September 30, 2011

Grocery store trauma

I'm suffering from reverse culture shock.  Not from returning to the US from a month away in Asia, but from returning back to my hometown in Alabama.  I'm spending about half my time down here these days, and after spending the past 9 years in Virginia and DC, I find that I have some re-adjusting to do.  First, there's the fact that I'm not terribly southern to begin with.  I refuse to own a vehicle large enough to hit a cow and win, I don't have big southern hair, I don't own anything made by Carhartt, I could care less about Nascar or wrestling, I can't stand country music, I'm a beer snob, I don't go to church, and I don't even have a southern accent.  But I do love SEC football, collards, and fried chicken.  So there's hope for me, right?

Being back down here makes me see the south in a new way, albeit in a way that makes me feel like an outsider in my own hometown.  But since I live to travel, I suppose I should be somewhat used to being the outsider.  I recognize that this "outsider" status gives me the ability to appreciate the nuances of southern culture.  It also give me the ability to get ridiculously frustrated and/or laugh at it, as well.

This is a situation that I encounter on a near-weekly basis:

Random Person, after engaging very brief small talk:  "So where are you from?"
Me:  "Here."
Random Person:  "...huh...?"

I find this situation just plain fun, because I know exactly how it will go, and I love watching people grapple with the fact that someone can actually be born and bred in the south yet not sound like it.  It's quite the internal struggle for them.  It's free entertainment for me.

One particular challenge that I have encountered has been my local grocery store.  Living in DC, I have gotten quite used to having pretty much any kind of food, spice, or spirit at my disposal.  Ethiopian spices?  Aisle 2.  Obscure Asian vegetable?  Got it right here.  My favorite champagne from South Africa?  Well, there's the brut, the brut rose, and the reserve brut - take your pick.  I'm not so out of touch that I expect all these things to be available at the Winn Dixie up the road, but I must admit, I did set a certain level of expectation that was apparently rather off-base.

My neighbor across the street lent me one of her gorgeous, thriving basil plants to feast on.  I don't know what she does to make the plants so freakin' large, but all I can figure is that steroids have to be involved.  Basil that beautiful just cries out to be made into caprese salad.  So off I went to the WD for some buffalo mozzarella, among other basic things.  I searched the dairy case.  No buffalo.  I found the "specialty" cheese case.  No buffalo.  The organic section?  No buffalo.  I found a store employee.

Me:  "Excuse me, do you have any buffalo mozzarella?"
Employee:  "Um... we have Kraft mozzarella."
What I thought: "WTF is wrong with this store?"
What I said:  "Thank you."

So I settled for an abomination of cheese, dried up and vacuum-sealed in plastic with KRAFT plastered on it.  I think the basil and I both shed a tear.  Unfortunately, the WD was not finished with me just yet.  As I lay my poser cheese, some bananas, tomatoes, and hummus on the belt for the cashier to ring up, she suddenly stopped the belt.  She picked up the container of hummus and began to inspect it like one might do to an unidentifiable dead bug.

Cashier: "What is this...  hummus stuff?  Is it a dip?"
Me:  "Um... yes...  usually for vegetables or pita chips."
Cashier, still warily inspecting the container:  "... what's in it?"
Me:  "The main ingredients are chick peas, oil, and tahini."
Cashier:  "Um, ok..."

She gingerly put the hummus in a bag, looking afraid that she might catch something from it.  I took my goods and swore to find a grocery store that has buffalo mozzarella and cashiers that know what hummus is. 


  1. Hahahaha! I just found your blog from another site and I'm loving it! Especially this post! Once my fiance and I started traveling a little bit I started appreciating Houston more and more. When we went to the northwestern part of Georgia I couldn't believe it. There was NOTHING! Then we went to South Carolina and I had my first Winn Dixie experience. Oh mah gawd.... I had never seen so much dip and tobacco in my life in a grocery store. Let alone the lack of cultured foods! Hah! And here I grew up thinking Houston, TX was the deep south... boy was I wrong!

  2. Thanks! And really, who knew grocery stores could reveal so much about a place? The south is such a funny place. There's the redneck south, mountain hillbilly south, Texas south, old-school plantation/horse farm south, and then there's Florida, which is a special category all to itself. :)