My experience living and shopping in the U.S. while trying not to constantly convert dollars to rupees.
I was at the gym this morning (to exercise, in case you were wondering). I watched as a couple walked to the property manager's office and walked out with some sheets of paper much like my partner and I did so many moons ago when we were apartment hunting. As they walked around the property, I was transported back to the time we walked around, looking to make a place our home. And it brought to mind so many memories. Discovering a place for ourselves. Figuring out the simplest of things. A little wary, but so much more excited to explore a new city; a new country.
I moved to the US with my partner earlier in 2022. I moved to this little city called Sunnyvale, which is about an hour's drive from San Francisco; I always like to add. It's a beautiful place to be. It isn't crowded, at all. The traffic is organized and everyone follows traffic rules! I discovered lane driving is a thing, and when one follows it (everyone does, here) driving is a pleasure. I so love it when things are organized.
The Driving Experience
Our priority was to rent a car because there is no reliable public transport, the distances are vast to simply walk and Uber is expensive.
The first thing I felt, sitting in the passenger seat of the rented vehicle here in the US was panic. My partner was driving and I trust his driving skills completely. So my panic was about driving on the wrong side of the road. My brain couldn't wrap itself around the idea that driving on the right side of the road was a thing.
I was convinced we would get into a major car crash and our lives would be tragically over in barely a few days of moving to the US. I felt woozy, and nauseous and wanted to hurl myself out of the car. I had to constantly give myself a pep talk before getting into the vehicle to go someplace. Thankfully the feeling went away in a few days. I also learned to drive and passed my behind-the-wheel driving test on my second attempt. Yay. This girl is now licensed to drive in the US.
A majority of driving is to the grocery store (we do road trips too. We're cool like that). The grocery stores (as with everything else) are gigantic here. The number of brands available is insane! What always gets me though, is the size of the packaging. You don't get 500ml milk here. There's no milk in plastic bags sold here. For 2 people, the smallest pack of milk I can get is 2lb (900ml approximately). Same for butter. Curd comes in a container that's about twice the size of the containers in India.
And oh my God, the size of onions here. I specify onions because my partner loves them. I can't stress enough about how much he loves them. The quality of onions is the gold standard in deciding grocery shopping destinations (yes. it is a destination) The onions here are twice the size and all of the food is so fresh. Most of the time the glossy fruits and veggies make me feel like the stores have been set up for a shoot.
Let's get back to the milk for a wee second. I'm lactose intolerant and every store I go to has lactose-free milk options. There are innumerable gluten-free snacks too. Plant-based options are aplenty - not that I care a lot about them. But I know they're available should I ever need them.
One of the places we had heard so much about was Costco. Aisles and more aisles of almost everything you could possibly think of for your home. You can't really walk away with just one carton of milk though. It comes in packs of 3. Anything you'd want is supersized.
It isn't by any means low-priced. What you'd get is great quality at slightly lower prices. For the 2 of us, we've found that shopping here once every month is quite sufficient, which is when we also fuel up at the Costco gas station.
The gas station brings to mind a little tidbit about a new-to-the-US experience - that of filling fuel to the car. While it is routine now, it required a thorough YouTube tutorial and accompanying a cousin to the gas station to 'see-how-its-done'.
Our living room with Ikea furniture literally pieced together by pick-up from multiple stores and delivery
In setting up our house, we scouted IKEA and a few other stores along with online options. While we did get some furniture from Wayfair, most of our stuff was from IKEA. For most value-conscious Indians, I think it's a no-brainer. IKEA is an experience of course. But let me tell you about the cinnamon rolls. Lipsmacking. And the much-needed dose of sugar after all the walking and exploring you do in IKEA.
Our IKEA shopping experience required a lot of juggad because of the pandemic and supply chain issues. We fell in love with some of the furniture but they weren't available for delivery or even for pick-up at the store. We were pretty wary of renting U-hauls to get furniture on our own simply because it was way out of our comfort zone. Also, fitness levels - we couldn't imagine carrying everything on our own to our home on the second floor (in the US the ground is the first floor and so on).
So my genius partner went on an online IKEA treasure hunt figuring out stores at which parts of the furniture were available. We went to multiple stores to pick up furniture and got some of it delivered. The pure bliss of achievement at getting it all done has been unbelievable!
The Shopping MALL!
Now, I love shopping. Retail. Look and touch the clothes and accessories and footwear and everything in between. Try them on. And all that walking around in a frenzy counts as exercise. I mean, that exhaustion after you have shopped all day long makes me want to get a foot massage. Oh hell. A body massage, why not!
I get to experience all the brands that I've only heard/read about. Nordstrom. Macy's. The luxury outlet stores. Coach. I want everything until I see the price tag, lol.
Then the other side of it - ROSS, TJ Maxx, and other discount stores are aplenty too. The Nike outlet that I've been to is huge and offers a great many options in all sizes. At these stores, I almost don't look at prices 'cos it's all quite affordable. But then I have to check to see if it's affordable (:-D).
Surprise surprise when I first realized that Amazon is not the least expensive option (nothing feels cheap when you're still converting dollars to rupees). There's Walmart as well. I don't want to say it in the same breath, but there's ASOS too. Somehow, the retail experience has outshined the online experience. One reason is probably the shipping charges that get added in addition to the tax. Just more dollars to convert to rupees. Sigh.
I'd love to know more about online shopping options here in the US because I do love the ease and luxury of online shopping.
In closing, I'd like to say...
I realize it's so easy to get habituated to new experiences. It's been 6 months and while this place doesn't feel like home, everything I've mentioned in this post has started to feel normal. I recall talking to a friend and struggling to not say 'driving on the wrong side of the road'. I wonder about visiting India in the future with lenses colored by the US experience. A lot of it is influenced by India pictured in Western movies. How can a mere 6 months influence one's perspective so much? Something to definitely think about.