Italian Parsley or Cilantro

by Vincent Borgese

So there he was, faced with a dilemma millions of supermarket shoppers face every day: Do I choose the checkout line to the left, or the other two registers down to the right. The right had two more people in line, but the left had a woman with produce items that had to be weighed. Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” popped into his head, and out came: Two checkout aisles diverged in the store, and I — I took the one less traveled. Done! A smile came to his face as he chose the line to his left, and that will make all the difference, he thought.

No one wants to be a checkout person. You don’t dream of it as a kid, or school yourself in the fine art of scanning. You do that job because: (a) you need the money, (b) it offers flexible hours, and (c) it’s available — end of story. So why anyone would want to give a hardworking soul like his cashier a hard time was beyond him. But there she was berating this poor woman who checked her Italian parsley as cilantro.

“It’s parsley!” the woman shouted. I’ve been cooking my entire life, you don’t think I know the difference,” again, raising her voice to the cashier. “Is there a difference in price?” she asked.

“Yes mam,” the cashier replied politely, “the cilantro is nine cents more.”

“It’s Italian parsley, dammit! Call the manager.”

Calmly and assuredly, the cashier picked up the phone and paged the manager. Twelve years I’ve worked this store, and once or twice a year I get one of these locos, she thought. I’m Mexican, and I know cilantro when I see it and smell it, bitch! Oh, how she would love to tell her that. But she needed the money. A sick husband and caring for her granddaughter forced her to remain silent. Parsley my ass, she thought.

“Hi Rosa, how can I help?” asked the manager, making sure he avoided words like problem or dispute as he was taught in training.

“Yeah, Rick, we’re having a problem with ………”

“I’m not having any problem,” the customer blurted. “This one’s having a problem distinguishing between parsley and cilantro.”

For nine cents, it’s not worth the hassle, he thought. “Rosa, check it as parsley. Sorry mam, we should have had it marked, and I’m sorry for any inconvenience.”

There are times you just have to step up and do the right thing, whatever the cost. In this case, six minutes out of his life, and getting a Netflix DVD out in that day’s mail. A small price to pay for supermarket justice.

“Excuse me, Rick,” he said as he made his way forward on line. “I may be able to help. I had an Italian restaurant for 17 years (actually, he ate at that restaurant for 17 years till his office relocated), and I think I will be able to tell the difference.”

Before the manager could respond, he grabbed the cilantro in his right hand, placed it under his nose, and breathed in as if it were a bouquet of roses.

“I’m getting the warm smell of fajitas, and the happy sounds of mariachis. It’s cilantro, alright. Plus, you dropped this when you put it on the counter, mam.”

All eyes focused on the metal twist-tie usually found on bunched items like parsley and cilantro. A little wet, with the o slightly bent was the word cilantro. There was no dancing in the aisles, but the sense of relief between the cashier and manager was palpable.

“Forget it,” said the customer, “I’ll use the dried parsley I have home.”

Life is full of little battles, he thought, as he retook his place in line.