Aisle 2- tampons, candy, lighter fluid, baking soda, and rulers

We live in a supermarket society. You can buy fruit, beer, donuts, coffee, fix a flat, lotto tickets, cigarettes, porn magazines, bread, rock salt, and/or cough medicine when you stop for gas. I spent some time in Ukraine, and they still, for the most part, operate on the old school specialty shop model: you go to a butcher to buy meat, you go to a baker to buy bread, you go to a low-to-the-ground baba at the market to buy fruit, you go to the chocolate shop to buy chocolate, you go to a gas station to buy GAS—NOT FOOD. Even in this country, superrich people operate this way, they go to food “boutiques”—they don’t go to Kroger. There’s a reason why Ukrainian people (and many other non-American cultures- Spain, for sure) and the superrich shop this way—it’s better.

The downfall of a supermarket society is that nobody knows anything about anything. I go into a coffee shop in a nearby city and ask for a Cinnamon Twist (which is a fancy name for a cinnamon roll) and the barista says “Is that a drink?” And I say, “No, it’s one of your desserts.” I ask for a double espresso in a demitasse, and she says “What is that?” And I think, “Are you here to work in a coffee shop, or are you just hanging out behind the register while you wait for the Lady Gaga show to roll into town?” So I explain the subtleties of the size and shape of the demitasse and even point out its location on top of HER espresso machine. So then she picks up a coffee mug and says “This one?” And I say no. You get the picture.

I go to Target, which sells rugs, bicycles, plasma screens, books, vacuum cleaners, and peanut butter, but nobody really knows anything about any of these things, except where they are located. They can’t review a product, tell me about its quality, how long it will last, where it was made. When I bought a rug in Ukraine, she told me where she got her loom from (her grandmother), where she bought her dyes (Hungary), and how she cleaned the raw wool (in the river). She told me the story of how her grandmother left her the loom with the expectation that she carry on the Hutzel tradition of rug making and that all the patterns she designs remind her of a particular person in her life. 

Yes, I know, you don’t want to hear a family history every time you buy something, and neither do I. But even if I did have to listen to an old woman talk for a few minutes every time I went to the store, I would probably be better off for it, and I would definitely prefer that to facing a whole world of stores that expect me to expect their employees to be dumb. Is this only in the Midwest?

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