All I want is a scone, please

Who knew that buying bread could be so difficult. Three bakeries, three very different processes.

Over the past month, we’ve grown accustomed to and grown to love our weekly farmer’s market. Fresh vegetables, fish, meat, flowers and fresh baked bread and treats. Basic Portuguese is required. You’ve got to know your numbers and you’ve got to know the currency. But the bakeries: we’ve experienced the orderly, take a number system process, the free-for-all scrum and the hybrid.

Exhibit A: The orderly one: our normal bakery. It’s busy. It’s chaotic. It’s large. It’s well staffed. And, most importantly, it’s organized. Take a number, listen carefully and observe and be ready when it’s your turn and it works. Like clockwork, it works.

Exhibit B: The Hybrid. Last Saturday, we visited a small bakery with baked treats for breakfast. There was a queue. It was long, but it was working, until… Until they outsmarted themselves and put out their number taking device. “Do we need to take a number if we’re already in line?” one man asked (or we think that’s what he said). “No”, she replied (that part was clear). So stand we all did, in an orderly fashion, awaiting our turn, until…. An elderly man, freshly shaven, wearing a smart cap and scarf ripped his number, we’ll call it onze (eleven), just for fun, and marched to the front of the line. Chaos ensued. There was barking. There was complaining. There was protesting. What was an orderly crowd of Portuguese patiently waiting their turn converted into a frantic melee. To the credit of the staff, they ignored Onze as he rigidly held his place, clutching his number in feigned ignorance of his dastardly deed until it was his proper turn. It’s not like he didn’t recognize what he’d done. He knew just what he was doing as he marched forward to the ticket dispenser and selfishly and thieveshly ripped his ticket from the kiosk and cut the line.

Exhibit C: Chaos on Christmas Eve. On a special market day, we tried a new place. After buying bread at our usual place (The Orderly One) and scouting out The Hybrid, we decided to try a new one for our Christmas Day sweets. No process. No queue. No signage. No clear evidence the staff were paying attention to who’d been there for how long. Full chaos. We arrived, quickly assessed that we were about third or fourth in line and took our rightful place.

But before continuing, we must flash back to our arrival at the mercado. We’d been walking down, dragging our little bagged cart down to the market like we do, when we were abruptly cut off by a late middle-aged woman from our neighborhood (for the record, we’ve never seen her before, so this is based on from where she was walking), to cross an intersection. Literally sprinting across the intersection, she resumed her near-snails pace, setting a complete pick to prevent passage on the sidewalk until the next intersection when a spurt of energy struck and she sprinted before us on a “don’t walk” red man. “Let’s wait her out,” I said, “we’ll catch her before we get to the stairs.” The stairs being the ones leading down to the market. We waited for the “walk sign” green man and like some kind of psychic, we caught her at the top of the stairs so we could follow her glacierly slide down the steps to the entry of the mercado.

Back to Bakery C, the chaotic one. I was second for sure, or thought I was because I thought the two Portuguese people to my right were together (they weren’t), when the bakery clerk came to me. Motion to my right, I did, trying not to disrupt the order of things (which, for the record had been massively disrupted by three or four patrons before this moment), to the couple who weren’t a couple when at my back I feel the presence of something ominous. Turn to my left, and it was her! Ms. Snail. Ms. Glacier. Butting her way in front of the couple who’s not, a few other butters-in and little ole me. She started her long, complicated order and a new melee ensued to my right. Protest. Cries of foul. Complaints a yellow card should be issued. But like an experienced ref, the cries were ignored and no such card was issued. Desculpe (I’m sorry) the Snail says vehemently. She saw no sign, had no idea. Sure you didn’t, Snail. Sure. She knew exactly what she did.

So is this Snail or Onze’s fault? Sadly, no. Bakeries B and C, here’s the lesson: have a system, and follow it and everyone will behave.

In the end we got what we pointed to (which were delicious even if we don’t know what they’re called or how to say it) and have continued to learn our lessons for handling the market. And, we can’t wait to go back next week.


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