Expat Shopping: Look What You Can Buy!

by Miss Footloose

Are you an expat shopaholic? Me, not so much. Unless I find myself in unfamiliar and exotic places, and then I love discovering the kind of funky things for sale I would never find in the shopping emporiums of America or my native Holland. You want to see what I mean? Okay, but be warned! This is a post about poison, juju, magic potions, drugs, sex, and worms.


A jar of pickled hemlock! I bought it in ARMENIA, where it was sitting happily on a grocery store shelf, looking all innocent. How could I possibly pass this up? No, I didn’t eat it lest I perish like Socrates, but I had fun looking at it.

When I lived in GHANA, I once went shopping with friends in the juju market in Accra, the capital. The place is not easy to find, hidden away down wandering tiny alleys in the center of town. One of my friends was looking to buy a couple of live chameleons (don’t ask). Most of the things for sale however were dead: Dried lizards, animal bones and skulls. All manner of mysterious items were on display — talismans, juju dolls, porcupine quills, dried herbs, thunder stones.

The gods had conspired against me and I had forgotten my camera, so I’m offering up a photo by Dan Sloan taken of a juju stall in the huge Voodoo fetish market in Lomé, just over the border in Togo. Tempted as I was, I did not buy any of the items on offer. Sadly, I couldn’t find anything that fit my decorating style and color scheme. And needless to say, one must consider the importance of creating good feng shui. You know what I mean.

Have you ever eaten fried or stewed mopani worms? I once spent a few days in ZIMBABWE, accompanying my man on a business trip. While he labored away, I spent a day in search of these worms, which are actually caterpillars.

Photo by Johann du Preeze | CC

Very pretty don’t you agree? They are high in protein, and a delicacy in this part of Africa. I was eager to try this gourmet delight, if only so I could brag about it.

My research told me these critters were (are) for sale fresh as well as in dried form, and for those local devotees away in alien climes they’re offered for sale online. I called a number of restaurants to see where we might dine on mopani worms that night, but unfortunately my quest was unsuccessful. and I ended up eating crocodile instead. It occurs to me as I write this that I could go online and order a package. Then again, I’m busy. I live in France now and I’m toiling away at the project of trying every one of their 365 cheeses.

While domiciling in INDONESIA I often saw women vendors in the street selling bottles of jamu, traditional herbal medicinal drinks. They’re made from roots, seeds, leaves and fruit, as well as spices such as ginger and turmeric. Each recipe is unique and passed on from mother to daughter.

Photo by Katja Dutka, used by permission

Jamu is also industrially produced, much of it in dried form. The packages have interesting and colorful covers and I actually had a small collection of them to give away as fun presents to friends at home. They look rather decorative on a bathroom shelf next to the sober bottles of Prozac. These natural tonics and pills offer remedies for all manner of ailments and conditions – for slimming, for stomach pain, for feminine odor ‘down there.’ There’s jamu for men to improve vitality and passion, and pills for women for ‘enhancing and tightening the breasts.’ After all, ‘It is not perfect to have a beautiful posture and pretty face without the complementary exciting breasts.’ So there you have it.

And I found this one day, free for the picking–just weed(s) growing by the side of the road in Chișinău, MOLDOVA, where I lived for some time not long ago.

I’d strolled by this lively patch numerous times without ever noticing these shapely leaves until a friend pointed them out to me. Which reminds me of a time in my more clueless younger years when friends in the US showed me and my prince their clothes closet which had a plant growing in it under a lamp. A plant in a closet? Under a lamp? “What is this?” I asked, me the innocent.

Mannequin for sale! Just right for your hallway to impress all your visitors. This doll was looking for a loving home at an antique market in the south of FRANCE, where, as I said, I now live.

I was so impressed by this fabulous femme, just standing there in all her (almost) naked glory–she, not worried at all about the innocent little French kids walking by and morally corrupting them for life. Just think of her on display in a flea market in the United States, say in Alabama.

I’m thinking it’s time to close this up.

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Tell me about your shopping adventures, what funky things have you (not) bought in your expat life?


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So much fun! Thanks for this. Are you, by any chance, in Pezenas? (I am looking for poets & writers’ groups/activities in that area.)


I remember some Zimbabweans trying to get to me by telling me that they ate insects – I calmly told them that where I come from in the US we eat raw oysters and clams. They were appalled! I find I mostly shop in grocery stores for souvenirs and gifts – lots of coffee beans and olive oil, and in Haiti they have terrific peanut butter with red pepper in it. Yum!

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