“Do You Miss Not Working?”

In the past two weeks, I’ve bumped into several of my old patients.  When we pediatricians say “patients,” it doesn’t mean just the kids we cared for.  It means the whole family.   In order to be a happy pediatrician, you don’t just have to love children. You have to love their families too.  It is important to fully understand family dynamics in order to enjoy practicing pediatrics.

The question I am most often asked when I see people from the past is if I miss working.   It’s been more than six years now since I retired, and there’s never been a day that I wished that I could go back to work. I have been very happy staying busy with so many other projects that it is hard to imagine having to work at the same time.  Additionally, in a very practical way, I would have found it impossible to wear a mask the whole day.  It’s not just the problem of my glasses fogging up constantly.  If can’t totally see a person’s face, I would find it hard to communicate. 

I would hate having to wear a mask since my glasses get fogged up!

More importantly, the one thing that I do miss is the personal interaction with the babies.  I used to pride myself on being able to take a crying baby and get them to smile within a few seconds.  My staff used to call me “the baby whisperer.”  Interestingly, this never worked as well with my own children, but with my patients, I loved holding a baby in my arms, and magically, they would smile.

My favorite age of babies was from six months to a year.   This is when you would observe the early signs of alertness and interpersonal connection, and it was so gratifying to be able to tell the parents that their baby was developing normally.  Nowadays, the biggest fear among parents is that their child may be on the autism spectrum.   The incidence of developmental disorders seems to have increased over the span of my career (starting in the 1980s), and parents are relieved when I would reassure them at a very early age that everything appeared OK.  I loved seeing the look of relief on parents’ faces, especially first-time parents. Experienced pediatricians can spot developmental issues earlier than most people, and we are well aware of how very young babies normally focus on facial expressions such as smiling and eye contact.

In our practice, we offered new parents who had not yet chosen a pediatrician to come for a “newborn consult.”  These new parents were hungry for information and guidance, and became some of the most loyal and trusting patients.  The bonding that occurred from that initial visit and then continued after the baby’s birth is something that many parents recalled many years later at my retirement party. 

I was very fortunate to live in a very diverse community in South Florida.   There were some patients who were attracted to my practice because I spoke Spanish, but I loved the assortment of other ethnic groups that I would see on a daily basis.  There were families from many Spanish-speaking countries, but in my panel of patients, I had patients from India, China, Brazil, Finland, the Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam and Korea. 

Since the schedule of check-ups is heavily concentrated during the baby’s first year, I got to know the parents very well during those “well-visits.”  Many grandparents attended these visits along with the parents, so I would often become familiar with the extended family. 

An experienced pediatrician can do a complete check-up in a very short period of time, so the rest of the visit is left open for discussion about whatever concerns the parents may have had.  As the parents became less anxious and fell into a routine (especially after the babies started to sleep through the night after about six months), we had much more time to talk about other topics.  I was always interested in their native languages and their cultures, sometimes to the point that parents would invite me to visit their countries.

I was always interested in their cultures, sometimes to the point that the parents would invite me to visit their countries.

I used to joke with patients that I might take them up on their offers.  My wife and I have unique memories of Japan, Bali, Finland, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Ecuador, Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Angola, Israel and India because I accepted these invitations.  Sometimes they were there while we were traveling, but more often, we had the opportunity to visit their relatives whom I had met in my office.  Every one of those visits was a special personal experience, much more than any of the usual tourist attractions.  At first, my wife was leery, thinking that it would be awkward to visit people’s homes, as she wondered if these people really had been sincere about inviting us.  After a few of these special visits, she looked forward to the meet-ups that I would try to plan into every trip. 

Early in my career, I started to give out small, framed photos of places that I had traveled to.  The kids enjoyed getting something to remember from their yearly check-ups, and surprisingly, many parents would ask for their own “Dr. Kraft pictures.”  This became a tradition so I would bring along these small pictures on our travels as an ice-breaker or as a way of thanking people for their hospitality or other special favors.

In Bali, Indonesia, where the children were showing off the gifts I gave them!

I loved teaching patients about the places that were seen in my photo gifts.  I would usually tell the school-age children to read up more on the countries where we had traveled. 

So back to the question about whether I miss working.  What I loved about being a pediatrician was that I was often considered a trusted friend to those families.  Since pediatrics is a long-term commitment (in my case, 35 years), I was very fortunate to have met so many marvelous families over several generations.   Now that even though I am, in a way, “out of the picture,” I have wonderful memories and several long-lasting friendships to savor.

Not me, but another happy pediatrician! Photo courtesy of dreamstime

My Favorite Olympics Memory

All of us can remember exactly where we were at the time of a catastrophic world event. In my parents’ generation, the attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing entry into World War II was the incident which created a permanent memory for them.

In my generation, two events stand out: The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the 9/11 attack in 2001.

I can still remember sitting in 9th grade Spanish class in Verona High School (New Jersey) when our principal, Edwin Willard, came into each class to announce what had happened.  A hush followed and we all crowded around a small transistor radio which one of the students had brought to school.  I can still remember the facial expressions of my fellow students when we heard that he was pronounced dead.

When the attack on the World Trade Center occurred, I was driving to the hospital to see a patient. When the broadcast was interrupted to say that the first Tower was hit, I immediately returned home to be with my wife to watch the horrific events which occurred within the next few hours.

On a much more pleasant note, I also have very strong memories of what happened when I was in 10th grade in 1964.   I was sitting in Mrs. Alleine Graef’s Biology class when Mr. Willard entered the room.  The class froze because it was not even a year after he had delivered the news of the JFK assassination.

But this time, he had a wide smile on his face. He held up a telegram and read it aloud. Mrs. Graef’s son, Jed, had just won the Gold Medal in swimming (backstroke), setting a new world record.

Jed Graef from Verona, New Jersey

I can still remember the expression on Mrs. Graef’s face. She then told us proudly about his swimming achievements which many of us had never heard about.

In 1964, live coverage of the Olympics was very limited. There were a few broadcasts transmitted by satellites but nothing like today where we feel as if we are standing next to the Olympic athletes.

I can still remember celebrating Jed Graef Day

Jed graduated from Princeton University and he went on to receive a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Michigan. At the age of 79, he lives in Vermont and is still working in software development.

Adjusting

We’re now approaching almost a year and a half since the 2020 Pandemic started.   Putting all of the negative consequences of enforced isolation behind us, most people are beginning to exit from their cocoons and are trying to re-adjust to “normal” living.

It has been a long siege but for many retirees like us it hasn’t been so painful.   We were already used to having every day feel like a weekend so when the months just rolled by so quickly, it wasn’t such a terrible ordeal.  I believe the survival formula is to stay busy, do daily exercise, become a good cook if you weren’t already, and stay in touch with your friends and relatives (even if it’s by Zoom).  

Cooking has been part of our therapy. Here’s one of my favorite dishes: Baked eggplant topped with Meryl’s tomato sauce, a slice of turkey meatball and covered with mozzarella. Meryl calls it Aubergine Daniel.

We have been living in a South Florida family community for over twenty years.   It wasn’t unusual to see people moving in and out of our neighborhood during this time whom we had never known, but surprisingly in the past year, we have been getting to know more neighbors than ever before.  We now go on our early morning walks with a person who has lived down the block for as long as we’ve been here, but we hardly knew her or her husband. 

To keep things from getting boring, we’ve been trying to vary our morning exercise routine.  My wife has been trying for years to get me to go swimming in the community pool which is just a few minutes away.  It is warm and well-maintained, and early in the morning, there’s hardly ever anyone there.  I had always resisted going there because I didn’t want to bump into patients asking me for medical advice while I was trying to relax.

Our community pool. First time swimming there was this summer!
Since we have a lot of thunderstorms in the summer, we get treated to a lot of rainbows. Sometimes double ones, even once a triple!

At least once a week, we’ve been trying to go to the beach. The closest one is about 20 minutes away and if we get there early, there’s almost no one there. Recently, there has been someone learning Tai Chi. The ocean temperature is about 83 (perfect for me) but there have been some riptides and more seaweed than usual. Pure relaxation!

Watching Tai Chi at the beach

For as long as we’ve lived here, we’ve had a two-person kayak.  During the past year, we have taken it out on the lake more times than during the past twenty years.   It is so relaxing out in the middle of the lake which stretches over a mile through many of the neighborhoods in our community. 

Our lake
Admiring our neighbors’ backyards from our kayak

While kayaking, we have seen a different picture of many of the interesting places within our community.   Some people have done extensive landscaping in their backyards, making us regret that we had done nothing except planting a mango and a papaya tree just in the past three months.   If we had done this 20 years ago, we would be enjoying our harvests and could be sharing our bounty with our neighbors. 

One day last week as we were kayaking through an adjacent neighborhood, we saw some women knocking down ripe mangoes from their trees.   As we rowed closer to the shore, they called out to us and asked us if we wanted some.  They were some of the most delicious mangoes we had had in a long time.  And we met some very friendly neighbors in the process.

Our neighbors and their delicious mangoes!

Our two-story house has been a blessing.  In our second-floor office, both my wife and I have our main computers, but since the Pandemic, I’ve taken over the kitchen table with my laptop.  I feel inspired to write when I am looking out over the lake where I frequently observe such diverse wildlife activity.  (Check out the following link for a previous post: https://sincerelydrdan.com/2020/10/23/our-daily-wildlife-show/)

Just outside on our patio, we have a covered area which protects us from the sun.  We have had 90% of our meals out there since the Pandemic started.  For a while, we enjoyed bringing our breakfasts out on the second-floor balcony just outside our bedroom.  We loved to fantasize that we were on a cruise having our meals on our stateroom balcony.

Our “cruise balcony”

When it became hotter and more humid a few months ago, we returned to the cool shade of the downstairs table.  Not a day goes by that we don’t see one of our feathered friends walking or flying past us as we enjoy our meals. 

“Can you believe that we used to pay for those excursions on a cruise just to see a couple of birds?” my wife loves to ask.  By the time we would go out on a visit to a bird sanctuary or a nature preserve, they would all be within the shade of their favorite trees and frustratingly difficult to observe. 

I used to believe that it was only while traveling that I would learn more about the world we live in. Adjusting to the Pandemic has reminded me that if I keep an open-minded attitude, the old adage, “There’s no place like home,” rings true once again.     

Guest Photographer: Helen Pine

As promised, a new feature of my blog, “Sincerely, Dr. Dan,” will be a monthly presentation of images from members of the Boynton Beach Camera Club, a club where I have been privileged to be a member for the past six years. I have already explained in a previous post that before becoming a member, I used to think that I was a good photographer. My patients used to enjoy seeing my images that I captured while traveling which I would post on the walls of my office. When I retired and had more time to devote to my hobby, I realized that I still had a long way to go to become a better photographer. By observing the high quality of many of the other members’ work along with their encouragement, my photographic skills have improved.


In appreciation of the high level of talent in our club, I will be interviewing one member at a time. I have requested that they choose their favorite images from their vast collections. They will explain why the five images that I have chosen demonstrate their special skills as a photographer.

My first featured Guest Photographer is Helen Pine, half of the “Chuck and Helen” team which has contributed so much to the success of the Boynton Beach Camera Club. Their pre-Pandemic soirées at their home were legendary and were often the inspiration for many new members to pursue a deeper interest in photography.


Helen’s interest in photography dates back to her childhood in the 1950s when she received her first gift of a Brownie camera. In the 1990s, she became more involved when she joined a camera club in New York City and was inspired by other members’ encouraging comments.


Helen is an expert in post-processing techniques using Photoshop, Topaz Studio and Nik software, to name just a few of the programs she uses on a regular basis with her images.


Since Helen and Chuck have traveled extensively, she has thousands of images to which she enjoys returning to discover another one which possesses her award-winning potential.


“The photograph is just the beginning,” Helen explains modestly. She can take an otherwise busy, crowded image and transform it into a masterpiece.

I would describe Helen’s style as “minimalist” since she is able to distill the unnecessary extraneous details from the original image in order to produce her unique version with that desired “Wow! factor.

“Great Egret Preening”

In Palm Beach County, we are blessed to have several outstanding locations where herons, egrets, spoonbills, wood storks and many other species congregate in man-made, but naturally appearing sites.

Trim Castle Arch, County Meath, Ireland


Helen’s expertise in blending the color of the sky with the silhouettes of the people passing through the arch is seen in this image. The detail of the stone arch is brought out nicely.

“Great Blue Heron With Catfish”


Many of our club members are skilled at capturing bird images at Green Cay or Wakodahatchee Wetlands. The combination of the bird and its catch is what makes this a special image.

“Red Tulips”, Keukenhoff Gardens, Holland


Helen captured this image by placing the camera on the ground at exactly the right angle to position the central flowers against the blue sky with the distant flowers serving as a frame on either side.

“Rainy Day on Daytona Beach”


My favorite image of Helen’s is called “Rainy Day on Daytona Beach.” This location is one of Helen and Chuck’s favorite places to capture images of people and birds with the background of the Atlantic Ocean. I especially love the position of the child’s back foot and leg as she walks across the sandy beach. Helen uses the blank “white space” on the right side of the image to her advantage as a minimalist technique, forcing the viewer to focus on the child.
Helen and Chuck have taught many photographers to concentrate on subtlety. As Chuck often says, “Less is more.” Enhancing the small details in an image without being obvious or heavy-handed is the skill seen in all of Helen’s work. Each of the above images demonstrates the “Wow! factor” that all of us photographers are seeking in our own images.

Thanks to Helen Pine for allowing me to feature her work.

Frustration

I am a retired pediatrician. 

I can vividly remember one afternoon ten years ago when three teenage boys came to see me who each weighed more than the scale could measure! That’s greater than 300 lbs (almost 140 kg).

Obesidad en adolescentes

The third boy had come in for a sore throat and his weight had jumped by over 10 pounds (~4.5 kilos) from his visit two weeks before when he was seen for a regular checkup. His mother warned me from the beginning of the visit that they were there only for the sore throat and that I BETTER NOT discuss his weight or weight increase.

“YOU BETTER NOT DISCUSS HIS WEIGHT!”

I first took care of his sore throat, but before they left my office, I explained to them that it would have been negligent on my part to not call attention to his weight increase. I know she didn’t want to hear it again, but I feared that she was exactly the kind of patient who would have sued me for not warning her of the dangers that he would experience in the future.

And I was certain to document everything in the medical record that I discussed!

Yes, it was extremely frustrating!

Before I finished writing this post, I was worried that I would be accused of “body-shaming” because I expressed my frustration about treating childhood obesity. In fact, I believe that I am very understanding of those children and adults whose lives are adversely affected by obesity.

Since the Pandemic began, it was clear that obesity, along with the often co-existing problems of diabetes and hypertension, was the number one risk factor if you contracted COVID-19. You would have thought that the CDC and the medical establishment promoting COVID vaccination would have taken the opportunity to change the course of people’s lives by emphasizing healthier eating patterns. I’m still waiting for someone to stand up and make this the most important priority for the future of our world’s health, not just during the Pandemic. If we don’t get the epidemic of obesity under control, we will have to prepare ourselves for decreasing life expectancy in succeeding generations.

The campaign for healthier eating needs to start early in childhood, but it requires the parents’ acceptance and involvement. If parents are not willing to listen to their pediatricians’ advice and react defensively, we will never win this battle. I accept the fact that changing one’s habits is a very difficult task. However, if our society doesn’t approach this problem head-on with honesty, courage and dedication, we will be facing a greater “existential threat” than anyone would have imagined.

One Reason I’m Not Returning to the Movies

Several years ago, I was sitting in a very crowded movie theater with my wife.

The theater was full

Directly in front of us was a mother who had brought her newborn baby along with her after we were already seated. Several times during the movie, the baby fussed and she would nurse the baby, but it was very annoying to have the baby crying and the mother talking to her trying to calm her.

I finally asked the mother to take her baby outside to nurse her. She angrily replied that she was a doctor and that she had every right to nurse her baby wherever she wanted.

“You must be one of those people who don’t like to see people nursing!” she said.

“No,” I replied, “I’m a pediatrician who supports breast feeding 100%. Just not in a movie theater when I’m trying to enjoy a movie.”

We finally moved our seats to the other side of the theater. 

Most of the time it just isn’t worth getting into an argument.

“I Don’t Know”

I am a retired pediatrician who has had personal experience with a condition known as Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (CIU), a diagnosis which was made after an exhaustive workup which included many visits to subspecialists.

About six years ago, after a long post-retirement trip outside the US including Europe, Africa and several islands off the African coast, I began to experience intense itching all over my body. 

The itching was unbearable

The symptoms were randomly distributed on different parts of my body and occurred without any warning or preceding ingestion of food. At times, the itching was accompanied by painful hives (urticaria) and the sensation of having been slapped.  It happened more often at night and prevented me from sleeping normally.

Hives (urticaria)

My evaluation began with a visit to my internist who suggested that I see an allergist. He explained that even after I would go  through an extensive workup, the final diagnosis might still be classified as “idiopathic” (of unknown origin) and “chronic” (not acute).

I wound up seeing a rheumatologist, a dermatologist, a cardiologist and an infectious disease specialist. The dermatologist biopsied the urticarial lesion and sent the slides to a pathologist who was a specialist in CIU.  He concluded that it looked like “normal CIU” (whatever that was) but that there were some subtypes of the pathology which occasionally go along with certain connective tissue disorders including lupus or psoriasis, or even worse, certain malignancies such as lymphomas. This fear encouraged me to pursue the workup even further.  It has always haunted me that I still had something undiagnosed that was more serious. 

At least the infectious disease expert was intelligent enough to ask me the right questions about my possible exposure to certain parasites.  After all, I had visited some South Atlantic Islands including the former Portuguese colony of São Tomé where I had walked barefoot on beautiful beaches where wild pigs roamed freely.  He ruled out that I had picked up a parasite.

The island of São Tomé, a very interesting place to visit, but there are wild pigs sharing the beach with you

The allergist brought it all together after about six months. He concluded that since no one had specifically found anything wrong, it would be termed CIU which in most cases,  the origin is never discovered . By that time, my symptoms were pretty much controlled by daily dose of an over-the-counter antihistamine, cetirizine (Zyrtec) and a dose of a prescription, hydroxyzine (Atarax) for the occasional, but thankfully less frequent and less disturbing painful flareups of the urticaria. He also gave me the option of using omalizumab (Xolair), a monthly injectable biologic treatment, but I rejected this option because the symptoms had lessened with a more conservative treatment.

Several times since then, I have tried stopping my daily dose of cetirizine to see if the problem still exists. Usually within a week, I would start to feel “itchy” and sometimes I would develop some mild hives, but these minor outbreaks are always controlled within a few hours with my plan B medication, hydroxyzine. I decided that it is just easier to continue taking the low dose of the oral antihistamine to keep things under control especially since I don’t have any side effects from the medication

I admit that I still have a nagging fear that there is an underlying problem which caused the original problem.  Time, however, is on my side since I haven’t really experienced any acute flare-ups in many years.  But having unanswered questions leaves me with the worry that it will eventually resurface and that it may represent something much worse. 

But as a doctor, I must tell myself that not everything in medicine has a clear explanation. I have been in the position many times in my career when I had to tell a patient, “I don’t know.” Some patients can accept this fact.  Others are upset when doctors admit that there isn’t an adequate answer. 

As I get older and the visits to the doctor unfortunately become more frequent, I have to admit that it’s not fun being on the other side of the doctor-patient relationship.  I believe that I was the type of doctor who understood patient anxiety, but unfortunately, now I am the patient, I hope that I can always find the doctors who will fully understand my particular fears or concerns.  I will try very hard to accept when my doctors say, “I don’t know.”

The Seeing Eye Dog on the Train

Many years ago when my three daughters were just about to enter their years of preteen drama, I had the idea of taking them on a train trip from Florida to Washington, D.C.   They were old enough to enjoy all of the museums and attractions of the Capitol, and I figured that it would be an interesting alternative to flying or driving.  They hadn’t arrived yet at the stage that they didn’t want to travel with their parents.

The Amtrak Silver Meteor

As a boy growing up in the 50s, I had a long-lasting fascination with trains which I hoped to pass on to my daughters. The 21-hour trip by train is longer by several hours than a car trip, but I knew that we wouldn’t need a car in Washington, D.C. I liked the idea of not having to do any driving with kids in the back seat asking me “When are we going to be there?”  The train from Florida begins its trip in Miami, stopping once in Ft. Lauderdale, and picked us up in downtown West Palm Beach.  We didn’t anticipate that the train would be almost full to capacity when we boarded, so we weren’t able to sit together. 

The route of our 21-hour trip from Florida to Washington, D.C.

I chose a seat next to a blind man who was accompanied by his seeing eye dog.  We struck up a conversation and he was going to visit some friends in the D.C. area.  They were going to meet him at the Union Station in the Capitol. 

He had made arrangements in advance with the train personnel to alert him when there would be suitable stops along the way for him to take his dog off the train to relieve himself.  Although most of the more than 20 stops were no more than a few minutes for passengers to board or depart, there were several which were between 5 and 10 minutes. 

Seeing Eye Dog and owner

I volunteered to accompany the man and his dog off the train at these longer stops so that it would make it easier for him to find the designated “doggie rest areas.”   At the first long stop in Jacksonville, Florida, we didn’t have any trouble getting to the area, but unfortunately, I noticed that the dog had some blood in his stools.  His owner was obviously unaware of this as his guide dog was defecating, and he didn’t appear to be in any pain.

When we re-boarded the train, I told him about what I had observed.  He thought back to the night before he left when he had dinner with his friends when one of them had given the dog a bone to chew on.  Apparently it was a pork bone, rather than a steak bone, and he knew correctly that this sometimes can cause splintering in a dog’s gastro-intestinal tract.

Dog chewing on a bone

The bleeding became progressively worse at each of our “rest stops.”  However, the dog was a real trouper.  Luckily he had pads on which the dog sat obediently next to him and there was no visible discomfort except for more than usual intestinal noise. 

As we passed through Virginia, the situation worsened.  There was more blood in the stool and he was becoming more lethargic.  He was not urinating as much as before and didn’t want to eat.  

After discussing this with the owner, we decided to call ahead to the people who were going to meet him in Washington, a few hours away.  I used my cellphone to call his contacts. Luckily he had the information written on a piece of paper in his file of important papers. 

After a few phone calls back and forth, the owner’s friends arranged to make an emergency appointment with a veterinarian in Washington as soon as we arrived. 

A day later, I received a phone call from the owner to let me know that his guide dog had to be hospitalized overnight for rehydration.  He was fine following that incident.

I was happy that my daughters watched this whole drama unfold during our trip by train.  It certainly made an otherwise long, boring trip into one that they still remember almost thirty years later.   They learned that sometimes complete strangers must be “called into service” to help another human being.  

And they also witnessed firsthand that fate sometimes places us in the seat next to another person in need.  Who knows if another person would have acted similarly?  I certainly hope so.     

My Love Affair with Costco, Part 3: Iceland

In the past two posts I described my love affair with visiting Costco warehouses outside the United States.  I wrote about our trip to Japan where in the Hiroshima Costco, I replaced a suitcase which had been broken by a taxi driver.  In my second post, I wrote about how we visited both Costco warehouses in Madrid and Sevilla. 

I love seeing that familiar sign!

A few years ago, on the same trip to Madrid, we had been planning to travel directly from South Florida to Barcelona. Unfortunately, our plans changed because it was mid-September in the middle of a busy hurricane season.  A week before we were supposed to leave, a storm was forming and it appeared to be heading in our direction.

As the storm intensified, we made the decision to pack up our house and hope that our newly installed impact-resistant would protect our house.  However, it seemed as if everyone else in South Florida was trying to get out of the hurricane’s path.  The availability of flights to Europe disappeared within a few days. 

The only option, short of remaining in Florida until after the storm, was to take a flight from Miami to Barcelona on WowAir, an airline which is now out of business. 

Those purple planes certainly stood out on the tarmac!

This airline, based in Reykjavik, required an 18-hour stopover in Iceland before heading to Spain.  We quickly purchased the tickets and hoped we made the right decision.

As it turned out, we had caught the last flight to Iceland before they discontinued service as the storm approached.  We landed in Iceland in the middle of the night.  I had researched getting a room in a hotel near the airport but it was very overpriced and would have required paying for two nights because of the time we had arrived.  Instead, I decided to rent a car for a day in which we would at least be able to take a nap. 

The drive to the Costco was only about 30 minutes on a very well lighted modern highway.  Since this was in the middle of September when the Icelandic daytime was quickly becoming shorter, it was dark until at least 10 am, the opening time.  We had a good couple of hours of sleep and woke up refreshed. 

The only Costco in Iceland has the same exact look on the outside as every other Costco in the world.  If you just looked at the large signs inside the store, you’d swear that you were at your local warehouse in the US.  However, when you’re inside the store, it quickly becomes apparent that you are in a foreign country. 

When I would show friends pictures of this Costco Food Court, I would ask them if they can tell where it is!

The Icelandic alphabet has several unique letters, so checking out the smaller signs, especially in the food court, tells you that you are far from home.  

This supposedly says, “I Love Iceland”

As is the case in every other foreign Costco, many items from the particular country are featured along with the preponderance of American-store items, even though most are from China.  It is always fascinating to us to see how the culture of the country is represented in its food items as well as the household products and clothing. The Reykjavik store had shelves full of Icelandic and Scandinavian seafood products as well as canned goods.  There were also many rows of warm-weather clothes which unfortunately, were also made in China.

Just like in the American stores, we enjoyed tasting many different samples.  These were mostly Icelandic products, including several types of herring.  Again, you would have easily imagined that you were back home in the U.S. except that the mostly women samplers only spoke Icelandic. 

Since many people in Iceland speak English well, it wasn’t hard to strike up a conversation with several people.  They were enjoying themselves as much as I was.  They too were curious why I would be visiting their store  which had only recently opened.  The big-box warehouse concept was a new model to the Icelandic people.  Although they were very excited about the lower prices and the large inventory, several people expressed concern that the Costco invasion would decimate small locally-owned Icelandic businesses.  

The Costco parking lot was shared equally by the local Ikea store which had also recently opened.  It was packed with locals excited to be experiencing such a large store. 

Some people are crazy about Ikea stores too!

As in the US, most of the products, although modern Scandinavian in appearance, are from China. 

This says “Christmas gifts” in Icelandic

We decided to have lunch there and it was almost identical to the stores we have visited in Florida.  Icelandic people are very friendly to foreigners and enjoy practicing their English.  

In our short stopover, we probably could have spent the time at one of the famed waterparks, but the timing just wasn’t right.  And as usual, the unique opportunity to visit a new foreign Costco was too exciting to pass up. 

We don’t have any trouble justifying our strange habit of visiting Costcos while traveling.  I call it a “cultural field trip” and find it just as interesting and educational as any other tourist attraction in a foreign country.  I always feel comfortable talking to people while we are there, and so far, it has always been a fun adventure!

If I had one of these, I would wear it proudly!

My Love Affair with Costco, Part 2: Spain

Last week, I told you about my first experience visiting an international Costco in Japan.  This week, I will tell you about the experience I had in Spain about four years ago. 

We were planning to spend a month in Madrid in an Airbnb.  We had arrived in Spain several days before and we had stayed with friends in Valencia about three hours to the east on the Mediterranean coast. 

I’m not sure why I get so excited when I see the familiar Costco sign!

Naturally, I had scouted out where the Costco was in the Madrid area.  It is located in the southern suburb of Getafe, almost directly on the highway coming from Valencia.  Since we knew what we needed to have for a month’s stay in the capital, we decided to stop at Costco before occupying the rental apartment. 

We arrived in Getafe in our rental car the night before where we filled up with gas at the gasolinera

We felt right at home at the Costco gas station!

We then proceeded to the hotel which we had booked so that we would be a short drive to the downtown area of the city the next morning when we had arranged to take possession of the apartment.

The hotel was only a few miles away and was located in a primarily industrial/business area of Getafe.  We were settling into our room when I opened up the curtains, and across a vacant field was the Costco warehouse, with its large familiar red and blue sign!   

I had a hard time convincing my wife that I hadn’t planned the whole stay around having this view of Costco from our room.  To this day, when we check into a hotel and we open the curtains to see what is outside, she asks if I requested the “Costco view.”  

Spain’s only other Costco is located in the southern city of Seville.  After our stay in Madrid, we were visiting Seville on our way to Málaga where we were leaving from a week later. 

Before the Seville Costco opened in 2014

We made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Seville Costco so that we could compare the US and Spanish warehouses.  As I noted in the previous story on Japan, each country’s Costco features some of the regional specialties.  In Spain, there were aisles devoted to the various types of olives and olive oils, as well as a large concentration of Spanish hams, cheeses and wine.  We picked up a special combo pizza for dinner which had barbecue chicken and fresh peppers. 

Inside the Seville Costco
Of course there were many “Jamones Ibéricos”
(Spanish hams) on sale

We were very satisfied to have added Spain to our collection of foreign Costcos that we have visited.  While it sounds ridiculous to some people to hear that we always make a point of stopping in an American-style warehouse while we are traveling, I feel that it makes perfect sense:.  The place where people buy their food and products for their home is like a museum of the local culture.  This always gives us an interesting vantage point which gives us a window into their way of life.           

Next time, our Costco visit in Iceland.