Grocery shopping is a lot more culture shocking than you’d think
By Michelle and William
(picture borrowed from the internet)
This past summer we got to go "home" to the US for a wedding or two. It's always exciting to go "home". We always look forward to familiar food, and ordering that food in English. We look forward to things being predictable and to not walking around in a permanent state of confusion. We look forward to clean air and to driving.
During the course of wedding festivities we were given the easy task to drive a mile down the road and get snacks for a flower arranging event with the bridal party.
So off we went, a quick trip to the grocery store.
First of all the parking lot was huge. We didn't even know where to park because there were so many options. We don't have parking lots in China. Just allies between buildings that people try to cram their cars into and than have to crawl out their passenger side door because they’ve parked right up against the wall.
We walked up to the store and a door big enough an elephant could walk through slid open before we even got there.
We were immediately hit with clean crisp air with hints of fresh flowers, baked goods and clean vegetables. But mostly, just the smell of clean.
Then, the open space. Holy Crap! There was so much open space in this place. I could drive a Shanghai car in here, the aisles were so wide.
We didn't even know where to start so we wandered over to the produce section. The vegetables were neatly stacked in pyramids of green apples and oranges and peaches. Piles of leafy greens smelled as fresh as rain. The red and yellow peppers almost sparkled they were so clean. Then there was the packaged and pre-cut produce. Salad in bag any one?
Everything smelled so good and ripe and clean and was so well organized!
I didn’t have to dig through rotten fruit to find the good stuff. I didn’t have to get my hands dirty from the mud clinging to the vegetables, and there were no live chickens in crates waiting to be killed for dinner while I marveled at all the salad options.
The produce section alone was the size of the entire grocery store where we shop in Shanghai.
We knew we had to get food for everyone and be back at our event in under an hour but it was all so overwhelming. I know you don't believe me, but have you seen the rows and rows of breakfast cereals? We had forgotten most of those even existed.
Next we got lost on the juice aisle. Have you ever marveled at all the different juice options we have in the US? There's apple juice and cranberry juice and grape juice and a bazlilian other options. And that's just the single flavor juices! Then they start combining them into apple-grape or apple-cranberry or cranberry-grape… so many choices! On top of all that, each flavor comes in three or four different brands and labels.
We couldn’t decide on just one juice so we got a few. I did notice that while there were so many more flavors than I’d ever remembered seeing before there were a few missing that we often see in China. Like Aloe Vera juice or mixed fruit with tomato juice or lychee fruit juice. I was not sad at all to be missing these juices. They are nasty.
I could go on and on about all the overwhelming things we saw that day; but let me just say, Dear Lord the cheese aisle. Cheese is NOT popular in China. They think it smells bad, tastes bad and they say foreigners smell like it. Living in Shanghai we are lucky enough to have some cheese options, but when I saw the cheese and meat section in the United States Kroger Grocery store I was giddy. Literally Giddy.
There were several kinds of cream cheeses and spread-able cheeses and sliced cheeses. Brie and gouda and swiss cheese. Hard cheese and soft cheese. And did I mention there were NO live chickens waiting to be killed for dinner and smelling the place up?
There was so much I wanted to look at and try and BUY!
William was overwhelmed enough to be stunned speechless but mumbled something about time and cash and limited supply.
When we finally made it to the cash register we had way more food than we needed (those ridiculously large shopping carts came in handy) and spent way more than we planned. But we had cheese! And several juices, and ice cream, and a bunch of other packaged and overly processed things we didn't need to be eating but were totally excited for.
When we checked out someone put our food into plastic bags for us instead of having to do it ourselves. Boy, were they liberal with those plastic bags. I think one of the bags only had one thing in it!
In China plastic bags are not free so everyone carries their own shopping bag and you have to put your own food in it. If you do have to buy a bag you try to get as much as you can in it so you don't have to buy another one.
We then rolled our very handy shopping cart to our car and put all the food in the trunk and drove the very short mile back to our hotel. I felt so spoiled not to have walk back carrying all that stuff home like we usually do.
Later on that week after all the festivities and craziness of the weddings were over and we had some free time my mom asked me if there was anything I wanted to do before we left.
"Yes, actually," I said, "I'd really like to go to the grocery store and just walk up and down every aisle."