If you, as a foreigner were to visit the average American home, you would be astounded at the quantity of stuff they have, well, stuffed, everywhere. I’m not talking about clothes and papers and books, things accumulated within a lifetime. I’m talking about consumables. I thought of this yesterday when the bathroom lightbulb blew at 9:30 at night, and I didn’t even stop to think whether I had extras. I just knew I didn’t. I wouldn’t say that makes me better than anyone else, just less prepared. And then I thought about why.
Costco and BJ’s and Sam’s Club memberships abound in the United States, and people are drawn to them like gulls to a trashheap. They buy, say, all their paper goods or a flat of ketchup, congratulate themselves on having made a good purchase, and drive their stuff back to their house, where they unload it to find, d’oh! I already have a flat of ketchup. Or not.
I don’t doubt that buying things in large quantities makes sense when you have a big home, a car, a membership to one of these buying clubs and many people that live in your house using diapers or cleaning products or what have you. It’s also not particularly uncomfortable, I suppose to have your pantry chock full of canned items that can be opened, inverted, heated and eaten. When I was growing up we had so many of these canned items (mostly tomato products and canned beans, if memory serves) that we took to writing the dates on the tops of the cans so we would remember when they’d been purchased, and try to (vaguely) eat them in order. Or at least within a few years of when they’d been purchased.
But I still have to wonder, what’s with the bomb shelter mentality? Is it because our parents, or our parents’ parents lived through the depression, when food was scarce (and disposable diapers not yet invented)? Is it because it makes us nervous to have empty storage space in our homes? Storage space that could be filled with multiple repeats of whatever it is we bought last week?
Whatever the case is, that has taken Americans and their overstocked larders by storm, I can guarantee that it has not yet caught on here in Chile. Sure, we’ll get six packets of tomato sauce bundled together, offering a free “yapa” of pasta to accompany them, and this will incite “bulk” purchasing, but we have nothing like what’s going on several countries (I count nine, but that’s because I skirted Belize on my trip, how ’bout you?) to the north.
In fact, when I went to buy my refrigerator here (refrigerators only seldom coming included in your Chilean apartment, and generally only if the apartment is advertised as having a “cocina equipada,” which should mean they have a stove as well), I was hesitating over which size to get. And the woman at the store asked, well, how many people are you? At the time, we were two, and so I was pointed to a fridge maybe one-third to half the size of the fridge I had just bought for my (then) rented house in DC. In Chile they just don’t stockpile food. By assimilation, I now behave in the same fashion, and in fact, if I tell you I have no food in my house, I really mean that all I have is some rice and dried mushrooms, and baking supplies (but probably no eggs). There might also be some tapioca balls for an ill-conceived foray into making homemade bubble tea.
This failure to stockpile food and other consumables is why I found myself at what I like to call “the bad supermarket” near my house at nearly 10:00 last night, looking to buy a lightbulb to replace the one that had just sparked its last spark in my bathroom a few minutes before. In addition to remembering why I call it the bad supermarket, I puzzled over why what I consider to be one of the greatest supermarket inventions ever, does not exist in the United States.
In the lightbulb aisle at supermarkets (and Home Depot-like stores like Easy and Sodimac/Home Center), there is a lighbulb tester, a little socket where you stick the lightbulb in flip a switch, and determine if your lightbulb is dandy or a dud. In the US we usually hold them up to our ears and shake them to hear if the filament is loose, but sometimes still end up with a no-glower. I thought about why we don’t have these in the United States, and then I realized what thousands of dollars in legal education have told me is true. We are a litigious society. Some bozo would stick his finger in the socket, flip the switch, shock himself, fall on somebody’s grandmother, break her leg, which leads to her not picking up her grandson at daycare, which leads to him being onsite when a sinkhole opens and swallows the daycare center, and the whole thing is because nobody had to hold a lightbulb up to his ear and shake it.
Which is also way of telling you that I know those energy saving lightbulbs are the shizzle, but I can’t bear to look at myself under the flourescent-like glow of those creepy coiled monstrosities first thing in the morning. Which means in about a year, at say around 10 PM, one day I’ll be back at the lightbulb testing aisle, buying another OSRAM 60W bulb. Because I still didn’t buy any extras.