Tag Archives: choices

So hard to explain………

I have been really grappling with how to share my transition back to America. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes I am truly paralyzed at the thought of doing it all justice which means that I have not been putting fingers to keyboard very much and I am afraid that some of it is going to slip away from my memory.

At least ten times a day, I look around and think (sometimes to myself and sometimes to any poor soul standing near me) that America is exactly the opposite of India. And I really, really mean that. It is exactly the opposite! And that does not mean bad or good – just so extremely different that I know my words would have a hard time describing it accurately.

This morning at Walmart was no exception. Just walking into Walmart is a little bit overwhelming. Heck, just getting to Walmart is different. I grab my car keys and I hop in the drivers seat and I drive myself there. No waiting for Rajinder to fill his water bottle. No giving a list to Francis and Rani for what I want. No asking Ravi if he needs anything. No trying to translate what he actually asks for. No waiting for the guard to unlock/open the gate. And certainly no wondering if I will be able to find what I need. Just me, myself, and I hop in the car.

I control the radio – hey, I listen to the radio. I decide which route to take. This way or that way is up to me once more.  On the way to the store, I pass tons of green trees along roads where (nearly) everyone stays in their own lane (everyone except those dingbats who are texting and driving – seriously that needs to stop). No one honks their horn. People stop at red lights and use their blinkers. There are no wild cows or dogs on the road. In fact, people are walking dogs on leashes and they are fatter than they need to be – the dogs and many of the people. There are no children begging or doing tricks on the side of the road. There are no bicycles with 3 or even 4 people on them. There are no women on the backs of motorcycles with their dupattas (scarves) flowing dangerously close to the back tire. There are street signs (in English) absolutely everywhere. There are no people running to literally catch a bus that is so full of people that it already looks like it might explode.

I pull into Walmart’s abundant parking lot and I pick where I want to park. I don’t have to tip anyone to push another car out of the way to make room for me. I don’t have to ask Rajinder where I should meet him when I am done or explain how long I think it might take. A man greets me as I enter the store and I get a cart. Oh sweet shopping cart heaven. No one follows me through the store. No one asks me 25 times if I need help. Two people and two carts can easily pass each other on each aisle. And while I am shopping I can get a Subway sandwich (with meatballs and s.a.f.e. lettuce), order eyeglasses, fill a prescription, develop photos, and just about anything else I want to do.

I do have to push my own cart and pull my own items from the shelves. And it takes me so much longer because there is so much more to look at and so many more choices. But I only have to go to one store.

The reason I went to Walmart was to get clear trash bags for the recycling container. Once again, we are responsible for our own recycling. And we have two trash cans in the kitchen. One for regular trash and another for anything that can be recycled – paper, plastic, glass, and metal items. So I like clear bags for the recycling. That way we can tell which is which and the trash men know which bags have recycling in them. I also wanted small bags for cleaning out the cat litter.

Here again I am assaulted by choices. Upteen size and color options. I really just want trash bags but now I have to decide if I want white, flexwhite, green, black, clear, or slightly opaque. Do I want handles or ties or looped handles. Do I need 8 gallon, 15 gallon, 33 gallon, or yard bags. It takes me just a second to focus. But then I found the recycling bags I wanted.

Now onto the small trash bags. Holy trashbag batman – they come in colors – vanilla and mint green. Then, I realize – not just colors but scents. Huh? I fully understand that perfume was invented to cover up body odor – but we have moved away from that because it can really be a toxic combination. And as such, deodorant was invented. Perfume is much better on a bathed person and scents are much better for candles. And I know the makers of these cute little mint green 8 gallon bags with handles did not know that they would be used for litter – but the potential certainly existed that they would be used for something smelly. And not for nothing, who decided that 76 bags was the right number of bags. That must have been a fun meeting. And who lost out – the person who thought that 88 was just the right number?

So India is the land where not much of the trash finds its way into a bag and America is the land where trash bags are supposed to smell like a cupcake or a bowl of ice cream. I really don’t know if this makes sense to anyone who has not lived in both places – but honestly, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Everything is different, different.

And the the final irony is that I searched and searched for these small bags for our kitties poop only to be given about 15 bags of almighty plastic to hold all of the c-r-a-p that I bought at checkout. And they are the same, same size and they do not smell like cotton candy and they would work perfectly fine for holding cat litter. And I would be recycling if I just used those.

On to checking out. Even that is different. The woman in front of me was using coupons. Dang, I forgot about that. Note to self – get Sunday paper, cut out coupons, and remember to bring them to the store – then remember to use them at checkout.

Most transactions in India are in cash – so the debit card machine temporarily stunned me. Do I want cash back? It’s a simple question – but I forgot that it prompts you for that. I stand there waiting to be done – and the people behind me think I have dropped in from another planet – how can I possibly not know what to do here. Okay, okay. No, I don’t want cash – well, unless it is a door prize – but I am guessing that is not the case, so no, I don’t need cash back. But that is not the end of it. Do I want to contribute to a fundraiser for a children’s hospital? I can buy a paper balloon and write my name on it. I should not have to think about it – but wait a minute – what did you ask me? Oh, a charitable donation? Sure. How much? A dollar? Fine. And no thanks, I don’t need to write my name on the balloon. Besides, my hands are full because I am going to have to carry my own bags to the car and remember where I parked it.

So many choices………

Whenever I arrive back in Delhi, I am reminded of (really assaulted by) the fact that India is not the U.S. But the same is happening in reverse. When we land in the U.S., the differences jump out at us.

One of the things that you might be surprised to hear is that the number of choices we Americans have to make can be simply overwhelming when you are not used to making them.

When we got home, I almost immediately went to the grocery store to stock up on all the essentials our favorites. We emptied the house completely before we left this summer to return to India, so we “needed” everything. I literally walked up and down every aisle. I marveled at the choices. Twenty-five types of bread, sixty-three choices of cereal, five types of onions, and 6 types of tomatoes. Then there was the delicatessen – unbelievable – forget it – there was pasta salad with oil-based dressing, pasta salad with mayonnaise-based dressing, pasta salad like your grandmother makes it, pasta salad like your mother-in-law makes it, and pasta salad like you make it because you don’t really care for it the way your grandmother or your mother-in-law makes it. Sweet pasta salad.

On the 26 hour flight home, I made a list of all the things we wanted from the store. And, I left that list on the plane. Yep, brilliant!

But we love tacos. So I knew for sure that taco fixins were top on the list. I remembered everything except the corn. Luckily I remembered in the check out line that corn was (supposed to be) on the list. I unloaded my cart onto the belt and dashed over to the canned vegetable aisle. Holy corn, batman. Honestly. I did not remember that there are approximately 8,000 types of canned corn. Now, don’t forget, I am very jetlagged at this point and I have not been in a grocery store in 6 months. Heck, most of the time, I don’t even do my own shopping.

I was temporarily stunned by the options – not just the brands available but the sheer number of types of corn available was honestly astonishing. In India, corn is pretty much corn. IF you can find a can of corn, you will likely only find one variety. You would be amazed how easy it is to “pick” which one to get. It only took about 15 seconds, but I seriously had to reorient myself as to what we liked. Creamed or sweet or white or yellow or Green Giant or Libbys. Good heavens.

The same was true in the toothbrush aisle. I now live in the land of few toothbrush options. In fact, some vendors will sell sticks on the side of the road. These sticks do not come with any bristles, much less soft, firm, or medium. They do not come in different colors or different lengths. They do not come with a choice of cartoon characters. They do not come in electric or manual form. It’s just a choice of this stick – or that stick over there – that happens to look a lot like this stick over here.

Of course, you can buy more traditional toothbrushes in India too. But you will most likely only get to pick from one or two options.

Please don’t even ask me about my trip to the sub shop where I had to make these choices:

Wheat or white bread?
Hot or cold sandwiches?
Cheese or extra cheese or plain?
Mayo, mustard, or both?
onions?
If you don’t want ham, do you want double turkey?
pickles?
Do you want to make it a combo?

Really, when you count your options, count your blessings too! 😉