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Conspicuous consumption


I have been in America for a few weeks now* and have yet to really consume. I have yet to take part in stereotypical American life. Americans consume. Their entire life and culture is based around consumption of “stuff”. In theory, good stuff. And New York, more than probably anywhere on the planet consumes. But so far I have not had a single burger, pizza, hotdog, cheesecake, budweiser or even a bagel. I haven't been into a McDonalds, have barely seen a Burger King and don't recall even seeing a KFC or Wendy's. I haven't been to Macy's, Sears, Bloomingdales or even a Mall; used a soda fountain, taken the Staten Island ferry, been up the Empire State Building, visited the Statue of Liberty or any other of the doubtless hundreds of everyday American or touristy things. Heck, despite a few days in New York City I haven't even seen a single rat yet. I have used Starbucks, yes, but more because they have toilets and free wifi. Now back in Buffalo after my roadtrip and finally feeling human enough, I think I am now alive enough that it is time to consume. New York City is calling again. So it is time to experience America as Americans do. Time to eat.

In fact, I had probably only really done one typical thing: visiting Walmart. If you ignore the one whose car-park I slept, whilst out wandering in the Adirondacks one day I had come across a town – Plattsburgh – near the Canadian border and on spying a large Walmart, had stopped to use the toilet and get a couple of things: some bread and 2 banana's. It was a Super Walmart or Mega Walmart or a Maxi-Humungous-All Conquering Walmart. Or something. It was fascinating. Both the huge variety of things in the store, but also some of the customers (and staff). I saw a handful of people who were so, erm, generously proportioned (read: really, really fat) that just their standing up appeared to simultaneously defy the laws of both physics and gravity. The fact that they were walking (albeit slowly, and in cases, looking very painful to their backs) was truly mind-boggling to me.

And then there were the options of goods to buy. The choice of, to take one example, cheese, was incredible. The amount of pre-packaged or pre-prepared cheese in that one store was more cheese than I ever seen in one place at one time before, and I have even been to cheese factories in the past. There was a decent selection of varieties, but I was struck more by the sheer number of brands of cheese available. Row upon row of large packs of grated cheese – either one sort of cheese, or a blend of 3 or 4 – were there to be chosen. But the actual options in terms of type of cheese or blend was relatively small (maybe 20-30). But for each of those blends, there was a choice of up to 50 brands. All of cheddar. And I can't help wonder how anybody would ever taste all of them to make an informed choice.

I was also bemused, if not surprised, by the inability to buy “small” portions or things. Such as a single soda or a beer. There were lots of micro breweries in the region, and I thought that it could be nice to try 2 or 3 local brews. In the fridge were cans of Budweiser, Miller, Molson etc of sizes ranging from roughly 1 pint to 5 pints. But no real beers. On the shelves were numerous sorts of real beers, but the smallest pack size was 16. I just wanted 2 or 3 single bottles, but that appeared to be an impossibility. So I changed tack, and decided to just get some coke. Here, my options again seemed to be bottles of 1litre up to vats containing enough coke to fill a medium sized swimming pool, or packs of small bottles which started at 24bottles. I just wanted 1 or 2 small bottles (litre bottles being too big to fit in a cup-holder in a car), but I ended up having to go across the road to a gas station and use a drinks machine to get them. It just seemed odd.

So overwhelmed was I by the choice and experience that my 5 minute stop off lasted well over an hour. I wandered isles with a look on my face which probably immediately marked me down as an alien (if, in fact, my skinny size did not – I was the smallest person I saw in the store by some distance), picking up and looking at all sorts of interesting – or depressing – foods stuffs, and then exploring the 'other' stuff in the store. By the time I came outside, I just had to stand in the car park for a few moments in amazement and wonder. Or something. I am already looking forward to potentially having to move over here more permanently, and doing my first ever grocery shop.

It was almost overwhelming. On second thoughts, perhaps I will wait a couple more weeks before I start to consume. Consumption is scary. I'll go back to Canada instead.

* yes, I know that the last couple of days have actually been in Canada. But it's all the same place really (ducks, and runs off to hide)


Posted by Gelli 04:03 Archived in USA

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