Saturday, May 22, 2010

The case of the hot toilet paper/Going to the feria in Santiago

Toilet paper, tp, papel higiénico, confort, we all use it.

The nurse will see you now

And when the tp runs out, or starts to run low, we think to ourselves "I must go down to the shops and pick up some more." What? you don't? Maybe you say, "Uh-oh, supermarket run a necessity, down to the last roll." Or maybe you belong to one of those clubs, like Sam's or BJs that involve pallets of toilet paper fighting for space with flats of ketchup in your vast expansive basement.

Not so here in Chilito. Here we don't tend to buy in massive amounts first of all because the store owners have not yet figured out incentive pricing whereupon buying 4X the amount of something does not actually cost 4X the unit price (to wit: if a regular sized can of tuna costs 800 pesos, a double size one costs 1650. I don't know why, maybe you're paying for the glory of the larger can. I buy the smaller cans because a) I prefer not to spend more money and b) who can eat a giant can of tuna at one sitting, and that stuff smells if you leave it in the fridge). So there is no bargain to buying giant quantities of things. The second problem is where you'd put giant, industrial qualities of TP. Under the bed? My under-the bed is just a few inches high, it would fit those handy packs of kleenex, but the cardboard cylinder covered in fluffy white tp wouldn't fit. Plus it would get dirty, because I'm not so good with the under-the-furniture cleaning sometimes.

So I found myself in need of this essential the other day, and was dreading going to the supermarket. I pretty much only buy milk, sliced bread, cleaning supplies and yogurt at the supermarket, preferring the feria or farmer's/outdoor market for most other things. I also really like my local verdulería (put that on the list of my hard words, means fruit and veg shop) to pick up things mid week including goat cheese which everyone is paranoid about now that there was an outbreak of some bacteria (listeria) a couple of years ago, but I figure so long as I buy it from the same person who buys it from the same supplier from the same farm and I haven't died yet, I should be in good shape. Thanks goats!

Back to the TP.

I happened to be at the local feria a couple of days ago, which for me is on Libertad, a street which means freedom, and there is a spillover (nonsanctioned) feria of people selling pretty much anything you could think of, and many things you could not, which I suppose is pretty freedom-inspiring. They're said to "colar" which literally means strain, but in this case it's from the use of the word that means cut in line, or sort of be a hanger-on to something you're not really part of. Anyway, so freedom. Or if I'm mistaken, the feria is actually on Esperanza, a street which means hope, and you will forgive me if I can't seem to distinguish between hope and freedom. I'm nothing if not language-impacted.

So there I was at the feria, my feria, full of hope and freedom, when I saw a man standing in the middle of the street selling comfort! (I mean confort, which is the Chilean word for TP, much like the American word for sticking plasters is BandAid. (or what are these called, if not bandaids?)). And I needed some. So I asked him how much a 4-pack was, even though I tend to prefer the brand the brand Elite. I was just thinking about how by cleverly buying tp at the feria, I could avoid the dreaded Santa Isabel shuffle (two steps towards the cash register, yellow light starts flashing, wait for manager to come with key, wait, shuffle two steps forward, and repeat, and no I do not want a bag, hey, bagger kid, with your lip ring, unfortunate haircut and pocket full of change, please look at me, because I am telling you that I do not want a bag, or twelve.

And so I asked about the TP, and he answered, and I pulled out a bill that was much bigger than what he'd asked for, and he abandoned his post with his tower of confort to ask the ferianos (people who sell at the feria) for change. And he skittered from person to person, asking for change, and weaving and bobbing and gesticulating in a way that only the very nervous do, and as I stood there, I realized something.

I was about to buy something stolen. And you, dear reader, you may be a better person than I, you might have told this stolen tp reseller, this man who makes a living by selling stuff he (or a friend) steals, and who ran all over hither and yon to make the change to give me cash to sell his ill-gotten toilet paper, you might have told him to take his stolen toilet paper and stick it where the sun don't shine (how fitting). But not me. I was so embarassed by my stupidity that I just stood there and waited for him to count out my change and pop the four-pack into my waiting bag. And more and more people came up to buy from him, and soon his tower was just a little building, and later just a tiny one-bedroom house, and then it was gone, and he was a bunch richer, and we all had tp and could not go to the supermarket to buy it and I am a criminal, and I don't even like the brand of tp I bought.

And every time I go to the bathroom I think about this story, and now I am sharing it with you so you can consider ways in which you've participated in the informal economy here in Chile or elsewhere, and how it was the wrong thing to do but you were so caught up in the moment that you didn't figure out that what you were doing was wrong until it was too far gone and making a scene would have made you a big jerk. For what it's worth, I don't buy pirated movies, but that's mainly because a) I don't watch movies and b) because everyone else I know does buy them, and so they lend them to me.

Want to go to a feria and buy some cheap veggies or reducido (fenced) tp? Here's a giant list, by comuna, with a shout out to Pepe of Joe's Kitchen for having this website easily on hand when my bookmarks would just not be organized.

(photo bearshapedsphere, and this is a legitimate business, with a licence and everything, and not the one from which I bought the aforementioned item, though it is from the feria in question, and the item behind the sign that says 1500 is an 8-pack of Confort, not my brand of choice, if you didn't catch that part)

And if you've got more TP running through your brain than you though possible, go check out Margaret's post on BYOTP and consider yourself warned!


Bystander said...

Hot toilet paper sounds very nice actually. Especially on this winter day. I was hoping for a tip on a new product. Oh well. Can you microwave toilet paper, do you know?
As for the other kind of hot, we once bought back our own stolen hubcaps in Perú. Does that count?

Unknown said...

You capture the Santa Isabel shuffle so well... The ones in Vina are just as hellish. Feria any day!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, bigger sizes tend to cost more proportionally here too. It annoys me, since we're a family of 5 and I am trying to avoid extra packaging, etc, and be ecologically conscious while keeping the budget down.
Hot toilet paper? That is so awesome! I don't think I've ever purchased stolen TP. You wild woman, you!

The Refined Hedonist said...

Ha ha ha, my boyfriend always shakes his head at the lack of sense involved in charging more for the same amount in a larger container. Without fail, he always asks me, "Do Chileans think other Chileans can't do math in their heads?" People seem to know what's what though. We purchased a wood burning stove recently and my Cousin told me to check out prices elsewhere as the place I was going to buy was claiming they had a sale going on. It turns out it was about $500 pesos cheaper. I told my cousin it was the Chilean Discount and he nodded sagely and said, "Same price everywhere then."

I did buy pirate DVDs when we first got to Chile. We had no internet or Satellite and were going a little squirrely. These days, I prefer to just download them illegally. Watched both seasons of True Blood that way :D Good way to find eBooks as well. Yes, am probably going to hell, but for a variety of other reasons. Illegal downloads are just paving the road for a smoother ride.

Audrey said...

I have to admit that when I first saw "hot toilet paper" in the title I was imagining menthol tissues used as toilet paper. Shows where my brain is...

Haven't come across the issue of whether to buy toilet paper in the informal economy, but we do buy pirated DVDs on the street for major Hollywood movies. However, if it's an indie movie or band then we'll try and go legit since we know they really need the money. So much of the world is made up of an informal economy.

Still Life in Southeast Asia said...

I was wondering how you realized it was stolen--because he only had a small pile or because he was so willing to make change?

I agree that, at that point, there was no turning back.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering how a mountain of TP ended up at the feria, although weirder things have happened. Currently, we have 12 rolls of the stuff in the bathroom, on the floor, just chilling becuase my boyfriend hates to buy it and thought it would be nice if we could just stock up. Yeh. Nice. Apparently kicking it around to dry his hair or put on makeup does not bother him.

Lindsay said...

You need to better distinguish between illegal and informal. They are not interchangeable. Much of the goods sold are not stolen, although the operation of the business is technically illegal because it is too costly or time consuming to get bureaucratic approval. Furthermore one of the definitions of the informal economy is that there are no safety standards, minimum wage, etc. The formal economy benefits from this-particularly in food service and construction. Just some things to keep in mind! Great blog!

Eileen said...

Hmm, illegal vs. informal. It is true that there is a difference, and perhaps I was echandolos todos al mismo saco (saying they were all the same). I had strong suspicions that these goods were stolen judging by the spooked way this guy was running around, buy the bargain basement price and the fact that none of the ferianos seemed to want to deal with him.

But you are right that a ton of informal stuff happens regarding crafts, hare krishna bread, people who colar to sell clothes etc, which are technically against the law because you have to have a business license to sell anything, but whose goods are not generally stolen. However, if you think that just because something is informal but not illegal because it is not stolen, maybe we should consider the case of the foru women with their supermarket carts full of kabobs that came careening down the street the other day near the Museo Precolombino, running from the cops (who also later materialized). I don't think the women were running because the meat was stolen, though how this could be determined once it's cut into cubes and roasted on a stick is anyone's guess. I'm guessing they were running because this informal activity is also illegal.

Thanks for commenting, Lindsay, and thanks for more food for thought!

Unknown said...

I thought certainly, based on the title of this blog, that someone else had made the same mistake I did while visiting Santiago. Thought I was pretty street-smart, carrying that small packet of 'Elite' tissue with me - until I realized I had purchased a variety that was MENTHOLATED. Lovely for a stuffy nose, not so on other parts of the anatomy. It's a whole new category of TP Fail!

Eileen said...

Anne, you totally win. OWIE. I wonder what the watermelon scented ones would do? And who wants scented tissues anyway? was unscented tissuing so boring? I never had a problem with it.