I walk into the PK supermarket, off 26th Street. There’s only one other large supermarket on this road, it’s called Hajis- it’s too crowded though slightly cheaper.
I nod at the rockstar cashier, he looks like a cool dude, but we’ve never talked. I enter autopilot when I stoop to pick up the red plastic basket with its black handle; and stand up to pick a packet of Olpers milk. It’s shoulder-level, and I know the distinctive red packet so I merely glance at it as I throw it into the basket.
I continue walking down this aisle, picking up canned tuna. Sometimes there’s a new brand, or one that I have never tried, so I compare prices quickly, make a choice and move on. I walk to the back of the store and round into the other aisle. This is where I will find my rice, I pick anything that says basmati, there’s only 1 or 2 brands anyway. Sometimes I will pick raisins as well, on the same aisle and next to all the spices.
I have money this week, so I walk up towards the meat section, past the breakfast cereals and Walker’s Oats that I love. I order half a kg of beef from the perpetually bored butcher. I leave him dicing and take the stairs to the bottom level. I said I have money this week, so I can indulge in tetra pack juice.
Enroute to the Nestle juice, I open the fridge on my left, fiddle around for some yoghurt (Nestle as well) making sure it’s not ‘natural’. I will usually pick banana or vanilla. It goes well with diced up apples and bananas, good snack after the gym and before dinner or if I am still awake at 2am.
I pick either apple or orange juice, 360 degree turn and now I’m at the ice-cream freezer. I usually pick a cornetto or 2 so I don’t feel awkward in front of my roomate. I go back upstairs, pick up my meat, and head to the right- where the fridge with blue-band/cheese etc is. Blue band over here, is packed in blue rectangular tins.
I walk towards the cashier, instinctively reaching out for the bread on the way there. Oh and I forgot I need some eggs, so I’m back at the shelf with the milk. I squat to the lowest shelf, pick a tray of 6 eggs and walk back to the cashier.
Total shopping time max 30minutes. This includes walking to and from home, and getting a greasy calorie-laden-tastiest-thing-ever chicken-mayo roll from Ambala (where you will occasionally spot some roaches). Add maybe another 10 minutes of brief negotiation for fruits from the same big-moustache vendor every week. It’s usually 6 bananas and 4 of whatever fruit is in season. That was Pakistan.
Enter the UK. I walk to Tescos, pick up my basket and googlemap my way to the milk. I stop and stare. Do I want skimmed milk? Do I want branded milk? Do I want skimmed and branded milk? Do I want whole milk, organic milk, ‘whatever kind of milk that is?’ And be careful to read, lest you make the amateur mistake of picking the ‘blue’ pack. Because there are different blue packs with different tastes and more importantly different prices.
Time for the meat. Do I want chicken, or pieces of chicken? Legs only perhaps? Do I want the deal for 3 for 2 or the deal for 5 for 3? And what’s this? Bacon? Is it honey glazed or plain? Why is it on offer, is it about to expire? I take 10 minutes, comparing, calculating and wondering. I walk away, breaking down all this information, I will pick something ‘simple’ like eggs as I make a choice of what I will pick.
Oh, good old eggs, this should be an easy one. Do I want free-range eggs? Among these 10 brands of eggs, which one tickles my fancy? By the time I get back to the meat, I already forgot what I wanted, so again I stare, calculate and get irritated.
And how about the bread? I avoid the distracting baugettes, croissants, other bread-like things, and pick the one to the extreme left. I have no idea what brand it is, all I know is that is 47pence. I avoid looking at the bright yellow tags trying to tell me something about buying 2 pieces for the price of 3 and what not.
It takes me almost an hour to finish shopping and this is a relatively small store.
I conclude that the UK simply offers too much information about too many things and at every turn.
To me, it makes sense then, that people don’t know much about their surroundings. Picture you’re from Buruburu and you don’t know where the Tuskys is? You will ask 5 people before you find one with a vague idea. I thought it odd, but now I think it’s understandable considering how much information everyone has to process over here. I think living everyday in this information avalanche, your mind automatically retains only what concerns you as an individual.
From day 1, I have been assaulted with free chocolate samples on the street and energy drinks as that I have never heard of. I have seen people singing opera on the street corner with their hats out for tips, right next to the teenager breakdancing behind the carousel and next to the guy on the stilts and the other guy drawing attention to KFC. Even on a weekday, if I want I can pick 10 different flyers on the 2km walk to school. Even at 12am (I was walking around lost in the city centre), there were still people handing out information on fliers. Fliers about different parties, different restaurants, different clubs and I even got one from a church trouncing the theory of evolution.( It was handed to me by a Nigerian, and you ask why I like stereotyping. Nigerians are spiritual beings, as evidenced by their JUJU stuff and my aggressive tiny classmate who thinks Don Moen is still the shit.)
You walk in the London subway, with its neat posters advertisings different plays and movies. The problem is there are thousands! By the time I was out of the subway, I couldn’t remember any single one. How the Hell are you meant to remember anything? Brand loyalty really does mean everything here. Your information, whether about condoms, shampoo, parties, beer, shoes, sales prices etc has a high chance of being lost in all the noise. Every day I see things that I plan to investigate, but by the time I get some free time, I already forgot what website it was, or where I saw it and I have already seen hundreds of other things worth investigating.
Too much information.