March 17, 2008


 I know that you have probably eaten at a restaurant before, but this one actually caused me a lot of stress, so I will address it here in case you need the help. When my family left Papua New Guinea we went to a mall in Australia. It was a pretty overwhelming experience, so many choices, so many people, and weirdly enough, I was disoriented by the fact that I was no longer a minority and no one stared at me. My family all split up for lunch so we could eat what we wanted at the food court. I chose a sit down Rock and Roll hamburger joint type place. It should have been very comfortable to me. But, I found myself starting to panic. I did not have a clue how to order, if I should seat myself, how to pay, and so on. The whole time I figured that everyone was probably staring at me and thinking what a weirdo I was for not being able to handle this little slice of America. They weren’t of course, but it was scary enough that I decided to leave and go to the Chinese restaurant; at least there the food was more familiar. In Papua New Guinea there are a lot of Asian expatriates and therefore a lot of really delicious Asian restaurants. My whole family must have had the same thought because we all ended up sheepishly back at the same restaurant, comfortably ordering the more familiar.

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It’s Saturday afternoon and my husband and I just returned from the discount grocery store. The store was packed. What is it about noon on Saturday that brings out the crazies? I always thought that around ten on a weeknight would be crazy time. Oh well, we were able to steer around the giant carts full of Doritos and find ourselves some whole wheat pretzels, date and walnut cereal, and seventy nine cent yoghurt. So how can I help you navigate through the crazy aisles of your local grocery store? How can I teach you to make grocery shopping a pleasant experience.

It has almost become a cliché, but it can be very daunting to walk into a grocery store for the first one hundred times after you return to the United States. The aisles and aisles of choices are overwhelming. The smells are new. The vegetables seem foreign (the papayas are oddly colored and so small, and the bananas are boringly bland). The crazy amount of cereal choices makes your head spin. Even though in your former life you were able to navigate confidently through a busy market, the quiet background music and organized rows of a grocery store can throw you for a loop.

I’ve identified several main hindrances to a pleasurable grocery store experience: not knowing what to choose, self-checkout machines, and feelings of disgust over the sheer affluence and waste in the United States. Automatic checkout I will cover later. Feeling comfortable with my choices, and not getting overwhelmed has taken me around five years to get down. But those initial all encompassing fears passed pretty quickly. In general I would say, like most things, prepare before you go into the situation. Make a list and then follow it. Then when you get to the store, be willing to try everything until you decide on a brand or a certain type. Those two pieces of advice are actually novel for a lot of young Americans. They also feel overwhelmed when first shopping on their own, and they also make a lot of unhealthy or expensive choices. Read the rest of this entry »