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Why you don’t need a cook or a driver in America……..

When I first told people I was moving to India, they all wanted to know – “does that mean you will have people working for you?” And they said it with lust in their eyes. As if it was all rainbows and unicorn farts burps. If you don’t know why that could possible be NOT the most fantastic thing that has ever happened to you – please read here first and then maybe here and maybe even here. This blog post might actually be more interesting to my readers who have never been in the U.S. but, trust me, if you are all too familiar with the ways of the West, you might just be amazed at what we are all taking for granted. Trust me on this one – it’s not always the same, same every where.

I have always admitted that having staff made my life in India (much) easier – it was just a pain to have people always around you and sometimes stealing from you and blah blah blah. In fact, for the last five weeks of our lives in India, I did all the cooking and 90 percent of the shopping. People marveled at how I was going to manage it. Why would it be so tough to manage without a cook? Well, most of the shopping is done in markets and there are very few convenience foods. There is no “one-stop” shopping.

Today I went to a grocery store and Walmart and I marveled at just how many things we do not have to do in America.

First of all, some stores in the United States are open 24 hours a day. That is right – they never close. Can I get a hallelujah? In India, most markets don’t open until much later in the morning. And have I bored you to tears yet by telling you how many different places you have to go to get everything on your list? Shopping, cleaning the food, preparing the food, and cooking the food really can be an all-day event. And the foods don’t have a lot of preservatives – which is all sorts of loverly – but it also means you have to go to the market more often. See how tedious it all becomes? I know, I know, there are bigger problems in the world – but I am just sayin – shopping, cooking, and cleaning in India – harder than in the U.S.

So, I am in my car – driving myself – listening to the radio – windows down and I am reminded that the definition of traffic is not universal. Here is what I saw

Now this is not a side road – it is a well traveled thoroughfare and this is at 8:30am. Not necessarily the height of rush hour – but not in the middle of the night either. And, no, everyone is not simply running late today because no one was really behind me either. And I know I should not have been taking a picture – but give me a break – I used the rearview mirror – I had my eyes on the road the whole time! Pinky swear!

So, I pull into the road in front of the shopping plaza and see this sign.

Yes, you see that correctly – A) there is a sign telling you what’s here (what a marvel of modern technology) and B) all of these mega stores are within walking distance of each other.

There is a Target next to a Walmart (basically the same thing) and a BJs with everything that Walmart and Target sell, only in larger quantities. There is a shoe warehouse next to a Payless shoe store and a Toy Store right next to Target and Walmart (which both have enough toys in them for a large country). If you are from India and know about Spencers or Big Bazaar – think of that magnified 8,000 times. Bigger, bigger and better, better.

I know it reveals just how fancy I am not – but if I had to pick only one store to go to for the rest of my life – it would be Walmart – okay, a super Walmart – but a Walmart nonetheless. I heart this store! And, for my Indian readers – do you notice what is missing? Parking attendants and drivers waiting by the front? Oh yeah, and the occasional armed guard. That is because – everywhere in the U.S. there are parking lots. In India, mostly only the malls have parking lots. Hence the real benefit of having a driver. Here – no problemo – parking galore…

See all those empty spaces – you just pick the one you want and zip in – no one has to push a car out of the way for you or drive around the block while you shop. The down side of that is – guess what – you are carrying your own groceries. Just consider it exercise.

And inside these markets is a whole different shopping experience.

There are carrots that are already peeled and cleaned for you. Yummy.

Need a veggie tray? Done.

Need a fruit salad? Done.

Want lettuce? You can get it cleaned and shredded – ready to eat.

Oh, I am sorry – did you need dressing with that?

What’s that? You don’t like bottled dressings? Okay – make your own – here is a starter kit.

Would you like some cheese with that? Shredded perhaps? Remember how our parents used to tell us that they had to walk to school in the snow, uphill, both ways? I now lament with my children the olden days gone by when I had to shred my own cheese. And slice it too. And there sure as heck wasn’t any colby/cheddar on those grocery store racks. Oh, the hardships of childhood.

Oh, your child has tactile issues and prefers sliced cheese? No worries, we’ve got that…

Your mother-in-law prefers cubes – it doesn’t matter if she says that just to make you crazy – it’s all good, we’ve got that too…

And just in case no one is happy with the above choices, let’s throw in some cheese sticks.

And yes, you saw the labels correctly – those are all some form of cheddar cheese – but some like it shredded some like it not.

The cereal aisle can quickly earn you a seasons pass straight to the looney bin. Frosted or not. Fiber or not. Crunchberries or not. Sugar free or high octane. It’s amazing we ever get out of the store.

And even when our carts are full of things we can cook, we still have the option of not preparing our own food. Close your eyes on this first one if you are vegetarian.

We don’t even have to put cheese and crackers together ourselves. They even add a drink.

And if opening a box just seems too daunting at the end of the day – there’s this – we don’t even have to make a sandwich. It’s been done.

Those were frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The first time I saw them, I was outraged that we have become so lazy that we can’t even make our own sandwiches. Now, I own stock in the company. They are frozen so you do have to plan ahead and let them thaw out for a whole 15 minutes. Patience Grasshopper. Either that or tell your kids they are a popsicle  and cross dessert off the list as well.

Need a drink? Which one? Beer?

Wine?

I included this picture just to show you that Gallo wine really does not cost almost $30 a bottle. Remember that?

And to top it all off, you can even buy your apples already sliced.

You would think with us doing all of our own cooking, shopping, and driving that we would run out of time to do anything else. Not true. This woman still had time to decorate her car with silk flowers. Who says Americans don’t have their priorities in order?

To be very fair to this person, though, this car is a Honda and finding a Honda – your Honda – in the midst of a Walmart parking lot without the aid of a driver is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. She probably did this to make it easier to find her car and to ensure that other moms (or anyone else for that matter) wouldn’t go anywhere near it. She clearly does not have teenagers yet. They would never stand for this degree of lunacy.

So, that is why we don’t need drivers and cooks – we have parking lots and shredded cheese.

Housekeepers, on the other hand, are another story altogether. I cannot imagine a land or a time or a dream where they don’t make perfect sense. 😉

Martha Stewart No More…………

I have been accused of trying to be like Martha Stewart – please note that I did not say accused of actually being like her – just trying to be.

Well, I can officially hang up that apron.

I “cooked” this past weekend for the first time in 10 weeks – yes, we have been here 10 weeks – I cannot believe it either. And in that entire time I have not cooked once. Hard to believe – sure – but true. I have made a sandwich or two or peeled an apple – but seriously, I have done nothing that has required electronic aid.

You might wonder why.

Well, in India most middle class families have cooks. We had one, then another, and next week we are trying one more. So is India making me lazier? Possibly – I am totally unmotivated to cook here.

The process is more time consuming than you can imagine. Here is why:

there’s the getting the ingredients (probably from several different markets),

there’s cleaning the ingredients (not as simple as you might think),

there is chopping/cutting/whatevering the ingredients,
much to my dismay, the markets here don’t have shredded cheese or pre-sliced apples or already peeled baby carrots or frozen veggies. Okay, maybe I was a little lazy before I got here. Sigh.

there is cooking the ingredients (this requires understanding how all the appliances work and possibly cooking food in shifts because generally the appliances are not large enough to accommodate multiple pans/pots at one time),

there is your family telling you they don’t really care for what you just cooked because it doesn’t taste like it did when you made it at “home”,

and finally, there is washing the dishes and pots and pans by hand.

Just to wake up tomorrow and start the whole process over.

Yeah, I would rather go out to eat.

But we were having a lazy day at home. I realized that we really should eat something. We had discovered frozen tator tots and mozzarella cheese sticks at Khan market the other day. Armed with all the confidence of Martha Stewart, I galloped into the kitchen. I turned on the outlet, then I turned on the oven, then I turned on the timer (it has to be on for the oven to work – yes, even though you turned the oven on already), and I set the temperature. Thankfully, the oven dial is in Celsius and the instructions were in Celsius too. No math involved. Otherwise, I might just have hung up my spatula too.

I lined the pan with aluminum foil. (Again with the laziness – I am all about easy cleaning and if I am not using the foil in the fridge, I might as well use it to line the pan.) And I put the frozen c-r-a-p, I mean snack, on the pan. I went to turn them over half-way through the process and realized I had not sprayed the foil with cooking spray. I know, I know – rookie mistake. I managed to scrape off enough pieces to make a decent sized snack. We used ketchup – so it actually became a two veggie snack – potatoes and tomatoes. And, if I remember correctly, cheese has protein. Right?

We went out for dinner.

Now, I am left wondering just how hungry my family will be if they have to wait until next Friday (when cook number 3 comes) to eat again. They can have cereal for breakfast and they will get lunch at school and they have some clothes that are getting too small. This could be a win all around.