What Kazakhstan can teach American grocery stores

After returning to the States after my initial nine months overseas, my first visit to an American grocery store was totally overwhelming.

I remember thinking to myself,

“You could live without having to shop anywhere else.”

Well, friends, I’m here to tell you that it is not true.

That version of reality was shattered when I recently visited a Super Target outside Atlanta.

I combed the entire store for two items commonly available in Kazakhstan: frozen dough and a cheap plastic tablecloth you can wipe clean.

I asked a sales attendant about the first, and I got the sort of bewildered look to which I’d grown so accustomed in Almaty. It means I’m asking for something they have not heard of before or that is not usually offered for sale.

Sales attendant: I’ve seen that in our bakery before but then they use it themselves….

I was floored. How could frozen pizza dough not be something that is sold in every grocery store in the USA? It is so convenient. So inexpensive. So American.

And as far as cheap, ugly, plastic tablecloths— I could go on and on about their practical uses. They are perfect for crafts. For rolling out pie crusts. Or pizza dough. For turning a wooden table into counter space when preparing a meal.

But no, also not available. All I could find were disposable tablecloths that would be awful to try to clean and were only offered in one (pretty odd) size.

So much for paying $3 a meter and someone cutting it to whatever size I asked for. I had no idea how spoiled I was.

Right now I’m seriously considering asking my husband to bring me back one from Kazakhstan on his next trip. And maybe, while he is at it, about two years’ supply of antibiotics (available for about $20 without a prescription).

But if I’m honest, the thing that makes this post so blog-worthy is the fact that this even happened at all.

And the reason it made my head spin was that I was having a hard time selecting items from the oodles of options available.

I’m used to having about 10 options of bread, five of which I might consider buying. Here there are at least 10 brands and they all have about 100 options.

As far as service, I was a Kroger and I started bagging my own groceries. I wondered why the bags were so awkwardly placed until the clerk said, “Ma’am, I’ve got that for you” and I realized the clerks always bag for customers.

She smiled.

I pinched myself and realized, happily, that this is a place where strangers are friendly.

Which is a way bigger deal than frozen pizza dough…

8 thoughts on “What Kazakhstan can teach American grocery stores

  1. Oh Abby! Your posts are so real and I SO relate to them! Last Stateside we were on I was surprised by my difficult time of reaclimating to the USA. I think it was because I had a system down in kz and was having to start over. I truly do appreciate the things you write! If you need a plastic table cloth (or anything else from this side) just let me know! 😄

    1. Teri, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one. I was thinking about it and I think part of the shock comes from the sheer number of decisions you suddenly have to make (which brand of flour, which store, etc). We had to make those decisions before in Kaz, but do many were replaced by habits that changed gradually over time. Of course the lack of options also simplified the decision-making process… But I’m thinking it’s only going to get easier … And in the meantime, I’m just going to have to cut myself a break if I don’t get the best deals on absolutely everything!


  2. So, Walmart will likely have plastic, wipable tablecloths with felt backing (Tar-Jay is just way too high class for that 😉 ) and if you have an Aldi around, I highly recommend you check them out. Bring a quarter for your cart, and cash or debit to pay. Grocery bags will cost you 5-10 cents each, but you can bring your own, or grab boxes from the shelves to load your groceries into your car. The stores are small and the options for each category or slim or only one (one brand of flour, sugar, etc) the people usually very helpful and kind. They should have all of your basics and some of your not so basic grocery items. The prices are excellent. It is my first grocery store every single week and cooking tasty, high quality food is important to me, but I also have a budget to meet. Aldi gives me both. For pizza dough, I can get you some simple recipes if you like, or you can find a local, non-chain pizza place and they will usually sell you a lump for a good price.

    Sarah P

    1. Thanks, Sarah. We actually have an Aldi just down the street that I was thinking of checking out soon. So that is a great recommendation! And I can make pizza dough. That is how I usually made it in Kaz…. Just thought I wouldn’t now that I’m in the land of convenience. 😉 And I will definitely check out Walmart for a plastic tablecloth as well. Thanks for all the tips!!

  3. Abbey,

    Its so good reading you updates!!! Not sure if you have a fabric store near you but, they should have several choices of plastic tablecloth fabric and best of all you can get the size you want!


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