Now it may seem like I have been spoilt rotten by my parents or led a bougie lifestyle up until I moved here – this is partially true – but I found it overwhelming to aisle-shop or go to huge supermarkets or departmental stores on my own during my first week in Auckland.
Back home, the most economical way to shop for produce is to walk down to your nearest street-side vendors – sabzi mandis – with their huge carts displaying arrays of vegetables and fruits. “Bhaiya aadha kilo tamatar ka kitna hua?” which translates to “Brother, how much does half a kilogram of tomatoes cost? If you were good at bargaining, chances were you would come home with a good haul.
If you were lost in a supermarket back home or were unable to find an item of your choice, immediate help would be assured. You could ask a fellow shopper – “Excuse me, do you know where the paneer section is?” – and in all probability they would know. To top this, you would always have an over-eager shop assistant hovering over you at any store.
In my case, my parents have kept up with the times and transitioned to online shopping. My working mother orders almost everything, including perishables, from Big Basket – an online grocery shopping platform in India. To me this translated to lesser errands and greater screen time.
Fast-forward to my foray into adulthood where the mere thought of walking into Countdown, the local NZ supermarket, flooded me with anxiety. I had to forgo the comfort of mandis to further my research endeavour in a first-world country. In the months leading up to my departure, I had YouTubed tutorials for using self-checkout machines. My worst case scenarios featured shoppers in queue, impatiently watching me fumble with the options – I imagined there to be several – on these machines and flustered cashiers giving up on me as I struggled to swipe my card. Grocery shopping, in my head, appeared to be an intimidating activity. Whilst online shopping was an option, the overall cost including the delivery overheads would easily deplete a poor student of their savings over time.
Whilst my worst fears did not thankfully manifest, I did have a rough time navigating through the aisles. Common sense deserted me and instead of noticing the information displayed for each aisle, I ran around like a headless chicken, desperately looking for the items on my grocery list. Towards the end I was almost in tears as all that remained on my list were paneer and frozen peas. It seemed as though the staff had been swallowed by this gargantuan supermarket – it took me over twenty minutes to locate an assistant! The rest of my stint at Countdown went down without any further incident. I sensibly stayed away from the self-checkout machines, and tried to appear relaxed before the cashier who was quite friendly. Finally, I clumsily packed my purchases in a bag and raced out of the doors.
Fortunately, I had bounced back by the next round of grocery shopping. Armed with a more efficient list, I marched confidently through the aisles of Countdown – which seemed a tad familiar – keeping my eyes peeled for the ingredients I required. At the end of it, I casually walked over to the self-checkout machine and breezed through the whole process. It wasn’t as complicated as I thought it would be. The words that reassured me throughout this trip were – as Ford Prefect had put it – don’t panic.