Cheese, Life Abroad

The Glory of the Walmart

When living abroad, one starts to celebrate the simple, mundane things of life back home.

It begins with the little things. You revert to an infancy of knowing how to adult, and must therefore re-learn how to do all of the things your parents assured you at age six were perfectly legal and that you should not call CPS for: how to do laundry without flooding the room and the apartment below you; how to mail a letter in under two hours without having anyone call the cops; how to receive important-looking mail with lots of numbers on it and wondering is this a bill, how do I pay it, and if I don’t figure any of that out how long until they shut off my power and fetch the pitchforks?

Before moving abroad, those things were simple to me, if only because I understood the instructions, written in glorious, glorious English. Now, every time I go to pay my bills, I could be signing away my vital organs every time and would be none the wiser until I woke up in an ice tub with a message written in lipstick across the mirror.

If you were to talk to most expats like myself, though, it’s not things like knowing how internet banking works that they miss the most. Instead, for virtually every long-term expat it boils down to the food, and thus, what is available that appeases their native cultural palette. It was only after nearly a year of living abroad the second time that I began to fantasize about the many virtues of the common Walmart.

Walmart is not often spoken highly of by people whose parents are not also first cousins. These blue-and-gray cement structures, decorated by an enslaved smiley face whose all-seeing eye reigns over the American populace, dot the landscape of my native soil as surely and proudly as helicopter parents at a PTA meeting. They offer everything from forty-six varieties of scented candles (now available in scents such as “Divorce Papers” and “Laundered Sweater”), one hundred and fourteen different DVDs – all of them featuring that majestic pinnacle of American comedy,  Adam Sandler  – in the five dollar bargain bin, and, my favorite, at least five different kinds of hard cheese.

Cheese is really hard to come by where I live. Last Thursday, while weeping gently, I shelled out nearly eight dollars for a small tub of sub-par ricotta. There is no chevre, no gruyere, no muenster, no block of aged parmesan to be found. Instead, there exist only those green plastic shake containers that one needs an ice pick for when all of the cheese suddenly decides to clump together into a massive, lumpy stone.

At “the Walmart” as people in my native South like to bandy about, there are other fantastic items such nineteen kinds of microwavable pork rinds, thirty-six different varieties of instant macaroni and cheese, all promising to look like cartoon characters but end up looking more like nuclear fallout characters (especially with the unnatural orange glow), two thousand and sixteen kinds of frozen dinners that have the charming ability to be burnt on the outside and frozen in the middle, forty-nine kinds of congealed canned soup, and approximately four different fresh vegetables.

It is, in summary, the pinnacle of the average American diet.

I know, upon returning home, that I am likely to try to venture to Walmart, see one kid on a leash being dragged around by an obese woman on her mobility scooter buying nine bottles of soda, and turn my Achilles’ heel to get my ‘Murica fix somewhere that doesn’t have a website dedicated to the questionable wardrobe choices of their patronage. But until then, it remains in my mind as the quintessential eighth wonder of the world.

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