As 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.