You know it’s time for a visit to the mainland when you dream about Trader Joe’s.
Especially if the dream is particularly detailed. Like so detailed you can read the names on the labels; you can taste your own drool as you imagine crunching down on the salty goodness of TJ’s “Veggie Sticks Potato Snacks.” The dream is so intense you can feel your pulse race as your reach for the last “Avocado’s Number Guacamole.”
It’s mine…all mine.
In my dream last night, I had six minutes to run through Trader Joe’s and grab whatever I could.
I know this store like the back of my hand, I thought to myself as I grabbed a red plastic handbasket. I’m going to sweep through this sucker and grab only what I really need — only what can make it on the plane back to Israel without melting.
I was confident and excited inside the Disneyland for suburban moms that is Trader Joe’s. I felt at home, empowered, and ready to shop my way to success.
I can do this in my sleep! I thought, with a sense of lucid irony.
I get to the body care aisle and desperately scan the rows for “Tea Tree Tingle” conditioner…the magical protective potion against the breed of lice persistent in Israeli kibbutz preschools.
But all I could find was rows and rows of the shampoo. No conditioner anywhere! Standing in the middle of the aisle was the smiling company representative who offered me a free sample of the new face cream, but no help in securing me the conditioner.
How could this be? I thought. I come all this way and somehow magically land inside a Trader Joe’s and they don’t have what I need?
And then there was the long line to pay…stretching all the way back to the free sample counter where I could thankfully snack on a few Trader Ming’s Stir Fried Vegetable Egg Rolls but where I found myself extraordinarily stressed about how I was going to make it to the cash register clerk in the two minutes I had left.
I looked down into my basket.
Everything I have in here is just “stam,” I thought to myself. Nothing of real substance. In fact, there was nothing in my basket I had even really wanted from Trader Joe’s. No Tea Tree Tingle. No Os Organic Spaghettios. No Macaroni & Cheese without Yellow #5. Just one package of guacamole — that wouldn’t even make it back to Israel before browning.
Was this really worth waiting in this long line for? I wondered.
I woke up from this dream with a combined feeling of longing for the ease that comes when walking through an American consumer-friendly higher-end grocery store, and the frank realization that even when I could shop at that store whenever I wanted, I hardly ever left feeling like I had stocked up on necessities.
Back then, I remembered, when I would get home from the store and unpack my goods from the paper bags, I often frowned in frustrated confusion. How is it that I just spent $200 and I still feel as if I have nothing in my kitchen? I would think to myself.
Back then, those goods filled a bag, but they didn’t fill a need. What makes me think they would now?
It’s true. I miss desperately the convenience of shopping in English; not just any old English, but the kind of American upper middle class English seen and heard in higher-end supermarkets.
I miss the name brands and the clever product packages with stylized hip fonts. I miss rolling my eyes at the indulgent, yet somehow reassuring marketing language. Organic, all-natural, reduced-guilt.
When I go to the States, I’ll surely binge on all of that, and schlep home my spoils in doubled-up ziploc bags.
But I have to say, my dream (like any good dream does) drew out from me this awareness that what I miss about America — other than my friends and family– is who I thought I was there (a confident, knowledgeable expert who knew exactly what she wanted and where to get it).
Two years into my adventure here, I am still an immigrant-in-transition. Still a confused shopper trying to find my way. Still figuring out what’s worth my effort and what isn’t. What I value. What I could do just fine without.