Jun 262012

For the stranger to the United States of America, shopping has many bizarre moments.

And I should say at the outset I do not shop for treasures, there is no point when one has a) no home in which to store them and b) a suitcase already heavy-enough containing everything she needs.

My shopping experiences are practical, pertaining to necessities, such as food. Food. Food. And more food.


I had an epiphany yesterday in a Seattle Starbucks, one that explains why I order the same drink in the same chain of stores right across the USA and that same drink ranges in price from $3.50 all the way up to $5.25.

It is because of not just state taxes and federal taxes, but county taxes and even city taxes. Everyone gets a slice of the pie. Or soy chai latte, in this instance.

And while I’m on Starbucks, here is my second Starbucks epiphany – I have fiiiiiiiiiinally worked out why my chai is so damn watery – they add water. Lots of it. Go figure.

There was a simple method of addressing this – because, after all, Starbucks is devoted to changing the world one cup at a time and so empowers me to request ‘no water’; thus, my latte greatly improved, I attempted to address my next major complaint about my soy chai latte: it is revoltingly sweet.

‘Can I have it not so sweet?’ I ask the young woman at Seattle Starbucks.

‘Sure,’ she says. ‘How about 3 pumps instead of 4.’

Well, that solved all my soy chai latte problems.

And, I can hear you wondering, ‘why is she hanging out at Starbucks anyway?’

Because, friends, they let you sit there all day on one soy chai latte generously providing this little traveler with free internet. Thank you Starbucks. There is a cafe in Byron Bay where I live that is struggling to keep going. One day a little while ago I suggested they put on free internet. She said ‘then they just sit here all day on one cup of coffee’.

As a woman who built an empire once said to me, if she were to write a book about her experience she would call it Follow Your Leader.

At a Starbucks in Queens, New York City, I sat there every day for several hours on one (watery and much too sweet) soy chai latte. And every day I sat beside a homeless woman who was at her table before I arrived and still there when I left. All day she sat contentedly in that Starbucks, occasionally helping herself to water.

In Boston, walking around the inner city early one morning, I noticed a queue spilling out the door onto the chilly street. I wondered what it is about Starbucks that magnetizes the loyalty of this planet’s collective coffee nuts – especially considering so many of the opinionated precious people I know scoff about the place, largely because it represents corporate domination . . . I guess. I wonder if the same people would have scoffed at the dreamer who was rejected by xxx banks before he found financial support for his big idea. Actually, I think Starbucks was founded right here in Seattle.

Personally, I have only found Starbucks generous and welcoming and besides, they really do have a lovely logo. Maybe we could all be buying Starbucks gift cards for the homeless, because they are, after all, welcome there.

And they don’t quibble about who uses the loo.



I am in Augusta, Georgia, shopping at my favourite food store: Whole Foods Market.

Mmmmm, Whole Foods Market. There is nothing I won’t do – no river I will not swim, no desert I will not crawl – to get to a Whole Foods Market. This, friends, in a land of fast and lifeless food, is food shopping USA heaven.

I am staying with a family in Augusta and I am cooking them dinner, by way of thanking them for their hospitality.

I stand at the wine section, mulling over this or that wine, mostly organic. It takes me about 15 minutes of label checking and thoughtful consideration before I select a lovely New Zealand sauvignon blanc. As I pluck my chosen bottle from the shelf, the young man in cheeses launches a long winded and somewhat apologetic explanation about something I do not quite understand.

He is talking about county lines. He mentions my wine. He makes some bizarre suggestion that I think means I need to put it back.

‘Are you saying I can’t have this wine?’ I ask.

He nods.

‘Why exactly?’

‘Because this store is built across the county line,’ he said.

Whole Foods Market is a very big store. The county line runs right through the middle: the wine section is in one county, my wild caught smoked salmon, for example, in another.

The county in the wine section does not allow the sale of alcohol on Sundays.

The county line runs right through the store – the same county that does not allow the sale of wine on Sundays.

I mention this to one of my hosts. He tells me about a friend who bought a house that straddled the county line. He had to choose who he paid his taxes to – a problematic decision because if he chose the cheapest, then his children also had to go to the cheap county’s cheap school.



If you see half serves on the menu, you may presume it is a child sized meal. This is not the case.

Buy a half sized meal in the USA and you will still be feeding some to the dog.

Remember the Great Wall of Chocolate?

This single slice of dessert was enough to feed all five people at the table.



Walgreens are a USA pharmacy chain. Australians would have a fit – I mean that, a collective choking spitting hissing fit – if anyone attempted to establish anything like a Walgreens there.

I still remember my Walgreens experience, walking into the pharmaceutical barn and standing stock still in my tracks, gob-smacked. I was looking for Band-Aids.

To my left was the alcohol section, right there at the front of the chemist. To my right was the cigarette counter, right there at the front of the chemist. In front of me were the lollies, miles and miles of assorted sugar sweets and drinks, in the chemist.

And behind all that, way back in the back, were all the things one might need to fix the damage caused by the first three counters.

Over here, we will cause just about all of your health problems – but not to worry! Over here we can fix them.




I first heard of Walmart on The Simpsons. Actually I only ever heard of Walmart on The Simpsons. I am surprised to find it’s not a cartoon chain; it really does exist.

Actually I discovered this before I got to the USA, via a small piece in a newspaper about birds dive bombing the hot bitumen of a Walmart carpark, mistaking the shimmering heat for water.

Walmart – I was surprised to hear someone say the other day they were going to Walmart for food.

‘They sell food too?’ I asked incredulously.

‘You’ve never been to Walmart?’ she asked, equally incredulously.

No, I haven’t. Walmarts tend to be in the kind of places people without cars do not go. Hence my shopping USA experience has yet to be complete with a visit.

To Walmart.

 June 26, 2012  Add comments

  2 Responses to “Pilgrim Heart Whistlestop Book Tour: SHOPPING USA”

  1. Hey Steph, I feel that I am obtaining a detailed education our our friends in the glorius US of A – thanks for sharing, most enjoyable to read….can’t wait for more!! A xx

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