Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What is it like to shop at an Asian supermarket in America? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread. Thank you to the team at Quora for making this happen!
Depending on where you go to, you might have very different experience.
I used to live around downtown San Francisco, and the only place I can buy fresh produce and meat product is the farmer’s market at Chinatown. Can’t say I enjoy that experience. The place feels like something out of a old Hong Kong movie.
The market is crowded, aisles are extremely narrow, probably allow 2 people pass each other if you turn your body side ways… Because the store is designed in such way, people end up pushing and elbowing each other. And at the cashier, the clerks yelled at each other in a language I don’t understand (Cantonese).
There’re also small, dark grocery stores that sells sauces and snacks. Those places are even smaller, the aisles are only broad enough for one person, and it’s filled with the smell of old soy sauce.
I lived there for over a year, and shopped in those markets every weekend. Eventually, I became just as rude and as loud as those people I used to despise and probably a bit afraid of. I wore my cheapest clothing (those I don’t mind get dirty), drag my little cart with me.
And push, elbow, fight, curse my way through the market. There’s no “linger around, pick and choose”, I don’t have that luxury. I make a mental list of what I’m going to buy before I got in, grab the one I want and leave as fast as I can. I imagine other people, annoying and rude as they might be, probably don’t really enjoy the shopping experience either. And giving the opportunity, they would be nice polite people who’re willing to let you get that piece of small rib.
Now I think back, I feel a bit unfair to blame the people for being rude or unfriendly. It is the place they live in, the hard life they have, living in such a crowded place with little or no money to spare (very much like how I was at the time). It really changes people, it makes you think differently and focusing on different things. Manners and politeness are luxuries and giving the chance, most people would want that luxury. And those who accuse other for being rude or unfriendly, put them in that kind of environment, they’ll soon to be just as rude and as horrible.
Now I shop at 99 Ranch Market. It feels pretty much the same as any US supermarkets, with bright roomy store space, clean aisles, nicely arranged products on shelf, friendly and helpful clerks, and well mannered shoppers. I also go to Korean and Japanese supermarkets and having similar experiences.
Now that I think back, my routine market trips are quite amusing. I think the more people experience, the less judgmental they are. At least now I don’t think the Chinatown people are naturally rude and horrible. I don’t like that place, will never go there unless absolutely necessary, but I think they’re just people like you and me. In other words, you and me put in that situation, we’ll be fighting and elbowing and cutting lines to get in, get the food, and get out of there.
From time to time I do see something interesting:
I found this cat sleeping in one of the grocery stores…