We finally made it to the giant superstore (or as the French say, hypermarche) yesterday, and was it ever an epic task. We’d seen the store from the outside when we got our electronic stuff last week, but it didn’t really register just how giant it was until we were there. It was probably a half acre in size, at least, and had everything from clothing and dishes to pet products and groceries to suitcases and even insurance. Very much a Wal-Mart type store, and thoroughly horrifying in its magnitude.

Luckily, I had stayed home and worked in the afternoon specifically to conserve my energy, knowing that I would quickly get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the place. And it’s a good job I did, because door to door, it was a four and a half hour trip.

And for what? Well, not a whole lot more food than we’d otherwise had available, frankly. We did find some good deals on organizational stuff for the kitchen, bathroom, and office, which we’d been needing to buy. But as far as food, we were hoping to get stuff that we hadn’t yet been able to find in the small local grocery stores, like a wider variety of cereal, for example, or some protein other than frozen cod. However, all we found was just MORE of everything — all the same kinds of food that we can get locally, just more brands, over and over again, spread out over a much larger area.

For example, instead of having more kinds of cereal, they still only had the same two or three types of generic whole wheat ones, a few brand name ones that were far more expensive, and then the rest was all different kinds of cornflakes and chocolate cereal. Same story as at our local grocery store — they really like their chocolate cereal here.

But in this case, instead of having a few boxes of each cereal, they had whole ten-foot sections of the aisle devoted to box after box of that one kind. And the chocolate cereal? That took up an entire half aisle all by itself. So I still came away with the same three kinds of cereal I’d been buying before. God I miss TJs.

Apply this formula to the whole rest of the store. Want a candy bar? Here’s a whole aisle. How about some chips? Another one. Wine? OK we’ll put in three different sections of the store for that. Soda and juices? Probably enough square footage to cover the entire fruiteria I shop at on the corner at least twice. And the strangest thing of all: preserved wieners. That’s right folks, hot dogs in jars. An entire half aisle of them, every brand you could ever imagine (and probably then some, since we are talking after all about canned hot dogs.) Um gross?

Otherwise, there was really not much more variety of food than what we’ve been buying up til now. Yes, there were a few different dairy products that I hadn’t seen before, which form a big part of my daily diet. And we did buy a few condiments and spices we hadn’t found before, and stock up on meat to buy and freeze for future use. But the produce area didn’t offer anything different by way of selection, and frankly it was more expensive and not as nice as the little corner stores we see every day.

Overall, the lesson here is: keep shopping locally, and then be amazed when we get back to the States at how much variety there is in the grocery stores. I won’t know how to shop any more — the only thing that kept me sane for this whole ordeal was the fact that there were whole aisles I could blithely skip because I didn’t need any canned hot dogs or chips. I don’t know what I’ll do when confronted with an entire aisle of cereals I might actually want to eat! My God!

Nonetheless, the entire sordid adventure took us about 2.5 hours in the store. This wasn’t just your quick trip to the supermarket, after all — first we had to look at everything to establish what it was, read and interpret the label, then decide whether or not we needed it, and only then compare the multitude of different brands and prices. Not to mention the household stuff we bought.

We finally wheeled our cart up to the line for household delivery (you didn’t think we were taking all this home on the metro did you??), and patiently waited for her to ring us up. At one point Gabe said, “You need my address, right?” And the girl replied, “No no, it’s OK — it’s on your card.” My heart sank. We need a card? After all that? I thought it would turn out to be like Costco, where you can’t buy anything without a card. But it was just a discount card, which they let us get at the register and then turn in the application afterwards at the customer service desk.

Even so, that involved standing in yet another line, and then when we finally stumbled onto the Metro, it turned out they were having technical difficulties on our line. So we sat in the station for fifteen minutes, longing to go home, clutching our one solitary shopping bag (containing last night’s dinner), which in the end was all we had to show for our efforts. (The rest is getting delivered tonight, which was the soonest window they had available.)

We stumbled home, made our dinner, then zonked out in front of the TV. Because what else is there to do, really, after spending hours in a no-man’s land of transplanted American-style consumerism?