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Submitted by a TNL reader (Felicia)
“Did you check your eggs?"
The cashier at the checkout counter was waiting for my answer.
I was taken aback by this sudden question. “Why do I need to check my eggs?" The moment I stepped out of the supermarket, I started to think about how the supermarket reflected the American lifestyle.
From my experience shopping in Taiwan, eggs are put into a plastic box stapled shut with two staples. You can only check the eggs by looking at them from the outside of the box. If you accidentally get a cracked egg, then it’s your loss. Out of personal curiosity, I asked my American friends why cashiers at supermarkets ask customers whether or not they have checked the eggs in their shopping cart.
I got two completely different answers; one is the cashiers are afraid of getting customer complaints, the other is it shows that the employees care about the customers. I personally stand by the latter perspective, or else the supermarkets wouldn’t use boxes that can be easily opened to hold the eggs.
In the US, eggs are usually put in molded pulp (also called molded fiber) containers. The boxes are mostly made out of pressed recycled paper, and in a society that emphasizes on reusable energy and being eco-friendly, the use of such containers isn’t surprising. The good thing about these boxes is they are environmentally friendly and easy to open.
In addition, there is a large variety of eggs in the US; extra large, organic, Grade AA and so on. People often joke about how much the Americans like their eggs. According to statistics, the US produced 7.4 billion eggs this June. Americans also primarily eat eggs for breakfast, so if they appear on the dinner table, people will say, “We are eating breakfast for dinner!"
In addition to eggs, I have made another observation of American supermarkets. You often hear Asian students say excitedly, “You don’t need to have a reason to return stuff!" In response, American friends will joke, “That’s because the employees don’t care about company loss!"
According to my own observations, the relationship with customers is based on trust in the US. Why do I say so? When shopping in Taiwan, my friends often complain that the clerks follow them around or that the magnetic stripes on cosmetics are hard to peel off. But you rarely see beauty products in American supermarkets with these stripes. Even if you enter a retail store, the clerk simply greets, “How are you today? Let me know if you have any questions," and goes back to what he or she was doing.
These are all subtle displays of trust. There is also the saying that it takes a lot of time for one to go to the supermarket in the US, so Americans don’t especially go to return stuff if they don’t need to. This is why they believe customers all have a legit reason when they go to return something.
After staying with a host family for a while in the US, the people at home told me that Americans are both paranoid and careless at the same time when making purchases. My host dad would often say, “How can Americans be so paranoid?"
In the US, there are endless forms and contracts to fill out and sign when buying things or going through formalities. This is because Americans are scared of being sued or filed complaints against. On the back of every product, you will find all risks and warnings written in tiny print, and even find ones that bring a smile to your face sometimes.
My host mom tells me that carelessness of the Americans can be seen from supermarket receipts. I remember how people discussed the different sizes of receipts when Taiwan started promoting electronic receipts in 2012. There is no receipt lottery in the States and they come in even weirder sizes, to the point that no one even wants one. This is also why paper receipts have been replaced by emails or texts in the US.
In addition, due to the vastness of the country, each location has its own consumer culture. Walking around supermarkets in each state, you will find they sell different things and the display of items varies based on geographical differences. The supermarkets reflect the local life and the most real, concentrated consumer behavior in America.
Translated by Olivia Yang