I went to my favorite grocery store a few days ago and was overwhelmed at all of the things I could buy, especially things that were hard to find in Bulgaria, such as hummus, granola, energy bars, guacamole, tortillas, bagels, unsalted chunky peanut butter... the list goes on. I didn't even look at the frozen foods section- I'll leave that for another day. And when I got to the checkout, the cashier was very, very friendly (no surprise there, but it took me a little while to respond to his cheerfulness). I'm so used to going to the grocery store, picking out what I need without thinking too hard about what's available, then paying for my items without so much as a head nod from the salesperson. Of course, the smaller "Mom and Pop" stores in Bulgaria are a different story; I had my regular places in Pleven where I was familiar with the staff and would occasionally have simple conversations in my (extremely limited) Bulgarian. But the feeling just isn't the same when it's not a language you feel comfortable with- I can't make a joke about the ridiculous weather we've been having or the fact that yes, I am purchasing two bottles of wine and no, I'm not going to a dinner party. Maybe I shouldn't make silly jokes anyway, but it lightens up the routine and reminds you that the other person also might be having a crappy day, or has a good sense of humor. Maybe it's a habit from working in customer service for so many years, and I know it's definitely a product of our culture of consumerism, but I have to admit that I enjoy the chit-chat that comes with good customer service. And it isn't nonexistent in Bulgaria, it's just an imported concept so you don't find it everywhere. Especially when you don't understand the language! So here's to friendly cashiers, Trader Joe's and two-buck Chuck. Nazdrave.