We’ve got company coming – it’s time to buy some food. (Didn’t we just go grocery shopping a month ago? My goodness, these chores are relentless.) Off to the store!
We trundled the cart up and down the aisle, restocking cookies and corn, pasta and peppers, while the girls tested how far they could slide on the tile floors without hitting anybody.
Erik stopped short and started cursing.
He looked at his watch and swore again. “It’s after twelve o’clock. And today is Wednesday.”
I swore, too. Because everyone knows you can’t buy alcohol after noon on a Wednesday in New Caledonia. Or after noon on Friday, Saturday or public holidays. Or the day before or after public holidays. But, good news! Monday, Tuesday and Thursday? No problem. Get your drink on. And as for Sunday? Well, my friend. You aren’t just out of luck for alcohol on Sunday. You’re out of luck on everything. The whole city is closed.
I’m not a stranger to restrictive shopping rules. In Germany, we had to get everything bought by eleven a.m. on Saturday, or go hungry for the rest of the weekend. Even in Ontario – part of the North American 24-Hour Consumer Paradise – we didn’t have Sunday shopping until I was in high school. But – and it is a big but – little stores were allowed to open on Sunday. If you were in a pinch, there was always a convenience store open nearby. And, open stores or closed, you still saw people on the street.
Not so in Noumea. A few Sundays ago, the girls were playing at on a friend’s boat. Erik and I decided to dinghy around to the marinas in the area and look at boats. (Looking at boats – it’s what boat people do.) We looked at boats, tied up to the deserted dinghy dock, and tromped up past the closed office.
It was that time in the afternoon when a young man’s fancy turns to cake. “Let’s go get a coffee,” said Erik.
Hot dog! I thought. A civilized coffee in a cafe, where any kids going bananas are Not My Problem. “There’s a cafe over there,” I said. We walked over. Closed. The next one, closed. We were alone on the sidewalk. We walked further and further into the ghost town, but no one was in sight, and every business had its grim metal curtain down. No coffee for you, they announced. So much for playing carefree grown-up for half an hour. (Never have I so missed the coffee vendors in Cartagena, who wander the streets with massive thermoses of super-sweet tinto as hot as lava. Twenty cents would get you a thimbleful in a tiny plastic cup. Hot caffeine was never far away.)
So I shouldn’t have been surprised by the odd liquor laws when we encountered them. (Again – Ontario, where you still have to buy your beer at a government-run operation called: The Beer Store.) And it’s no one’s fault but our own that we only seem to make it to the store on Wednesday or Friday afternoon. But is it so much to ask to have something in the cupboard to offer guests beyond Carrefour store-brand apple juice?
We shrugged in that what-can-you-do kind of way that we have perfected, finished our shopping and took it back to the boat.
And Erik woke up bright and early on Thursday morning to make a liquor run.