Thursday, January 30, 2014

At the Grocery Store

It's been snowing like crazy today here in Jackson: a "white-out" this evening as the light fades.

While the wind blows and the snow piles up, it feels great to know we'll have a few more snow days before we leave! And since we've no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. (hee hee)

But I did need to get a few groceries for the next couple days so drove to a store five minutes away earlier today.

With all the snow, it was definitely easier and more convenient to go there than driving fifteen to twenty minutes into Jackson.

But it was also a comfort.

This is where my true confession comes in: It's been hard shopping in American grocery stores.

The first time I shopped in the fall so that I could cook while we were in New Hampshire, I was a wreck. It's true, you can ask Dave.

Why? Other than shopping for things to take back home to Czech, I haven't grocery shopped in the States for over thirty years.

Oh, of course I've walked the aisles of grocery stores, picking up items here and there when we're in the States. Even shopped for all the food for a family reunion a few years ago (albeit with the help of my mom, thank goodness).

But I haven't shopped here to cook every day.

And honestly, it's been overwhelming.

I was truly paralyzed for several weeks in October. I. Could. Not. Shop. I just couldn't go in the door of a grocery store and figure out what to buy. Therefore I didn't cook.

Which is so strange. While I'm not Rachel Ray or Julia Childs, I do like to cook and feed people. I've spent years doing it and I think I'm pretty good at it!

Plus I've lived in Spain, Germany and Czech, shopping for food to cook in all of those and more countries (camping vacations through the years made me hunt for groceries all across western and central Europe).

So why couldn't I figure out shopping in the States?

Partly I think it's that there are so many choices, and I don't know which products to buy (when there are twenty different types of coffee, which one do I choose?)

I also don't know what a good deal is, or where to find things in the store so it ends up taking me a long time to shop. I've gotten a little flustered at the cash register too when they ask if I have "their" card (to get their discounts). When I say "no" it reminds me that I don't belong there.

Beyond that, when I do shop and end up cooking, it tastes different than what I'm used to at home.

So here's the crazy thing: this is what it's like for every missionary or person who has ever gone to another country and tried to shop and cook, and feed themselves, or a family. It's hard!

Maybe it even happens when you move from one part of the U.S. to another. It's just difficult when you don't know your way around, yet have to put a meal on the table at least a couple times a day, every single day. (Or you end up eating out a lot).

It was just a shock that it happened to me in reverse when I came back to the States.

I've made the adjustment now, though you'll think it's funny that I get excited when I find products that are from "home" here in grocery stores in the States! See the "Ecover" products in the picture above? That's the same dishwashing soap I buy at the DM drugstore at home in Frydlant! Oh that made me happy to see today!

So why was it comforting to go this particular store today?

First of all, it wasn't very big, thus there weren't as many choices. That helps me! And then of course I'm now better at knowing which brands to buy, where things are, what's a good deal and what's not.

This store also felt a little European, more like a store at home. It was quiet and the displays were small. The aisles were narrow, and the produce section was small! Of course we do have big stores in Czech so it's not like they're all little. But the ones I typically shop in are on the smaller side, so this felt more like home today.

For my missionary friends who have been through this adjustment on the other side in a foreign country, or maybe are even still going through that adjustment: "I understand and feel with you!"

I'd spent so many years living in Europe that it was hard to remember what it was like to have everything be so unfamiliar (while you can't even read labels in the beginning when you're in a foreign country, I must add that it wasn't all that much help here since there was just so much to choose from and I could spend hours doing it if I took the time).

But now I know that feeling again firsthand.

It's been good for me to have this experience, even if it was a reverse culture shock and happened here in the States. But the principle is the same: it takes time to adjust.

And you will adjust! But it might take a while. Eventually though, you'll figure it out and shopping and cooking will all be normal (albeit with a bit different flair) once again. You do have to give yourself time and grace though. It doesn't happen quickly.

I'm happy to say I made a delicious meal tonight for Dave and I. And it tasted "like home"!

I think I've finally made the adjustment at the grocery store.


  1. I think that's why I like our Mexican produce store so much - I still feel disoriented every time I go into a Jewel Osco or Dominicks! I like me an abundance of ad-free produce :) Also, I think it's hilarious that your little grocery store sells Intelligentsia :D

  2. I feel your pain!! When I'm home, we'll go grocery shopping in Billa again. ;) I'm glad you feel more comfortable now though - you are TCA (Third Culture Adult)!

  3. Tips for shopping:
    -buy the house brand instead of the brand name - you save about 30%
    -check the close out meat section - you can usually find great deals if you are ready to use or freeze it today.
    -shop on the sides, not the middle - everything in the middle of the store is processed.
    -enjoy it and marvel at the abundance and variety in American stores!

  4. Thanks for sharing. As we are about to enter the mission field I know we will experience this very same thing. It is always good to know people have walked these paths before us.

    Praying for your migraines too.

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