It takes a visit from someone “back home” to remind me of the little things that are different over here. Recently, a relative from the UK wrapped up a week-long trip to the States with a couple of days in the Philly suburbs. She’s stayed with us before, but every time there’s something new that creates a moment of confusion.
This time around it was a quick trip to the local CVS (sort of an American version of Boots the Chemist).
For starters, she was baffled by its size: “Um, what’s the difference, then, between a drug store and a supermarket?”
“Oh,” I said, “A supermarket has way more stuff.”
She eyed the food section, which stretched across three aisles and one wall of freezers — along with a section of toys and gifts, and two aisles of greeting cards. All of this in addition to the usual vast array of haircare, skincare, and shaving products, “personal” items, an entire wall of different types of plasters/bandaids, and every conceivable treatment for colds, allergies, and other ailments. Plus, of course, the section for the pharmacy itself, dispensing prescriptions.
“More than this?!”
“Oh yes, much more,” and I made a mental note to introduce her to the local Super Giant on her next visit.
Then, while still pondering the nuance of store types, she suddenly gave a little yelp of surprise: “You can buy bottles of 200+ painkillers?”
“Well, yes, of course, this IS a drug store…”
I didn’t realize that in the years since I left the UK, a lot of restrictions have been imposed on how many non-prescription painkillers you can buy. Apparently aspirin, ibuprofen et al are now limited to no more than a couple of dozen pills at a time, and they’re usually tucked away in near-impossible-to-open blister packs.
Gleefully she grabbed a mega-bottle of tylenol and headed for the check-out.
Which led to confusion-moment number three, when the young sales clerk asked for her store card or phone number.
A look of panic on her face she asked: “Why does he want my phone number? Did I do something wrong?”
When I explained that it’s just another way of looking up your store loyalty card if you have one, she was horrified: “Why on earth would a shop think it’s alright to have your phone number? That’s so personal!”
I no longer even notice when sales people ask for my phone number (although I must admit, I never give out my number, which some sales clerks seem to take as a personal insult). And most days I take it for granted that a simple drug store sells a huge selection of other stuff besides painkillers and hand cream.
It’s just all part of the ubiquity of the retail experience here in the States, where “shopping” is raised to an all-immersive pastime.