God bless Wegman’s and Aldi’s.

If it seems unusual that I’m singing the praises of a couple of supermarket chains, I guess you need to live in a foreign country to understand my feelings. During my time home in Western New York this summer for vacation from my teaching job in China, I once again really appreciated what we have in America. Yes, even a trip to a grocery store can be a special experience.

The main difference is in the United States you almost have to decide what not to buy. There are so many things that look appealing. You’ll pass up certain items either because you’ve exceeded your budget for the day or you decide you can do without the calories. When you first enter them, Chinese supermarkets don’t look much different than their American counterparts. But a closer look reveals the differences are dramatic.

 

I generally like Chinese food, but I have to admit some of the items just don’t look appealing. In other cases, I have no idea what the product is. Sometimes the packages have both English and Chinese writing on them…but not always. That’s the problem.There are many times when I have no idea what’s being sold! Of course, here there are items you generally will not find in Western New York. When was the last time you encountered some jellyfish for sale? Sometimes, the packaging is much different than what we’re used to. At the checkout you’ll find what appears to be a bottle of aspirin. In fact, it’s actually chewing gum!

 

The US health inspectors would have a field day with some of the storage conditions. You can often find ground beef not in a refrigerated case but in an ordinary bin out in the open easily accessible to human hands or flies. There is no plastic, just beef getting warm. I have some doubts about how much the store’s air conditioning helps. Even large slabs of meat can be seen hanging on a hook in the store itself not the freezer.

 

The marketing people apparently could use a better translator for some of their promotions. A sign that should say “Buy one, get one free’ has become ‘Buy one, send one”. Instructors about what shoppers are supposed to do are labeled “Warm prompt” Plus, I’m still not sure what packing pork is.

 

But manufacturers have the right idea when it comes to effective marketing. When you have a lot of male customers, you can never go wrong with a pretty lady offering samples of your product. Case in point-the Lipton lady who is a frequent fixture at one of the supermarkets. She seems to have spurred on sales as well as many second glances from male shoppers!

In general, prices are fairly reasonable if it’s an item that’s manufactured in China or imported at a low cost. My weekly grocery bill for just me averages about $35-40 American dollars. That does include some meat and a variety of items. Some common American items like cereal, jelly, and pancake mix can get quite expensive. That’s why my suitcase for the return trip to China had SIX boxes of cereal in it. Sadly, you can only bring so much with you. Otherwise, the airlines’ excess weight charges kick in.

Sometimes it is interesting to just roam around the store and look at unfamiliar items and wonder what they are and what to do with them. When Chinese colleagues are along on occasion, they sometimes seem amazed that we Americans do not know what certain foods are. To them they’re common place, everyday items. Of course, they would probably react the same way in our supermarkets.

There are times when I’ve taken a chance on unfamiliar products. The results have been mixed. Some things have been picked up again during the supermarket stop. Other times I’m wondering why did I bother with certain foods! I find the chains that are owned by corporations from other countries like Vanguard, Jusco, and Carrefour do tend to stock many items foreigners like.

Still, they have a ways to go before I’ll forget the offerings of Wegman’s and Aldi’s