Sunday, February 26, 2006

Going to a new country - hardest thing to get used to

Let me first set the scene: it was 1974 when I migrated from California to Melbourne with my Aussie husband. In those days, Oz was wonderfully "behind" the U.S. although it took me a couple of years to realise that that was a good thing.

But one thing that really got to me in those days was the grocery shopping situation. Thankfully that has improved out of sight, but these are some of the things that brought me undone all those years ago:
  1. The shopping trolleys from hell: it was a constant struggle to steer them in the general desired direction, the only consolation being the hilarious sight of seeing other people, sometimes two per trolley, trying to navigate them around the aisles and to their cars. Australia must have bought up the world's supply of dysfunctional trolleys - the wheels just did not want to work.
  2. Shopping hours for the leisured class: those days a full time job was 9 - 5 and there was no such thing as flexitime and very little part time work. Shopping was a nightmare; opening hours were 9 - 6 Monday to Friday, and all shops closed at midday on Saturday, and remained firmly shut until Monday morning. Eventually, supermarkets stayed open until 8 or 9 p.m., but get this:
  3. Meat could not be bought after 6 p.m.! So there you'd be, after a day's work, trying to do the week's grocery shopping in less than an hour. After that, the meat would be covered up with a green cloth, off limits until the next morning.
  4. Saturday morning, welcome to shopping hell. That was the time when most working people had to shop, and we were all funnelled into the woefully inadequate carparks, forced to do battle with the reluctant trolleys in small supermarkets, all before everything closed at midday. I would sometimes be in tears beforehand, just imagining what lay before me, and exhausted afterwards. That has now all changed, mostly for the better. ( Things were quiet and relaxed for 1 ½ days of the week though)
  5. The last straw: the strange grouping of items. Flour and sugar, for example, would be aisles apart, and you'd find the same types of products in different places. But the best example of this strange shelving order was in 1976 when a friend came over from California to visit. I had been writing to him about the whole shopping catastrophe, and one day he experienced it for himself. First up was the usual trolley non-function. But what caused us to dissolve into laughter afterwards was this: needing to buy some paper plates for a picnic we were planning, we (naturally) looked carefully in the papergoods section. But no, not there. Upon asking a shop assistant where they might be kept, he said, and in a tone that implied of course they'd be there "in the frozen food compartment". And there they indeed were.
Kerri, I tag you with this one. I know you've just written about Aussie foods you miss, but I'd like to know: what was the hardest thing to get used to (besides missing family and friends) in your new country?


Kerri said...

Oh boy, another tag...gee thanks Val...(do read a little fecetiousness in here)....but I think I'll really enjoy doing this. (Not that I didn't enjoy the just make me wrack my feeble brain).
This is a great post.
We do have some of those shopping carts over here (still), believe me. Every time I get a good one I feel lucky :)
I can't believe they covered up the meat at 6PM! Outrageously inconvenient. Not at all shopper friendly. What were they thinking? The butcher went home I guess.
Paper plates in with the frozen foods....hilarious :)

Alice said...

I remember when extended Saturday trading came in. Tanya was working in DJ's florist in town and, as I waited to collect her I would watch all the staff - predominantly women with families -leave the store at 5.00pm instead of 12 noon, and feel so sorry for them because now they only had one day to be with their families.

Now, of course, they trade on Sundays, too.

I guess we've all gotten used to almost unlimited trading, and come to expect it, but I'm sure there is a down-side to it as well.

Sharon said...

I think we have gone beyond the boundaries with our retail hours...I work in retail and I often wonder what we would do on a Sunday if the shops weren't open... We live quite near a 'homemaker strip' of shops on a busy road - I believe the traffic there of a weekend is nearly as busy as a weekday... I think that we have just about turned shopping into a sport... Up until a few years ago Perth -WA - seemed to have the riight idea with their trading but I believe they have just about caught up with the eastern states... Pity really... Do we really want all that we buy or is it because we are such a credit driven society we buy for the sake of it... It is a insidious addiction... I have had my rant now!!!!

Val said...

the short hours for meat being sold was to protect the independent butchers. Thankfully we still have some around who will butcher meat to your specification.

Alice & Sharon,
I agree that we've gone way overboard with the retail hours. What we needed was some middle of the road solution, but now it's almost 24/7. At least there's more flexibility in work hours with rostered days off and part time work to do the grocery shopping, although that too has come at a price!

As for shopping addiction, I had a rant of my own around Christmas time:

Keeping a low profile at Christmas

Tanya said...

Oh for Sunday trading! In Queensland (or Townsville, at least) we have Bunnings open and about three supermarkets. Some little shops are open in the mornings with the Sunday morning markets (where most people get decent fruit and veggies). But by 12.00, it's all closed. I am grateful for it - saves me money and forces me to do something other than try to spend money. And hey, what can be SO important that you can't wait until Monday. Some (yes, only some) of the petrol stations are open 24 hours, and they stock the essentials.

Oh, and this afternoon (this should be my own post rather than just a comment...) I was using a new Woolies trolley. Not only did it go in a straight line (despite the turning circle from hell), but on the ramp-style escalator, brakes automatically came down and I couldn't move the trolley if I had wanted to. I was a little frustrated - yet impressed.

Takoma Gardener said...

Terrific post. Didn't I promise you photos of my trip to your area many years ago? I found them, tried to scan then, and they're terrible. I'm still working on it, though. I suppose garden shots of New Zealand don't count, do they? Susan

Kerri said...

P.S. I really do know how to spell facetiousness :)
I haven't had time to work on that tag yet Val (worked today) but will get around to it soon, I hope.
Was your address book salvagable and intact?

Val said...

whenever you get around to those photos will be fine! But don't forget the snow-covered adirondack chairs please.

nope, address book gone for good - I'm in the rebuild stage now.

Wendy A said...

What is with the shopping carts? I think they are still like that in Tasmania. I need to employ my kids to help me go straight. I feel like I had an abdominal work out everytime I finish shopping.

I am happy to see the other points have all changed. Excellent post.

Val said...

I started laughing when I read about the "abdominal workout". Yes, that's exactly what it feels like! And that isn't even taking into account the "hills" between supermarket and carpark.

I was going to tag you for your take on finding your feet in a new country, but I figured you need to be here for a while for perspective, and you were also in the middle of a move. But you might want to think about that down the track.

Glad you like the post.

Nelumbo said...

When I spent a few months in Australia and I really missed cinnamon. I tried finding cinnamon chewing gum at several grocery stores but couldn't find it.

I also almost accidently smuggled a cinnamon
granola bar through customs and the agent thought it was really funny that there was such thing as cinnamon "muesli bars"

Is cinnamon flavoring an American addiction?

Val said...

I don't know if others share Americans' liking for adding flavors to foods and drinks. For example, the trend I saw in the U.S. for flavored coffee never took off here, not sure about other places.