Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Buying Pineapple

It’s hard to buy everything you need when you live in a rural area. You’d think you could at least buy a pineapple, though. We have no shortage of pineapple—at 7.2 bushes per square meter and about half a year to grow a pineapple, I estimate we produce nearly a billion pineapples a year. So what happens when I set out to buy one?


Stores don’t carry pineapple. The local general stores, called “pulperías,” specialize in staples and shelf-stable goods. The closest you’ll get to fruit is a handful of onions and potatoes. So I take the other approach: I visit pineapple a pineapple farmer on Thursday, when they harvest in preparation for the weekend farmers’ markets. I ask if they’ll sell me a pineapple. Sell? They give me two. Despite numerous attempts, I cannot buy a pineapple. Nor am I able to receive only one—I’m always given two.


When I put on my economist hat, I don’t think of a gift as simply a gift. Even if it’s given with no expectation of returned favors, it’s still a symbolically significant transaction, and it forms part of a non-financial economy. I’m not sure why pineapple is treated this way; is it because they expect I’d steal it from the fields? Is it to avoid looking stingy? And is it equally strange of me to prefer buying a pineapple than constantly asking favors?


Maybe next time I’ll buy a thousand pineapples at once. Then I will pay—about 20 cents each!

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