Paper or Plastic, Ma’m?

As I said at the end of Hello America, this place is a Shopper’s Paradise.

On our way here from South Africa, we stopped over in Dubai. Some people will say Dubai is a shopper’s paradise.

But I totally disagree. Unless, of course, you enjoy rubbing elbows with a bazillion other people all trying to get ahead of you in a race to amass bagfuls of vastly overpriced items and then stand in line for hours to catch a taxi back home.

No, the good old U.S.A. is the world’s true shopper’s paradise.

Perhaps that explains why I’ve been neglecting this blog a little bit. I’ve been so busy going out shopping every day that I’ve had no time to write.

Well, also the fact that we just moved to a new place and that I have a bazillion things on my to-do list. There is so much to do, and none of it really enjoyable.

Like, setting up weekly trash service for your house. Or researching doctors, because, well, you managed to get sick your second week in and are now forced to move the find-a-family-doctor item from number 17 to number 1 on your list. In between running to the bathroom every five minutes. Or cleaning out drawers the previous occupants forgot. Or ridding the microwave of a strong bacon smell. Or mopping floors and unclogging ill-designed toilets. Or getting in daily exercises of pressing your foot unsuccessfully onto a non-existent brake from the passenger seat of your car because your son is all of a sudden of driving age and you, of all people, have been selected as the designated driving instructor.

But I was going to write about shopping, instead of complaining. And indeed, shopping has been the one bright spot in all this move-related hassle.

grocery shopping in america
Oodles of space on your typical American parking lot. And, my North Carolina friends will agree, having Harris Teeter again is awesome.
grocery shopping in america
Lemon poppyseed muffins. South Africans, excuse me, just can’t make them.
grocery shopping in america
The beauty of paper bags fitting perfectly into your trunk (boot)
I’m not saying they are better, but how can American apples be so ginormous? How is that possible? I  had to temporarily move the apricots over for a better size comparison. Except the apricots are ginormous too.
grocery shopping in america
The American cereal aisle. As far as the eye can see.
grocery shopping in america
Nothing but applesauce. Only if you’ve searched for applesauce in Johannesburg will you appreciate the beauty of this.

Let me count the ways:

  1. To “go to the shops,” as they say in South Africa, you don’t have to negotiate any traffic, street vendors, or broken robots. And when you get there, you will see a vast parking lot for, oh, a thousand cars with only about five spaces occupied, each wider than even a parking-challenged person like me can ever wish for.
  2. The aisles in the stores will be just as wide as those parking spaces, and they will not be blocked by any restocking activity, because in accommodation of you, the shopper, that has already taken place at night.
  3. You will find simply everything in that store. Even Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, kosher salt, and applesauce. The length of the cereal aisle alone will boggle your mind. There won’t be any need to visit three other stores to get everything you need. The only downside is that you will spend hours looking at every box, and you will have to cover vast distances to finish your shopping list.
  4. Speaking of shopping list, the store might even have shopping lists, organized by aisle, available for you to take home to fill in as needed. Or an iPhone app.
  5. As you cruise the aisles with your cart the size of a Humvee, every two minutes a friendly attendant will greet you and ask you if you’re finding everything, and personally escort you there if you’re not.
  6. You can put your purse on your cart and leave it unattended, or not, without fear of anything disappearing. Indeed, nothing ever disappeared in South Africa either, but I stopped putting my purse in the cart because I was tired of little old ladies admonishing me for being so careless.
  7. The prices on the shelves will be supplemented by per-unit prices, making comparisons very easy. Except of course when one item shows the price per ounce and the one next to it shows the price per pound, and after three years of metric-system bliss you’ve forgotten to remember how many ounces are in a pound (hint: it’s not ten).
  8. When you get to the register, you are relieved of all your shopping duties. You may unload your items onto the belt, or you might just busy yourself with your emails and let the cashier do it instead, without anyone giving you a hard time. The only action required of you at this point will be to answer the all-important question: “Paper or plastic, Ma’m? So that yet another attendant can get on with the business of bagging your stuff. I’ve found myself with so much time on my hands at the cash register with nothing to do, I could practically start working on my book right there. I think I should dedicate this post to all my long-suffering expat friends in Germany who come out sweat-drenched from the grocery store every week, because not only will no one assist you with any bagging, you will practically be shunned from civil society if you don’t remove all your items from the belt post-haste, lest you slow down the next shopper after you.
  9. You won’t be charged for any of those bags, paper or plastic. Although in this instance I agree with the bag-levy in other countries, because it does encourage you to bring reusable bags and help the environment.
grocery shopping in america
I couldn’t stop taking pictures of giant apples. The little thing in the middle is a nectarine.
grocery shopping in america
This is when I had to stop shopping on my first day here. The cart was simply overflowing. Also note the purse in the cart, even if the cart is left standing in an aisle by itself. There is no, none, zero risk of that purse every disappearing in an American grocery store.
grocery shopping in america
My “pile of happiness” after the first grocery trip. I felt like buying everything I couldn’t get for three years.
grocery shopping in america
Harris Teeter bakery bread is simply the best. Outside of an actual bakery in Germany, of course.
Pie crusts are another item practically impossible to find in SA.

And all of this really just covers groceries.

There is so much more that’s so easy to shop for here in the U.S.A. There hasn’t been a day since we’ve been here that I haven’t paid a visit to either Home Depot or Lowe’s for some home improvement item. The reason that I keep coming back is that my dear husband will tell me to get something, in very general words, refusing to give a more detailed description, but once I return home with it my purchase usually lacks certain key features that of course it needed to have (and that I, naive as I am, think one could have described to me ahead of time). So back to the store I go for a return, and another purchase.

By the way, speaking of returns: It is such a relief to be able to return everything, no questions asked. I remember my first return in South Africa well. It was so complicated and took so long, with so many security checks before even entering the store, that I basically refrained from returning something after that ever again. I suppose it worked from a retailer’s perspective.

And of course, last but not least,! Can you believe I wrote so much about shopping before mentioning them?

In a way, that reflects reality. I am so awed by all the shopping that I keep going out to get things.

Okay, perhaps that also has to do with those awesome heated seats in my car, the kind that a German acquaintance of mine calls Arschkocher (ass cooker). I love having my ass cooked, apparently.

Anyway, so I got out to buy something and only realize later that I might as well have stayed home all along, ordering it right from my computer.

You can simply get EVERYTHING from Amazon.

Can’t find that plastic clip holding the valance over the window up (which has the annoying habit of falling down at the slightest touch) – order it on Amazon.

Drugstore out of tampons your preferred size – Amazon.

I could go on, but I won’t. Let’s just say the UPS guy has been very busy coming to our house every single day. If you have a Prime membership (something like $79 per year), you can have most items shipped to you within 2 days, for free. And borrow books on your Kindle. Except I haven’t figured that one out yet.

And it’s not just the convenience of getting it on Amazon, it’s also price. You may find things that are cheaper elsewhere, but not often. Amazon typically gives you the best shopping experience and the best prices.

The only downside I can see is that you can spend entire days reading every single review for the new shower head you’ve got your eye on, neglecting all sorts of other things you should be doing. Like most bloggers, I’m already prone to be sidetracked by anything on the internet, and the added lure of Amazon isn’t helping.

If there are any hardships about life in America – and I haven’t found any yet – the presence of has got to negate all of them. Who knows, one day we  might all be slaves owned by Amazon, the way they’re going on and expanding on their way to total market dominance, but for the moment I prefer them wildly over having to go look for a street vendor on a Johannesburg street corner.

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