DuhAs you may have picked up on, I have taken a little trip to North America. Zionist guilt be damned.

Even though I grew up in America, Western culture is tripping me out. I suppose I’m young enough that I have acclimated to Israel better than I realized, because all of a sudden this culture seems somewhat foreign to me as well.

One thing that us expatriates always mention upon returning to Israel is the supermarkets. They are so big, and calm, whereas shuk shopping is practically a competitive sport. Cashiers help you rather than finishing their cell phone call, and then bag your groceries for you. And you can get anything, anytime of year (what do you mean, i asked ck, like, you can get avocados in winter? and that doesn’t seem strange to you?)

Despite the calm of elevator music and wide aisles, there is a stress of choice unparalleled in Israel. I had forgotten how many foods and variations on a food are available. Jam, for instance. You have a dozen or more brands, each with different lines and different flavors. So I stand there intensely comparing cost, size and ingredients of all of them. This continues in the cereal aisle, and don’t even get me started about the fifty varieties of shampoo.

And that’s just the supermarket. Then there are the seemingly endless choices every other time I leave the house. By the end of the day, I’m exhausted from all the decision making.

How do we handle it?

I read this article in the New Yorker a while back that said Americans are so inundated by their supposedly liberating array of choices that we have developed an inability to make any decisions at all, and a specific anxiety around it. Statistically a customer is much more likely to buy a TV if there is just one on sale in a display window than if there are two, of different brands and prices. In my generation so many of us are watching our twenties begin to pass us by because our options are so open we can’t decide what we really want to do with ourselves.

In contrast, Israelis, who generally have less options open to them, seem all the more focused for it (they actually spend their college years studying towards a defined career, for instance) We met Nitzhan who opened his own Hummus place in the East Village (it’s the best hummus ever, seriously, go there, on St. Marks Pl.) at an age where most Americans are still pissing around.

We always want to think that more choices means more freedom, but I’m starting to feel like that may be a modern delusion and too many may actually be counter-productive.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • Interesting point TM.
    I think I’ve also managed to wean myself off virtually most ‘American’ pop-culture, consumerism, and the ‘need to buy’ and happy with what comes along rather than pursuing ‘need to have’ items.
    Anyway, I try to explain to friends this ideal, but I always add that if they stopped buying their 500NIS Nikes or Castro jackets, then the Israeli economy might tank as well.
    Then again, the market for tefillin and long skirts and shirts would grow, so the malls would stay, just different products.

  • The Muffti is curious: is this an existential crisis or a normal dillema? 🙂 I think the concern with too many choices may be the result of neuroses, rather than a counterexample to the freedom that multiple options seems to provide. In fact, an abundance of choice led game theorists to posit a notion of ‘satisficing’ desires (in opposition, partly, to ideal satisfaction of desire) where satisficing involves picking some threshold beyond which the amount of work it would take to satisfy a desire is a net loss since the effort is too costly. Most people manage to do this fairly easily…

  • Don’t worry muffti, just a ‘normal dilemma.’
    I guess what I’m saying is maybe too many choices results IN (or exacerbates) neuroses, rather than the other way around.
    In Buddhism we learn desire is the cause of suffering. In America, we are sold many needless desires, and the prozac to go with it.
    However my chronic indecision regarding trivial matters, I admit, is a bit much.

  • It’s just a remix of the original ignorance is bliss groove, with a little Allegory of the Caves thrown in. It’s not so complicated – the choices are always there, you just need the right kind of light to see them. Listen to this little thang on the Paradox of Choice if you want to wallow in dilemas dilemmas, otherwise, just go with it.

  • Oh Muffti, you bring shame upon my alma mater with that spelling of dilemma…
    (And ck, yours brings shame upon our *species*. Hurrah for Laya!)

    Okay, the Pedantic Gentile will go back to lurking now. See you in a couple of days, GM! Supplies are incoming…

  • Spelling flames – the last refuge of a scoundrel – or a Japanese schoolgirl vampire. Whatever… you know GM is just a lazy bastard and you know what kind of a day I’ve been having. The correct thing to have done would have been to simply point out the error rather than expose my poor immigrant spelling. Lucky for you however, is the fact that you are this weekend’s designated quartermaster. As such you have a little leeway with respect to snarky oneupmanship. We’ll see how many french fries you get to eat next week … uppitty shiksa you ….

  • Dost thou mock my religion, ck? Just you wait until I start japaneseschoolgirlvampirelicious.com, then we’ll see who’s laughing. Bet I sell more t-shirts anyway.

  • [And pssst, ck… I’m pretty sure it’s ‘uppity’]

  • The Muffti used to love Sam…but after catching Mr. ‘Holier-speller-than-though’ CK in error, I am officially in love with you.

  • Aww, The Uppity Shiksa loves ya too, kiddo. So get your hot little Jewish ass up here already! And then we can gang up on ck and see if we can make him cry. Heheh… good times…

  • ck will eat both you little philosophy, self-righteousness and drug addled wussies for breakfast.