I've been hearing from locals around here how crazy the local grocery store, H-E-B, has become due to the oil boom. At first, I was tempted to skip it because of their warnings and head to Wal-Mart instead, but then, I thought “I live in China. It can’t be that bad.” So we headed into the gigantic store, put Kanyon in the gigantic cart and began our hour-long shopping expedition. If you've heard that everything in Texas is bigger, it’s very true. This grocery store feels like it is a mile long after I've become accustomed to shopping in smaller grocery stores in China. It’s a lot more crowded than I remember, but the amount of space available for each shopper still amazes me. The aisles are 3 super-size carts wide so the crowd never hits gridlock like I've experienced many times in China. Everyone is very polite, saying excuse me every time you might have entered their huge personal space bubble, which startles me because my personal space bubble is pretty much non-existent now.
I have to be careful not to make others uncomfortable as I zip in and out of aisles, squeezing here and there to grab this and that. “I’m not in China, I’m not in China” I keep reminding myself as I watch someone slowly remove a box of cereal from the shelf to carefully examine it. They’re blocking the Fruit Loops I was going for, which wouldn’t be a problem in a Chinese situation where I would simply stand close enough for them to smell me and then reach across them to grab the Loops and go, no “excuse me” necessary. Do that here, and the other person will immediately jump back, smile and say “well, excuse me!” fully expecting me to apologize. My blank stare and failure to reply “no, excuse me” will certainly cause a ruffle in their feathers. So, I decide to calmly wait until the other shopper and their Texas-sized personal space bubble clears the area to make my fruity selection.
Then, the whole situation turns on me. I’m standing in front of the bagels trying to hurry up and choose one, but I just can’t decide because there are so many options I’m overwhelmed. Blueberry, wheat, everything, honey wheat, raisin, white….Sara Lee or Hearty Grains….regular size, mini, or flattened???? It takes me 5 minutes to get over the shock of so many choices (we’d be elated to have just one of those choices appear in our local grocery store). I finally commit to a bag of wheat bagels and return to my cart as I notice a man standing behind me, patiently awaiting my departure from the bagel area. I’m a little embarrassed he’s been standing there watching my bread-product indecision and a little annoyed that he didn’t just butt in and get whatever he needed and get on his way!
There are many things about my grocery shopping experience that excite me beyond belief. Walking down the chip aisle, seeing the huge selection of carefully placed bags of non-crushed crunchiness particularly pleases me. In China, the chips are smashed into the shelves so that half the bag comes back crunched. Avocados cost 3 for $1!!! I have to limit myself to nine. Cheese is so reasonably priced I’m tempted to buy it all and store it in the freezer. The cereal aisle is so amazing I can only take in half of it before my head starts to spin. I don’t have to play defense at the check-out counter afraid someone’s going to cut in line. The checker carefully places my bread on the top of all my other items whereas my local Chinese checker always seems to put the bread on the very bottom of my sack and pile everything else on top of it!
Our expedition comes to an end and we roll the groceries out to the parking lot to toss them in the back of the car and drive home. I’m definitely not in China!