Venn diagrams are awesome! I used to make my students create them to compare and sort an array of different things, from vocabulary words to literary character traits to ideas for writing essays. So, as I wandered the grocery store last week, in my mind I thought about how I could make a Venn diagram to describe the similarities and differences between shopping in an American grocery store and shopping in a Chinese one. (I often write blog posts in my head when I am out and about in town. My daily taxi ride home seems to be a hotbed for blog ideas, some of which turn out to be great, but others of which turn out to be mere ramblings about excessive horn honking or women wearing control-top pantyhose with shorts so short I can see the control top. I should get a cute “blog” notebook and carry it around with me everywhere I go so I can record these brilliant insights bring them home and form them into coherent written thoughts!)
But, back to Venn diagrams and the supermarket.
My plan was to draw up a cute little overlapping set of circles (probably in well-coordinated colors like pink and blue so the center was a lovely purple) and fill them with shopping habits. It didn’t take long though, before I ran into a major roadblock with my diagram- my circles never crossed!
Yes, I could overlap with words like “food,” but that’s a 6th graders way out and would never have flown in my classroom, so there is no way it could go here. While there food at each supermarket, the food items are vastly different. For instance, my local Idaho Albertson’s, never have I seen live fish jumping out of their aquariums, flopping on the market floor and never once did I see bottle after bottle, shelf after shelf and aisle after aisle of high priced baijiu liquor displayed in fancy red boxes. But, on the other hand, in China, I’m never forced to choose between twenty-odd types of sandwich bread just to make a PB&J or have to discern the difference between a hundred different boxes of cereal.
I also considered putting grocery carts in my central Venn section, but again, a little more thought pushed them out of the running as well. Grocery carts- It seems easy enough, and yes, they exist in both countries, but Chinese grocery carts are made with some serious maneuverability in mind. Rather than having two set wheels and two free ones, the carts here have all four wheels able to go in any direction, meaning pushing a cart can make you look a bit like Bambi when he walks on ice for the first time. It is easy to get splayed out on the slick floor of the supermarket, holding on to the cart handle for dear (deer!) life. And, as the cart gets fuller (and heavier) the exaggerated movements it takes to keep the basket on course becomes only more hyperbolic.
Even payment can’t fall into the pretty purple at the heart of my Venn diagram. China, at least western China, is still very much a cash economy. There is no easy swipe of the debit card or quick signature on the credit card slip to have you on your way. Nope. Here, cash is still king. It’s not all a bad thing though. There is an advantage to grocery shopping in cash only. Going into the store, I know exactly how much money is in my wallet and there can be no giving in to the temptation to buy a box of doughnuts or a bag of Cheetos, as funds are limited to what came with me from home. (Although, if I somehow stumbled across a box of doughnuts, I’d probably just dump the million-year shelf-life milk out of my crazy cart and make room for the sugary goodness of chocolate and sprinkles!)
With three China years under my belt, there are still times that supermarkets here overwhelm me and send me straight out the door with nothing to show for my trip. I can only imagine what a Chinese person on vacation in the US would think if they walked into a Costco where food is sold by the case lot, carts are upgraded for flatbed trolleys and it’s nearly impossible to get out of the store for under $100! Their mental diagram would have no more middle ground than the one planned out in my brain as I swerved and skidded up First Ring Road in my taxi last Friday.