I lived in Indonesia on the island of Bali for 30 years, where smiles flourish on any street, in restaurants, in supermarkets. Things are slower and more at ease in Bali. No one really sticks to hard and fast rules about anything. It’s ok if you do and ok if you don’t. Life seems to have a natural flow and the smiles are contagious. There is a natural ease in the air. No road rage.


Living in the USA has been an eye opener on many levels. Many people are polite, over polite, extra polite, over the top polite! ‘Have a nice day Mam! ‘ ‘How can I help you Mam?’ ‘Did you find everything you want Mam?’ ‘Let me see to that Mam?’


Yes it sounds fake but it’s wonderful and I love it because I do see that people go the extra mile in service and friendliness. Things are organized and orderly. Rules are abided by and the system works. Yet I am slowly learning one thing. Don’t cross over any line or you will be prosecuted.


Why? A couple of incidents at the local supermarket Ralph’s stood out.  A couple of times at the supermarket I was sent to hell. I could have committed a cardinal sin. I could have been a murderer. The way I was looked at and scrutinized made me feel I was going to be locked away forever.

What happened? What did I do that was so wrong?

Well maybe the Bali girl came out in me as on the first one I took a chance. There was a free (no people waiting)  checkout aisle so I went over to put my things on the conveyor to be priced yet I noticed it was the express lane. I thought ‘Ah only 10 items allowed’. I did a quick calculation of what was in my shopping cart and realised ..I said to myself ‘Well  I’ve got probably only 13 items.’ I looked around me. ‘Can I get away with this?’ I secretly thought. I decided yes as no one was behind me. I’ll make a dash for it.  So I started to offload my cart items towards the cashier. As I was doing that, a could feel a bully presence behind me and the there was this woman eyeing my cart who parked behind my trolley. She reminded me of a short overweight Kathy Bates in the film Misery. I admittingly and slightly guiltily said ‘Oh I’m sorry I might a a couple over the quota.’ She said with a gruff in her American nasal accent  ‘Looks like to me you have way over 15!’  I suddenly thought ‘Oh great it’s 15. She just upped my quota. I have definitely not more than 15. Im probably ok.’ Yet I wanted to make this woman behind me feel at ease so I started to count the items properly in my cart ‘ 18!’  I said as politely as I could ‘Oh I didn’t realise I had three over ( I thought I had three over 10 but not 15). Would you like to go before me Mam?’ She looked me up and down like I had just killed her dog and mouthed. “Don’t try to sweet talk me. I don’t know what school you went to but you didn’t learn how to count!” I started blushing. ” I am so sorry Mam, please go ahead of me.”  “No! No! NO! You have to live with your lies.”

Omg! I didn’t mean to offend her and I did my best to make the best of being a few items over but yet what struck me was the overall seriousness and meanness of her tone. I knew on some level I didn’t abide 100% by the supermarket rules but to look at me with such contempt? I swear I could have murdered her daughter with the look she gave me.


Now another supermarket incident happened just last week where I felt I didn’t commit any ‘cardinal supermarket sin’ but I was in the right aisle checking in my groceries very innocently. No one was behind me again. I started to move down the aisle and help the cashier pack my things. Then I realised for a second  she is starting to ring up items in that were not mine. I said ‘Excuse me Mam, but those coca-colas are not mine’. The cashier was very polite and said ‘Oh these must be yours Sir’ to the new man who had just came into the aisle. The new man all of a sudden flared up tall and looked at me, and said condemningly “You know.. You are meant to put up a barrier for the next client in line!” and he held up a plastic barrier as if he was shaking a baton at me. He shook his head in shame at me like I had just robbed a bank with a ‘Tsk Tsk…How dare you break a supermarket rule..Go to hell look.”


Again… same type of unhappy supermarket person or maybe I’m just crazy loose Bali chick that needs to ‘learn the rules’. All these things shock a free and easy Bali girl like me yet  I feel in a country where there is SO MANY RULES and so many RIGHT and WRONG limits, if one had never travelled outside the country and this society is a reality since birth, I do understand this kind of behaviour. It’s normal for people in a black and white society to confront anyone who is breaking their norms. I mean sometimes you have to jump out of the fishbowl to realise you are in a fishbowl. One thing is certain there is a difference between the East and West.

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