I was walking around a supermarket the other day with a friend of mine who commented on how many different kinds of the same thing were for sale. Why does there need to be so many? How do you choose?
I have been suffering from consumer overload for a long time so I knew exactly what he meant. When I lived in Europe, there were no such things as supermarkets. At least not like the ones in the USA. There were small grocery markets, open markets, and specialty stores. If you wanted bread, you went to the bakery. Cheese was at the cheese store. Meat was at the butcher. You had choices. French, wheat, rye bread. Gouda, cheddar, mozzarella. Steak, rib, chop. But you did not have to decide between Pepperidge Farm, Arnold, Nature’s Own, Sara Lee, Wonder … This didn’t only apply to food. Buying a headache remedy could be a real challenge.
I would visit the USA once a year or every other year for a few weeks. I usually had a shopping list because there were certain things I could not find where I lived and things were generally cheaper in the USA. My husband and I would spend a couple of days going to department stores and grocery stores. Target was always one of our stops. I had my list and I would start out confident.
“I need children’s vitamins. Easy enough.”
Each brand had two or three varieties and flavors.
By the time I got to the third or fourth item on my list I would hit a wall. I stood in the middle of the aisle in a daze, unable to move.
“Kathy? Kathy? Are you okay? Hello!”, my husband would try to rouse me out of my stupor.
“I think I have to go now.”
We would take the few items in our cart and leave.
Over time I learned to make lists of, not items, but particular brands and types of items. I was able to go into a store and completely block out everything but those particular items on my list. I was able to stay focused. I got the job done! Until …
“They don’t have my brand!”
That was usually a show-stopper.
I know people make their choices based on advertising, packaging, price, nutritional value, and impulse. In the USA it is common to have a lot of choices and most people are happy to get that one thing they want. Cherry flavored gummy chewable vitamins! Yum. But coming from overseas when you don’t know what gummy means, it is difficult.
A few years ago I read about an organization dedicated to helping immigrants shop. They gave classes in how to shop. I thought it was a brilliant idea.
I have been back in the USA for a while now and am comfortable with the stores I frequent. If I am looking for something I haven’t bought before, I know to allow some extra time to make my selection. If there is a “generic” or “store brand” I make it easy on myself and just go for it. But I still run into trouble from time to time.
“I need orange juice.”
Pulp, no pulp, calcium, extra pulp, from Florida …
Kathleen Gamble was born and raised overseas and has traveled extensively. She has a BA in Spanish and has worked in publishing, printing, desktop publishing, translating, and purchasing. She also designs and creates her own needlepoint. She started journaling at a young age and her memoir, Expat Alien, came out of those early journals. Over the years she has edited and produced an American Women’s Organization cookbook in Moscow, Russia, and several newsletters. Her first book, Expat Alien, was published in 2012 and she recently published a cookbook, 52 Food Fridays, both available on Amazon.com. You can also follow her blog at ExpatAlien.com.