Saturday, August 6, 2011

Five Dollars Off Culture Shock

or, the Grocery Store.

My grocery basket, one summer evening in Japan.
From 2011_07_08

(In the car, on the way home from the airport)
Me: Sometimes, even though they're like $3 apiece, I still buy peaches in Japan because I just have to.

Brother: Well, here they're 99 cents a--
Me: Oh!
Brother: --pound.
Me: Oh, my God. How many peaches are in a pound?!

Being here the second time around has been different than last summer. Maybe it's what a two-year period will do to you. Maybe it's not having popped in during the winter months. Whatever the cause, I found myself feeling a shite sight more out of place this time around. I couldn't feel the groove of my old car. I couldn't look at restaurants the same way; I didn't crave Mexican food. Produce, now considered "a painfully expensive necessity," seems deliriously cheap. I couldn't have really changed, not who I really am, anyway. Just, you know, the way I look at things, and how I value things.

So, almost nothing, except my personal self and all, right?

But even with all that, it wasn't jarring, and it wasn't shocking. That is to say, I didn't feel particularly culture-shocked.. til I brought my list and dispensed dollar amount to the local grocery store, was surrounded by friendly (and white) strangers (who.. spoke English), and found myself saying "sumimasen" as I just missed someone with my unwieldy-sized shopping cart. And there I was. Aisle after aisle of packages I could read, staffpersons to whom I could ask question, and baggers who bring your groceries to your car and, like, make small talk (this too in English) along the way. And it's not that it's unbelievable to me that my grocery bagger also went to Vandy.. it's beyond me that anyone around me has ever heard of Vandy.

And you have to understand something. When I go to the grocery store across the street from where I have been living, I walk there with one or two cloth bags. I carry around a basket, gather a few requisite things, and then buy them, take them home, and put them away. But I never buy more than two bags full because I only have two hands, and shit is heavy!

Also, MaxValu doesn't really have bacon. They have pork slices masquerading as bacon, but when you cook them, they turn kind of whitey-grey, like pork is wont to do. To get anything remotely like bacon, you have to cross town and go to Jusco and get the package that looks just-so (or else have a farmer give you a chunk of pig that comes from the bacon section of that animal). In the grocery store in the wide country, there are at least four brands of bacon on display. There are different flavors (the maple kind?), and types. You have turkey bacon, you have microwaveable meats, and pre-cooked meats, and all the packages are sorted into their hanging and setting slots, with their color-coded labels and brand logos, and their sizes. Feeding a family? Choose the jumbo option!

The yogurt section, with its wall of flavor choices, reminds me of life in Kansas, where we scrimped and saved to live within our means (this could be its own blog post, but I'll let it suffice to say I've never lived in the US while having a decent salary.. or salary of any kind, for that matter. That has happened only in Japan).

And the same goes for everything else. So many choices, so many neatly presented possibilities. It's enough to make your head spin. The salve for this madness is reasonably priced... well, everything; the way that Georgia peaches are especially good this year, and unlike at MaxValu where they are 200 to 400 yen.. apiece.. here, they are $.99. A pound.

But even then you have to be careful because there is more than one type of peach in that section, and some of them are like, from California, so they're more expensive or something. Don't get me wrong! I'm not saying any of this is a bad thing. It's a great and glorious thing! But it's also an overwhelming thing, if you aren't used to it. So maybe what I mean is, it's more weird not to be used to it. It's weird to get lost in the supermarket in your own hometown.

Now, I do feel the groove of my old car (and yes I can in fact drive on the right side of the road), and I can once again navigate the supermarket (I even braved Super-Wal-Mart so I could stock up on my year's supply of deodorant, toothpaste, facewash, and dark brown mascara... and as much instant oatmeal as I can fit in a suitcase). I may not be demanding Mexican food, but I have enjoyed it twice. I can definitely say that the heat of Georgia is hotter than Shiso's, but their AC is in full swing. Television, especially parents' DVR with OnDemand access to tons of movies and premiumchannel series.. is remarkable.

Not having my phone available for e-mailing is weird. Not sorting and separating the trash is weird. Laundry being just a few hours' event is weird. Looking at things in storage containers with no fear of mold is nice. Being carded, at all, for anything, is weird. I'm still totally paranoid about drinking and driving (but.. you won't be fined/fired/jailed/deported for being over 0.00?). Paying tips is weird.

They warn you about culture shock. They also warn you about reverse culture shock. Because we're human, so we can get used to a good many things, and it'll be just as hard to get un-used to them again; it'll take time. It's not going to be easy for people to understand why I feel lost without mountains most of them have never seen, why Southern charm doesn't always live up to fervent Japanese courtesy, or why it takes me forever to stare down one aisle full of choices in the cereal section. There are a lot of things I miss about the US when I am not in it, but they are every one of them things I have learned, however temporarily (and three years is a long temporary), to live without.

And all this is premature, I know, but it has come to my attention recently, how there's a sort of American sense of everything, and a Japanese sense of things too, and the ways that they're different, and how I have them both, now.

Next, I'll have to write a post refuting the assertion that I'm turning Japanese!


  1. :)

    This post makes me smile.

    Glad to have you here.


  2. So good to see you, grocery store culture shock and all. Safe travels. Know that Scott and I love you...