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In Which a Frozen Turtle Illustrates a Cultural Difference

May
2
2006

Sometimes living abroad is about meeting fascinating expats at glamorous embassy parties.
But sometimes living abroad is about having a dead turtle in your freezer.
This is a story about some friends of ours, who aren’t American but who’ve lived in the States, which I figure is good enough for a cautionary tale. They bought their son a turtle as a pet, a rather expensive turtle. Within a few days, this 100-euro turtle (that’s about $126 in wimpy greenbacks) died. Kicked the bucket. Permanently pulled into its shell, as they say in turtleland.
So the daddy friend went back to the store and said, “I just bought this turtle and now it’s dead.” (Doubtless, a tear formed at this point.) “I’d like my money back or a new turtle.”
To which the clerk replied, “How do I know you didn’t do something to the turtle?”

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Now this was an extremely clever clerk. Spain is no doubt full of scam artists pulling the old murder-the-turtle trick, just to rip off a store for a fresh new turtle every few days.
Our friend, who happens to be a chemist married to a biologist, protested that he hadn’t had the turtle long enough to harm it by not caring for it properly, that the turtle must have been sold with the seeds of its tragic end already planted.
The clerk was not sold on this idea, but after some back and forth, our friend got a concession. The store would contact the turtle supplier to see if it might be willing to do something for our friend. But in the meantime he must pop that turtle in his freezer, because no decision could be made without a turtle autopsy, to ensure that no foul play caused the death of the turtle.
And so there the turtle sits in our friends’ freezer, for the past three weeks and counting. In the meantime, they’ve told their five-year-old son that the turtle was sick but is back in the store recuperating before he returns. Further phone calls have been exchanged but there’s no word on the turtle autopsy or any other resolution yet.
The cultural difference, and regular big-box shoppers will know what I’m talking about, is that in the U.S. you can return almost anything, no questions asked. The stores must figure, quite rightly, that if you just keep people coming in regularly any losses on unsellable returns will be made up for with new sales.
Not to mention extra sales made on things shoppers meant to return but never got around to taking back. Can’t make up your mind? Don’t know the size? Just buy it all and return what you don’t want. Unless you forget to.
I’ve had my own dead pet returns in the States: a 32-cent goldfish that died the day I brought it home. So, unashamed to protest my loss of a quarter plus, I went back for a replacement; and unlike the large store where our friends’ turtle was bought, there were of course no questions asked – and I didn’t even have to show the corpse.
Another friend returned an opened pack of underwear one time – unworn, but still. I mention this because if you ever see an oddly sealed pack of underwear on the shelf, pass it up.
As for turtles, I’m afraid you’re on your own. I can’t tell you what a healthy one looks like. But you might want to study up on that one, before you move abroad.

Share  Posted by Deborah Klosky at 2:13 AM | Permalink

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