I love the US. However, it is only since moving here two months ago that I have realized the extent of the differences between the States and my native green, wet Ireland.
I have experienced a lot of culture shock since moving here, like driving on the opposite side of the road while sitting on the opposite side of the car. I've struggled with remembering to tip and that tax is added at the checkout. Out of all of these struggles, food has been the steepest learning curve.
Naively armed with just a shopping list and a powerful feeling of liberation, I wheeled my trolley into my local Kroger for the first time. Here is a brief look into the first impressions of grocery shopping in the US through the eyes of an Irish college student.
1. Overwhelming Variety
This may not seem like a disadvantage, and mostly, I will admit, it is not. However, five minutes into my ‘liberating’ grocery shopping trip, all I wanted to do was curl up into the fetal position. While Ireland does not remotely resemble the leprechaun-speaking, backward nation that Tom Cruise so unforgettably portrayed in Far and Away, neither do we come close to challenging the US supermarket scene.
The cereal aisle. Wow. I spent 10 minutes scouring the breakfast cereal aisle for plain, old-fashioned oatmeal among the endless varieties of instant ‘Maple Brown Sugar,’ ‘Date, Raisin & Walnut,’ ‘Apple Cinnamon.’ They sound drool-worthy, but did I really need all that extra sugar?
2. Gallons of Fun
Liquids here are not sold in singular litres—ever. I don’t know what beef America has with the humble litre but everything is typically sold by the gallon. Can we spare a moment for the massive gains I have made as results of dragging home gallons (literally) of milk every week from the supermarket.
There is also a mystifying dedication to the cup for measuring dry ingredients. I have searched high and low for this all-encompassing cup, in the cupboards at home, in the crockery aisle—even on Amazon. Alas, it remains an enigma.
3. The Land of the Free
Before coming to America, I assured my parents that I would live on a pittance and save all my money for traveling. While it is possible to spend the bare minimum on food, this usually means you will be consuming processed foods which are high in sugar, salt and/or fat. If you want to tick off all five food groups, especially fruit and vegetables, it is going to cost you.
I was the laughing stock of my house one day when I triumphantly presented my housemates with the local, organic pears only to realize they had cost me $7. This may be an extreme example, but it has made me appreciate living in the EU where cheap, high-quality fruit and vegetables are commonplace.
4. The Accent
On one of the numerous occasions I stumbled blindly down an aisle, barely suppressing my growing hysteria and eye twitch, I all but collapsed into the arms of one of the supermarket employees. I was saved. Surely this kind gentleman would know where everything is located. I grasped his hands (lie) and looked deep into his eyes (true), and croaked “Can you tell me where your yogurts are?"
A look of confusion passed over his face as he recoiled ever so slightly. I tried again. Same response. Then I adopted the most stereotypical American accent ever attempted: over-enunciated, drawn-out vowels. I died a little inside, but it worked! I now unconsciously adopt this accent on every visit—it has yet to fail me.
5. No Irish Mammy
The Irish are famous for their Mammies and mine is no exception. A typical Irish Mammy will make you wear a coat outside on the hottest day of the year and make you wear sunscreen on a rainy day. She will check the death notices on a weekly basis while consuming copious cups of tea, and has the best one-liners you will ever come across.
Relentless is an Irish Mammy in her quest to fatten up her children. To her, nothing represents failure more than her child going hungry. The evenings revolve around dinner. While I haven’t missed any particular food since coming to the US, I have missed my mother’s cooking and how dinner was always the meeting point of the family.
Here, I often end up eating a defrosted meal alone while reading a labor law case (what a time to be alive). I miss feigning irritation at the massive portions my mother would dole out. Here, if I eat too much on Sunday night, it means I’ll be eating cereal (again) on Thursday night.
6. Weird Names for Food
I am all for adapting and embracing “'Murica” yet I am more than a little reluctant to part with the names of certain foods. Here is a list of the most confusing names—which, when combined with a strong Irish accent, represent a challenge for even the bravest soul:
Cilantro = Coriander
Eggplant = Aubergine (pet hate)
Zucchini = Courgette
Monterey Jack cheese = Cheddar Cheese
Biscuit = Scone
Cookie = Biscuit/ Digestive (Confused yet?)
Fries = Chips
Potatoes = Spuds
Half and Half = Cream (Half and Half in Ireland means you want half chips and half rice with your curry)
Wheat toast = Brown toast
So, next time you’re in the supermarket and you see a pasty, freckly person looking completely lost, spare them a thought—they’re probably Irish.