Some products brought over from the New World have benefited the human race, for instance, Columbus’s famous tomato transplant from American to Italian fertile soil changed the course of Italian cuisine and my happiness in this life. However other phenomena transported or inspired from my country grow into a rather distorted species when planted on the boot. One of the models that the Italians have just recently begun adopting is the idea of large supermarkets and shopping centers (usually found in bigger cities or in the countryside where space permits). As with every copied version, it takes on a new life and form in its new cultural setting, just like the Darwin rabbits that hopped over the hill and grew crazy ears.

The Italian personality when placed in certain social environments inspired by foreign American models can become a rather lethal and interesting recipe. Conditioned by a history of farmers markets and small alimentary stores, the population finds themselves in a rather new conception of space and consumption. The danger of this globalized adoption of “convenience and commodity” is that the shopping spree in a large Anglo-Saxon serpentine space was definitely not conceived for the Italian idea of personal space, order, and public courtesy.

I was scandalized the first time that I entered the large Esselunga supermarket near my apartment in Milan. It was a rather hysterical situation, as I continue to be surprised at various scenarios despite my years of living here. As I first stepped foot in the store, I screamed, “Oh my goodness, someone gave them huge metal shopping carts!” Survival instincts: I grabbed a small yellow basket knowing that I would be more agile and able to avoid potential hazardous zones. I felt like I was dodging bumper cars at an amusement park as people swerved to hit me in every direction. In these situations, however, I realize that you have to jump in and face the chaos, hoping to remain calm enough to remember your grocery list, or your identity.

The elderly people are the most dangerous and are to avoid at all costs! They whip around corners and wield their metal tanks with such a crazy and uncontrolled manner that I run for cover. In other scenarios, this age class is used to ruthlessness bidding techniques of proactive domination, barking out their orders, or simply judging you weak and sweetly sliding in front of you at markets, butcher shops, or at other small stores. (The same exists with the race to the communion line at Sunday mass– some even get a head start!) They are forces to be reckoned with that tend to throw off your conception of sweet cookie-baking grandparents as they work as a grocery tag team. Instinctively, they have all developed the idea of “survival of the fittest,” a trait conditioned by necessity in this country! With all due respect, this great generation survived famine and war, raised families and paved the way for our futures, but you just gotta watch out! They are tricky!

To make matters more complicated, all clients must weigh their produce! Therefore, the few scales that are placed on the floor stand there like pieces of meat in the gladiatorial games! The patrons have their weapon: zucchini, eggplant, radicchio, figs, and bananas, and they all charge at once! You must prove yourself in the contest of agility and grace, style and guts, sliding your lettuce onto home base; as the dust settles, you open your eyes to see if you’ve succeeded, weighed and stickered. God forbid if you forget the number of your vegetable!

I once made the mistake of going grocery shopping the first weekend of september, aka, the first weekend home for most tanned Italians returning from summer vacation! Mamma mia! I almost risked my life and sanity in the zoo. This leads me to a brief discussion of the check-out lines, shopping carts bottled together in every direction like sardines. At a certain point, a second line spontaneously forms, feeding into the same register. You start sweating and developing an unhealthy hatred for those *&%^%$# that stand in line number 2 as you mindlessly wait in the CORRECT line that is backed up along the heavily trafficked pasta and bread aisle. You are hot and your head is spinning, as your evil thoughts continue. Then you start asking yourself…What is a line? What is correct? What is my name? What is 1+1? What is a question? Oh the descension to the dark side.

All of a sudden, there is light, and you are outside again. After you leave with your groceries, you are almost thankful that you survived. A small strange part of you feels victorious, even despite the tempest of frustration. I believe that this is the method to their madness, that they drive you to the point of numbing insanity that when it is all over, you are simply happy to be alive with your bag of nutrition.

I have two supermarket savings cards, and I am honestly convince that they do absolutely nothing. They are about as useful as the plastic chicken nuggets in my childhood McDonald’s play set, and my mother still finds these uneatable nuggets hidden in dark corners of our house to this day. Coming from Giant Eagle advantage cards, gas perks, rewards points, double deals, and incredible customer savings in the US, these cards remain to be mysterious. Two pieces of plastic that are swiped without consequence, no explanation from the cashier, no cupons, no nothing. My coworker once explained that they aren’t good for much, but that he earns free movie tickets after an x-number of grocery trips. Hmmm. Regarding cards, I am still in the phase where I’d just rather not try to know. When you are forced to understand procedures here, it is just painful.

Until the next time that I don my helmet and shield in my own training for “survival of the fittest” in Italy’s supermarkets, battling along side of my beautiful Italian counterparts….I will eat well using Italy’s special guaranteed quality certified products, bite into juicy ripe tomatoes whose goodness drugs you into erasing those shopping wounds. It is juuuuust enough to make you forget–that irresistible lover who is always forgiven–with once slice of pizza or dish of fresh tagliatelle with hearty Bolognese ragu sauce, a plate of varied Italian formaggi, or even better, a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino…..what was I saying?

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