The Octopus Seller

I am in Siguatepeque, Honduras for a Spanish language intensive. I am at the midpoint of my 3 week stay. Classes are going well.

I walk to and from the school each weekday. I share a home with a widow and another student. Her house is an easy walk to the school, taking about 15-20 minutes to walk to and from the school.

Everyday I pass about 1/2 dozen small stores. They sell the kind of things one finds in convenience stores in the States: soft drinks, chips, over the counter medicines, toilet paper and other such stuff. In Central America, these small mom and pop stores are called pulperias.

Pulperia, by definition, means a place to buy octopus. No, you won’t find any octopus in these stores. How did that name become the de facto name for tiny one-room stores all over the region?

Some people say it’s because the owner needs to have eight arms working in all directions to find  items in the tight spaces of these small stores. I don’t think that’s where the name comes from.

In the nineteenth and twentieth century, the banana companies had a virtual monopoly as far as employment in these small countries. There were very little other work available to those seeking wages. If one didn’t work on a coffee plantation, the only other alternative was the fruit companies.

The reach of the United and Dole fruit companies cannot be underestimated. They controlled the economies of the small countries of Central America. The locals referred to their employer as The Octopus (El Pulpo in Spanish). The word octopus was used because the company had tentacles everywhere, much like an octopus. When workers received their wages,  it was in company script which could only be used in the company store.

So, the name Pulperia emerged. It was the store owned by El Pulpo, or the Octopus. Today, one can stop at any pulperia for everyday items.

Want a cold Coca-Cola? The pulperia always has them stocked.

Need a tablet or two of Alka Seltzer? They are on hand. And because this is Central America, a cold  drink and a dose of Alka Seltzer are often just the thing one needs.

 

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