Monday, 3 August 2009

Strawberry fields...never again.

Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to Strawberry Fields…..

(The Beatles, Strawberry Fields Forever)

My mother had a dream since she first came to visit us in the UK.

She has a few, and this was quite a modest one, really. And it is shocking it took me this long to finally make it come true. All she was asking is to be taken to the strawberry fields. Or, to be precise, Pick Your Own field.

Unfortunately for me, there is one of those places not far from here, and now that my daughter is big enough to enjoy the experience, I could not find any more excuses not to go.

We don’t have Pick Your Own fields in Baku. I did not know what the rules were or what to expect. I took a small bucket along, (just in case) but left it in the car, not to appear like I have just come down from a village up in the mountains, so to speak.

I drove down a narrow lane right to a small caravan with everything clearly marked all over it. Of course, I did not need to bring my own bucket. I was given a couple of small plastic punnets and directed where to go.

-Raspberries: further down on your right, blackberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants are to your left-explained a young and boisterous blond saleswoman.

-There are no more strawberries left though- she added.

I heard my mother sigh behind me.

We moved along endless rows of berry bushes, my child in charge of the punnets. I wonder how many get eaten?- I thought, plucking the fattest, juiciest blackberry and sending it straight into my mouth.

Having filled one punnet, we started walking towards the raspberries.

-Oh, - my mother exclaimed excitedly, bending down in an empty and abandoned looking patch- there are a couple of strawberries left! As she stood there, picking them up and showing them to my toddler, I heard the cheerful saleswoman shout something out across the fields.

She was far enough for me to have mistaken her crocked smile for friendly. I honestly did not see it coming. I did not realize we were doing anything wrong, to be honest.

So I shouted my 'excuse me?' back in a friendly fashion.

-You are supposed to pay for the fruit before you eat it! - She repeated with a sneer, as she kept walking away quickly ( in case I was brave enough to fight her, I guess).

I could not believe it. I felt like a little girl caught stealing. Oh, how I hate being told off!

My mother and I retreated to the heights of the raspberry bushes where we slowly simmered down, getting over the humiliation.

-They are all eating it!- my mother hissed angrily, as we walked past an old Englishman. Leaning on his walking stick, he was casually stuffing his wrinkly face with raspberries - It is because we are foreign! She felt comfortable telling us off!

Well- I said- they are all doing it- when nobody is looking! You, on the other hand, were bending down in the middle of the open strawberry patch, with no tall bushes around, your Azeri bottom sticking up in the air. It was pretty obvious what you were up to.

We laughed. Yet, our mood was dampened. As we walked back to pay the mean blond woman, I was going through millions of replies in my head. I thought I could offer to pay for the few berries we ate. I thought of suggesting they weighed customers before and after the visit. I thought I would ask her if she sincerely believed nobody else was eating any. Surely, in a business like this, one must have realistic expectations?

And if you think about it, they really did have a great business plan. Plant some bushes, and get these western consumers to do the hard work with their soft white hands. The consumers so bored with perfectly shaped berries, imported from Israel, beautifully packaged and perfectly preserved; that they would pay extra for the pleasure of getting their hands dirty. For the illusion of getting closer to the mother nature and locally farmed food.

I felt very foreign then. I felt humiliated. But I did not say anything to the woman. What could I say? She was right, and I was wrong.

My mother got to experience Pick Your Own, one dream can be ticked off. As for me,I decided M&S strawberries tasted a lot better after all.


  1. I thought of suggesting they weighed customers before and after the visit.

    This story was funny, but with a serious undertone. Lesson no 1, if you steal, don't do it the non-English way ;-) Secondly, plucking strawberries is serious business. We don't have something like this here, because pretty much everyone has a garden or a grandma with a garden.

    I feel bad for your mom, her dreams got shattered by that woman. I hope there's some other dreams that may come true for her. Keeping my fingers crossed.

  2. @MKL:

    Well, we do have gardens here too, but rarely bother growing anything in those. Some people have separate vegetable patch elsewhere. A very strange arrangement, in my opinion. But then again, I am not an agricultural type! :)

  3. I was so sorry to learn about the bad time that woman gave all of you.
    I hope next time will be better!

  4. Such a bummer, to ruin an outing like that.
    We went to one of those farms once. And the only other people there were the ex-Soviet immigrant babushka-dedushka types who were yelling across the field to each other "Monichka-a-a-a, get only the big apples". I didn't care for Monichka's and their desire for only the best apples. It was hot, dusty & boring, so we never did that again :)

  5. What a shame for your mum. I'm sure these pick your own farms factor in the few eaten along the way. I remember nearly making myself sick on pick your own strawberries when I was a girl. What a mean woman!

  6. Hey everybody eats the strwaberries. The theory is you get sick of them quite quickly, and at least the berries get picked. When I took my kids we agreed a sensible division of labout: they ate and I picked. Then when we got home, we all ate again.

    I think it's a bit much when Eastern Europeans come over and behave like Stalinist policemen.

  7. @varske: well it was us who were Eastern Europeans and she was English! I guess I did not make it clear, but hey...welcome to my blog. :)))

  8. LOL@varske, seems like you read the post very sloppy, hahaha... You got it all wrong, hehe...

  9. We, immigrants, are vulnerable and too sensitive. We all are. I personally take any unfriendly look, any hostility as manifestations of racism. I know that it is ridiculous, but I cn't help it. My jewish friend says that in Russia she couldn't help taking any criticism as antisemitism, because she felt kind of exposed there, but now she understands that she exaggerated many things. May be that yelling woman is just a mean person or she was in a bad mood. Anyway I would feel the same as your mom - HURT.

  10. Too bad about the cranky woman, but I hope you were able to get some enjoyment out of your day.

  11. Of course everyone eats the fruit whilst they are picking it, it would be ridiculous expecting the pickers and especially their children not to eat some, I'm sure they up the price per punnet knowing that people will eat them.

  12. That blond saleswoman may not last there long because the truth is "Client is always right" and a good businessman will do his/her best to keep customers happy. I feel the same way about those "pick your own" enterprizes, they charge us for actually doing their job, picking fruit and getting dirty and scratched. We went to an apple orchard once and I said "once is enough for me" yet have to admit, it was a fun family experience. And at supermarkets here we get to pick and choose as oppose to Baku where things are sometimes purposefully put on high shelves or behind a counter and one feels obliged asking salespeople a great favor. Great post, I loved it.

  13. Oh dear. I am showing my middle class British roots here, but I love PYO. Mind you a) I loved the in season produce at the markets back in Moscow more (my Mother once took photos of the bay leaf glut she was that awed) and b) good grief, of course you are supposed to eat yourself silly. Nasty woman.

  14. I don't know if it's a Britain/USA difference thing, but at the PYO farm near our house in Illinois, you are encouraged to eat as much as you can while you are out there!