I often think of myself as a culturally-enlightened being, wise to the ways of the world, never baffled by other cultures or what I find there, and then I will experience something that plants me firmly back to Earth with a large thump. Making me realize just how sheltered a life I have lead in Ireland.
Luckily for me, however, I am now in Korea and broadening my previously narrow horizon to encompass all the world’s nuances, one experience at a time!
What was today’s lesson?
Well folks, today, thanks to a great friend (with a membership card), I finally got to experience the Mecca of all expats:
For those in Europe, and other places that Costco has yet to infiltrate (in full at least, as I’ve been informed that there are 25 outlets in the UK and 1 in Spain), imagine a massive Musgrave’s that sells everything you can possibly imagine, or other wholesale mart with all you’ve ever thought you wanted.
Nothing is small but everything is cheap… Well, gram for gram that is, because if you’re buying 4Kg of peanut butter it’s still going to cost about €10 ($12ish). That works out at the low low price of €1 for 400g of peanut butter.
Don’t ask why I need that much peanut butter for I obviously just need it to take advantage of the wonderful savings I’m making versus the regular mart.
Or, rather, the savings I would make if I were to buy peanut butter at any other time but let’s not quibble over the inconsequentials.
My other purchases included 2Kg of Jelly Belly jelly beans, three loaves of wholemeal bread (which contrary to the beliefs of my dear sister, does exist in Korea), about 7Kg of minced beef and a ton of ‘Italian Spice’ whatever that happens to be. A great haul to be sure, but rather lacking in the wholesome nutrients a growing boy needs.
Unless, of course, I intend to grow out, in which case I’m set up with these titanic-scale groceries!
As you can see from the picture of the store, it is not just the items that are on the extra-large to enormous scale, it’s the entire store. Massive aisles of massive goods, only not quite so deserted as in that picture, oh no, not by a long shot!
In Korea, you see, Sunday is often the only day of the week that the entire family isn’t pulled between work and school and after-school academies. Therefore, many families take the opportunity to go shopping on a Sunday bringing all and sundry with them, from Ajumma (granny) to zonked toddler asleep in the cart such that Costco looks less pristine and more pandemonium.
We even saw the most mythical of mythical creatures there: Catholic nuns under 50. The urge to sing Sister Act songs was overwhelming, but being the master of self-restraint that I am, I refrained. Although that may be due to the fact that “Singing does not put food on the table, singing does not pay the bills!” as was said to Lauren Hill once.
I digress, back to my main point: Costco on a Sunday is bustling with Koreans and foreigners alike, snapping up bargains on wheels of cheese weighing more than the children tucked up to sleep in the trolleys.
However, the sheer size of the store makes the bustle more or less equivalent to the regular rush in the everyday supermarket. To give you folks who, like me didn’t comprehend the Costco colossus, an idea of how gargantuan the store is I’ll let you know that they don’t bother with a dairy refrigerator. No, no, that would cause delays. Instead they have this:
An entire room dedicated to all kinds of milk and other dairy products requiring constant refrigeration. My poor mind boggled, not only at the vastness of the milk-room but also the volume of milk being purchased. I’m pretty sure that woman in yellow is on her third trip to pick up a gallon of milk!
After two hours of wandering around wide-eyed it was time to check out. This was the only time the crowd was overwhelming, well, besides the throngs at the free sample stands, as there were screaming children being woken up after their slumbering perambulation, ajummas digging their elbows into anyone out of line, and all manner of disorganized queue-cutting going on.
However, the checkout process went incredibly rapidly, as did the funds as the items were rung up and cashed off. Then to round off the Costco experience we grabbed hot dogs and some form of cylindrical chicken pastie and ate among the swarms at the picnic tables.
Although this experience could be said to be a shot of American culture, as usual there was an innately Korean slant on the food court. Namely the consumption of massive amounts of raw onion, intended to be placed on your hot dog, drowned in lashings of ketchup and mustard. What a delicious side dish… I think not.
Alas, that is all I have learned from my visit to Costco and I am one step closer to being the culturally sophisticated individual I pretend to be.