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So many choices………

January 8, 2010

Whenever I arrive back in Delhi, I am reminded of (really assaulted by) the fact that India is not the U.S. But the same is happening in reverse. When we land in the U.S., the differences jump out at us.

One of the things that you might be surprised to hear is that the number of choices we Americans have to make can be simply overwhelming when you are not used to making them.

When we got home, I almost immediately went to the grocery store to stock up on all the essentials our favorites. We emptied the house completely before we left this summer to return to India, so we “needed” everything. I literally walked up and down every aisle. I marveled at the choices. Twenty-five types of bread, sixty-three choices of cereal, five types of onions, and 6 types of tomatoes. Then there was the delicatessen – unbelievable – forget it – there was pasta salad with oil-based dressing, pasta salad with mayonnaise-based dressing, pasta salad like your grandmother makes it, pasta salad like your mother-in-law makes it, and pasta salad like you make it because you don’t really care for it the way your grandmother or your mother-in-law makes it. Sweet pasta salad.

On the 26 hour flight home, I made a list of all the things we wanted from the store. And, I left that list on the plane. Yep, brilliant!

But we love tacos. So I knew for sure that taco fixins were top on the list. I remembered everything except the corn. Luckily I remembered in the check out line that corn was (supposed to be) on the list. I unloaded my cart onto the belt and dashed over to the canned vegetable aisle. Holy corn, batman. Honestly. I did not remember that there are approximately 8,000 types of canned corn. Now, don’t forget, I am very jetlagged at this point and I have not been in a grocery store in 6 months. Heck, most of the time, I don’t even do my own shopping.

I was temporarily stunned by the options – not just the brands available but the sheer number of types of corn available was honestly astonishing. In India, corn is pretty much corn. IF you can find a can of corn, you will likely only find one variety. You would be amazed how easy it is to “pick” which one to get. It only took about 15 seconds, but I seriously had to reorient myself as to what we liked. Creamed or sweet or white or yellow or Green Giant or Libbys. Good heavens.

The same was true in the toothbrush aisle. I now live in the land of few toothbrush options. In fact, some vendors will sell sticks on the side of the road. These sticks do not come with any bristles, much less soft, firm, or medium. They do not come in different colors or different lengths. They do not come with a choice of cartoon characters. They do not come in electric or manual form. It’s just a choice of this stick – or that stick over there – that happens to look a lot like this stick over here.

Of course, you can buy more traditional toothbrushes in India too. But you will most likely only get to pick from one or two options.

Please don’t even ask me about my trip to the sub shop where I had to make these choices:

Wheat or white bread?
Hot or cold sandwiches?
Cheese or extra cheese or plain?
Mayo, mustard, or both?
onions?
If you don’t want ham, do you want double turkey?
pickles?
Do you want to make it a combo?

Really, when you count your options, count your blessings too! 😉

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Jasmeet permalink
    January 14, 2010 8:10 pm

    I agree with you partially that Americans are spoiled for choices. Yes you are, to the fact that when Americans can drive small car to the nearest Walmart, they WILL take their gallons consuming SUVs. So yeah in that sense you guys ARE spoiled for choices, however, I simply think that when in India you, as an American, may not get the variety or choices you would want for American food or other stuff like clothing that Americans and Europeans are used to in their homeland. I think its the same as we Delhites going to Bombay and saying that there isn’t a great variety of sweaters and winter jackets in Bombay-but the simple truth is that Bombayites don’t wear sweaters or jackets and hence there are no sweaters in Bombay to shop for. Similarly, Indians don’t eat the majority of stuff that Americans do.
    Indians, these days, ARE spoiled for choices for what sells here. Do you want wheat flour? besan? corn flour? Rice flour? and you name it. But I’m sure you don’t use’em or simply don’t want’em as it may or may not be part of the standard American diet (at least what the majority eats).
    A majority on Indians’ diet is still less dependent on corn and hence the lack of variety of corn. America on the other other hand is one of the major (read largest) producer and exporter of corn, so its natural for American stores to have a thousand variety of whats most abundantly available, right?
    Tell me would you find so much variety of natural (stressed) spices anywhere in America bar the Indian (Patel) stores??? What natural spices could you see in that store you visited apart from salt and pepper? Were able to find curry patta or heeng, maybe?

    • January 15, 2010 1:02 am

      Hi Jasmeet – this was not a criticism at all – I had just forgotten that Americans don’t just make a can of corn – they make a can of low sodium corn, creamed corn, white corn, shoepeg corn, summer crisp corn, mixed white and yellow corn, and so on. It was really pointing out the indulgent nature of America – which there are certainly pros and cons to. I was momentarily stunned by the options available. It surprised me that I had to “think” about what used to be second nature to me. And yes, we do eat Indian products as well. And I love that India has more things that are not packaged so fresh and natural are more available.

  2. January 11, 2010 4:34 am

    When I first visited US fifteen years ago, I was also bewildered by the array of choices I saw on the shelves. The sheer size of the food industry became apparent. I feel that India has not exploited the food industry as much as it should.

  3. Shank permalink
    January 11, 2010 12:34 am

    This happens to all the expats.
    In India you would find many types of rice, wheat, chili, masala powder etc but not in USA stores;not even in Indian grocery stores.
    You probably have seen spices market in India. You wont get that variety (choices) in the USA.

  4. January 9, 2010 3:50 pm

    I completely relate. Even after spending one year in France, I rushed to local pizza chain because you just couldn’t find something like it abroad.

    One of the ways I used to convince myself that I wouldn’t miss these things was by repeating that “they don’t really make me happy, anyway” – and I’m only in South America. But, oh boy, I am sure my first trip back, I am sure that I will do the same – if not worse 🙂

  5. Laura Horvath permalink
    January 9, 2010 2:28 pm

    It doesn’t take 6 months. The first time I returned from Africa I got absolutly undone by a cat food commercial: advertising restaurant-inspired food for cats. Really. How would your cat know? How many restaurants does your cat go to? When one of our kids visited us here, he marveled over the fact that there is an entire aisle in the grocery store dedicated to dog and cat food. Know what dogs and cats eat in Sierra Leone? Whatever they can catch.

    More people need to travel more widely. It’s a big wide world out there – and there is no better way to learn to really appreciate your home until you see how others live.

  6. January 8, 2010 11:39 pm

    Oh I so get this …

    I was literally rendered STUPID when faced with all of the choices. I really thought that a 6 month absence wouldn’t be “THAT big of a deal” …

    Oh .. so wrong. My experience at the drive-thru? Felt like a complete dumas!

    Did the sub shop ask if you wanted your sandwiches toasted??

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