Debbie Eynon Finley
I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this, but I have found the lines at Carrefour, (Brazil’s version of Wal-mart) to be slow. Very, very slow, especially, compared to shopping in the US, unless you are shopping at the Albertson’s near my old house in Austin, Texas.

There is one advantage to shopping in Brazil though. They let the people with children, the elderly, and handicapped or Idiosos” skip to head of the line or go in a special line. My friend always makes sure to bring one of her toddlers shopping with her for this very reason. Since my husband and I have no children, and are in good health, I’ve been trying to get my eighty three year old Aunt Ruth to move in with us. Although in Brazil, her name would be pronounced “Hoochie”, which is her main reason for not wanting to come.

One day I was behind an elderly woman in line. She said that she was eighty, but, that when she first got in line she was only sixty, which is why she didn’t feel right about standing in the special line.

Even if only one or two people are in front of you at the Carrefour, it can take ages to check out. The cashier will usually need to do one if not several time consuming activities.

The price check. This buying hurdle occurs when an item isn’t priced. The price check requires the cashier to summons a store team member to roller skate over to their register. If the price checker can safely reach the cashier without having to field customer inquiries, and without knocking over merchandise or customers, the process moves to stage two.

Stage two is the committee meeting between the cashier, the price checker, and the non-priced item. If the two employees are about the same age, often in their early twenties, this may progress to stage three. Otherwise, the employees skip to stage five.

Stage three includes a personal conversation between the two employees about how long they have been working at Carrefour, and whether they like their job or think it sucks. If the two employees are of the opposite sex and or attracted to each other, this may develop into stage four. Otherwise, the employees skip to stage five.

Stage four is when the mutual attraction intensifies and flirting begins. Non-bogus phone numbers and e-mail addresses are often exchanged. They may even plan an upcoming date at the mall.

Stage five is when the price checker pulls out his compass and map of the store or Never Lost Satellite system, and ventures out to track down the price.

Stage six is when the price checker returns to the cashier with the price. Both employees separate until the next business or social encounter.

After a price check is completed, this raises other potential, time delaying issues. Does the customer still wish to purchase the item? For instance, do they still want the box of ice cream bars that have turned into a puddle?

During one of my price check torments, I was in line behind a couple who had just gotten the price for a six-pack of beer. The couple had a long discussion as to whether or not they would still like to buy the six-pack. Although I don’t understand much Portuguese, since communication is 70% non-verbal, I could fill in the blanks.

“That beer has gone up two reales! You don’t need it and it’s not in our food budget. And, why do you want to buy those chips? ”

“Because, I like them.”

“No, it’s because you want to snack in front of the TV at night, instead of listen to me talk about my day. We aren’t buying them.”

So, that price check wasted an hour of my life, an hour that I could have been watching The O.C. (Orange County). But, on a positive note, the price check for the six-pack of beer resulted in a date between the young cashier and price checker. I hear they’re expecting a baby and are engaged to married.

Another frustrating checkout obstacle is investigating customer’s money to see if it’s counterfeit. A sweet looking older woman was trying to pay for her groceries with about twelve various bills to make up about $60. reales or twenty US dollars. The cashier had to examine each bill front, back, sideways, and standing on one leg. Then the cashier’s version of a lie detector test, was to look her with both eyes like Hannibal the Barbarian. When the cashier’s findings were inconclusive, she repeated the process until it was time for her lunch break. Then, she took the woman’s cash and signed out of her register.

Another clog in the checkout process, is getting behind someone who is paying bills. Beware, that if there a short line with only a few people, it’s because the other customers have psychic capabilities and are avoiding that line at all costs. They can instinctively sniff out a shopper in line with bills to pay.

I got in line behind a woman who was not only paying her bills, she was also paying her sister’s and brother’s bills. She had seventeen siblings. I was so impressed by the sisterly love that she showed her family members that I asked to take her picture, (I keep a digital camera in my purse, since I still consider myself a tourist). We have it in our photo album next to a picture of President Lula, the president of Brazil (large South American country South of Florida).

Another hold up in line can be caused by getting behind a new foreigner or estrangero like myself who shopping at Carrefour for the first time. I had been in Brazil for three days when I decided to take my first shopping expedition. I managed to drive myself to the store without setting the clutch on fire (it only smoked a lot).

It was not until it was my turn in line that I learned that my fresh fruit and vegetables had to be weighed in the produce section. Then, it took me fifteen minutes to figure out if the cashier was asking me whether I wanted paper or plastic bags. That’s when I noticed that Carrefour only has plastic bags.

I didn’t know that I needed a pin to use my new Brazilian credit card. I did have a pin for my new debit card. But, I hadn’t figured out that when using a debit card at a store, you only enter 6 not 8 characters of your password. It was my next shopping trip that I learned they’d be asking additional questions in Portuguese that I couldn’t read. The machine requests the day, month, or year of your birthday. But, never all three. That way management feels that you’ll be less likely to expect a birthday present.

Now, my only option left was to pay with cash. I took out twenty various reale bills from my wallet, which had to be cleared as not being counterfeit. From the depths of my purse, I shoveled up and sorted through a fist full of Brazilian coins mixed with US coins from home, and Euros from our vacation last summer to Holland (small European country East of New York). Leaving behind a few of the higher priced impulse items, I managed to scrounge enough money to pay for my groceries and get through the line. It’s nice that Brazilians are so patient.

Copyright Debbie Eynon Finley 2005.

To read previous articles by Debbie click below:
Brazil Life: Amazon Encounter Lodge Vacation
Brazil Life: Keeping Track of My Purse

Debbie Eynon Finley has been living in Campinas, São Paulo with her husband and two dogs since November 2004. She is also a graphic artist and has a website, She can be contacted at
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