Thursday, 12 April 2012

I cry at supermarkets and sing to cheese

Today, I was hit by a random, acute, and frustrating-as-hell attack of homesickness. Not the kind of homesickness that makes you sad because you miss people deeply. Not the kind of homesickness that involves pining for the lustrous lands of your native country. No no, this was the kind of homesickness that happens when a supermarket pisses you off so much that you miss going to Tesco so intensely that you cry.

This really happened.

Obviously this is symptomatic of a general banging-head-against-a-wall issue, rather than genuinely being distressed by the USA's lack of blue and white striped value items, but it still resulted in the same thing: crying in the car because I just cannot bear having my nativity so obviously highlighted. Yes, I mean nativity. Naivety is probably a problem too, but that's another post.

I didn't much like supermarket shopping before I lived here. I find people are not inclined to be particularly friendly whilst food shopping, the supermarkets are often crowded (I get serious people claustrophobia), and more often than not you have to go round twice because you forget something/it has been moved since the last time you came in. My coping tactic was to stick my iPod on to some happy tunes, skip around whilst throwing things merrily into my trolley (cart, America), occasionally singing along, and smiling inanely at people who were probably already pissed off at being at the supermarket (I'm assuming my idiotic presence just made it that bit worse). This worked, for the most part, and so I became adept at doing all my major shopping for the month just after pay day, and then stocking up maybe once a week on fresh veg, milk, eggs, and other such perishables. Occasionally an ice cream/wine/cheese run may have occurred, but then the ickle Tesco down the road from my house served perfectly well and didn't require immersion in one of the larger, more hellish stores.

So, what happened today? A combination of historically (since being here) deferring to Ben to make supermarket choices, a clash in the way we both manage our food shopping routines, and end-of-my-tether, ever-so-slightly-dramatic irritation with how, although everything on the shelves initially looks pretty recognisable, IT IS NOT THE SAME AND IS NEVER THE SAME. Also, because pretty much everyone I know here has either lived in Charlotte forever, or is at the very least American, it is difficult to explain how exhausting it is, and disappointing to not be able to communicate that well enough to yield some empathy. I'm not sure if it wouldn't be better to have everything look totally different, so I have to learn new things, rather than un-learn and then re-learn what I already had an understanding of.

I don't know which brand of soup is best. Pasta comes in ridiculously small packets (or boxes - what?!) so you have to buy about four to make sure you have enough. The milk top colours all mean different things to English coding (red is full fat; blue is low fat (semi-skimmed); green is fat-free). If something doesn't say "organic" on it, you can pretty much bet it's been pumped full of chemicals, hormones, water, or all three. If it was once a live animal, you can't guarantee it had a decent life before ending up vacuum-packed in your hands without extensive reading, and to actually get meat where the animal didn't have a crappy short life in a barn AND that doesn't contain more hormones than an adolescent male costs you an arm and a leg.

Okay, so it's not the biggest problem in the world. Or even in this little corner of it. In fact, I can afford to eat, I am educated enough to make good choices, and I get to learn to live here with the love of my life. But today, I felt isolated, foolish, and utterly fed up with not "just knowing" how to do something so fundamental to modern life.

On the up side, there was an offer on fresh mozzarella balls at Harris Teeter's deli ($2.99!), so I got some of those and had them with my lunch. I guess I have only been here six months (as of yesterday), so I suppose I'm not doing too badly. And yes, I did sing to my cheese before I ate it. Perhaps my shopping-with-iPod solution would work here, too. Every little helps.


  1. Yes, it can be awkward. US food doesn't have much detailed labelling either, you can't even tell something very simple like how strong a bottle of beer is most of the time. The thing that annoys me most is all the extra crap that gets added in the US, almost everything tastes sweeter because it's got added sugar, or sweetener, even things like bread. People in the UK always slate the EU for their regulations, but they were one of the things that brought British food standards up in my opinion. Although the US has good customer service, the consumers have very little power when it comes to the quality of the food they buy.

  2. I can relate to pretty much all of that. Thankfully we are able to shop mid-week and avoid huge crowds. Walmart on a Saturday is a freak show.
    It should be a simple task but I get confused as hell with all the different brands. I have no idea what is good or crap. And what's with the white eggs? The "normal" brown ones are twice the price here!?
    My rack of ribs at TGI Fridays tonight was great though :)

  3. Paul: Agreed! The lack of detail can be confusing in itself, as you spend time trying to find some kind of guidance on various types of the same product. The sweetness is definitely a problem here, too. I am looked at a bit funny because I drink diet *everything*, and not because I'm on a diet (much as that might be a good idea!). I just don't enjoy sweet fizzy drinks, and the bread thing just astounds me. Why is bread sweet?! I get fresh bread from the supermarket where I can and oatmeal or multi-grain bread otherwise.

    As for the EU, yep, totally with you! I've seen comedy routines about how silly and rigorous the EU regulations are, but hey, the food's quality speaks for itself! I guess a combination of it being cheaper to eat out here plus the better customer service in pretty much all places means domestic food shopping isn't a priority.

    Scott: I rarely venture to Walmart unless I need something specific! I bet it is a scary place at the weekend. We mainly go to Harris Teeter or Trader Joe's. I hear Food Lion is good, too.

    The brands confuse the hell out of me, especially those that look familiar but on closer inspection really aren't. But yes, I had a wonderful meal at our local pub on Wednesday and I certainly can't complain about the great value for money food here when it comes to eating out!


Thanks for taking the time to write! I try to reply to everyone, and I love to read your comments.