there’s an easy tendency to say “That place, duh. How could you not know?” But we’re all only one country away from not knowing the answer.

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