Monday, August 2, 2010

Too many choices

Or, How many types of orange juice does the world really need?

While choice can be a good thing, too much choice -- or too many choices -- can sometimes be a bad thing, especially when it involves supermarket shopping and your spouse (or partner or boyfriend).

Gone are the days when a woman could simply write
  • orange juice
  • milk
  • shampoo
  • conditioner
and expect her helpmate to return with exactly what she wanted. HA!

Ah, if life were still that simple.

Now instead of confidently reaching for a container of orange juice, the ill-prepared male is accosted by a barrage of choices, nine out of ten of which are likely to be the wrong one (per his spouse or partner or girlfriend). Yet how is he to know pulp or no pulp? With or without calcium? Home style or grove stand (whatever those appellations mean)? From concentrate or freshly squeezed? Or which brand to choose when there are typically four or five or more brands, many of which look the same?

And buying milk is no easier. Do you get whole, 2%, 1%, or skim? Organic or not? Pasteurized or ultra-pasteurized? And don't forget to check the expiration date!

Though the worst aisle in the supermarket to navigate may be the health and beauty aisle, which has been known to reduce normally decisive, confident men to blubbering idiots. Does the world really need 10 shelves of shampoos and conditioners? Feminine products? Don't even bother. And as far as facial creams, I have to admit, to the inexperienced, Nivea and Neutrogena and Noxzema do look and sound awfully similar.

To combat supermarket overload, one woman I know (or, more accurately, whom the spouse knows) actually sends her husband shopping with a detailed spreadsheet, which no longer seems as whacky as it once did. (To minimize phone calls from the supermarket as well as having to return items later, I actually typed up a detailed, bulleted list, organized the same way our Stop & Shop is organized, for the spouse the other day, which I both printed and emailed to his Droid. He said it worked great -- and I didn't have to return a thing.)

Don't get me wrong. I am all for freedom of choice. I just sometimes think too much choice can be a bad thing -- though it's a nice segue to/reason to include this classic Devo song:


Dave S. said...

We have used the spreadsheet approach (in our case a Word document) for years and it works very well. It is organized according to the former layout of our former primary grocery store; I am too lazy/intellectually competent to rearrange it. Needed items are circled; everything else is crossed out.

The primary purpose of the list is to keep track of what we need and what is in the cart (circled items are crossed out as their real-life counterparts go into the cart.) This assumes increasing importance in direct proportion to the number of children present. Occasionally, as with health and beauty products, the list helps get the right brand etc. of product.

As the primary shopper for my family I must decry the pervasive sexism of this post. Had I written the same thing but transposed genders... OK, no one would have read it, but I think I have made my point. The borderline-obscene variety of products is enough to give anyone pause, but a last-ditch rule of thumb is to get what was in the fridge the last time, and pray that they haven't 1) rearranged the aisles or 2) changed the packaging.

Now, if anyone could tell me where to find those Near East brand dried soup cups in the metro DC area, I would be much obliged. (Shakes fist at Shoppers Food Warehouse at Potomac Yard)

Kendor said...

I do admit to getting very stressed about CoQ10 night cream choices, also feminine napkins, etc... And have spent way too long scanning shelves trying to getting what's on the list.

Now if I could only get the lovely Madame Deux-Zéro to agree to PeaPod or some other such online shopping service, a lot of this product minutiae could be more easily dealt with online --yeah, I know good luck ;-)

@DaveS, no matter what they will change the aisles at some point and the packaging too. The paper list is just not dynamic enough in this modern world. Silk the soy milk guys just did that and confused me to no end. And then of course there is the Trader Joe's problem, where they sucker you into liking something really specific and all of a sudden stop carrying it. Good luck going with a list to Trader Joe's, or for those of us her in our little corner of the world, Stew Leonards.

Dave S. said...

Kendor, I hear you on the Trader Joe's bait and switch. Come back, wasabi crispy snacks! The TJs list is littered with now-nonexistent products that we hope against hope will reappear.

We did Peapod a couple of times but their habit of substituting different brands if the one you specified was out of stock was kind of annoying.

Frankly I like grocery shopping. How else am I supposed to stay current on Brangelina?

Anonymous said...

As to shopping lists for husbands at the grocery store, I generally xerox the front of the box or jar or whatever to give to my husband to use as a guide. Forget the sundries. Even I get confused looking to find the product I am running out of since a line like Neutrogena has such a variety of product that seem to offer the same beauty fix.

Charlene said...

I guess you just have to pay attention to what someone's preference is. If you're close enough that you have sex with them and/or they live with you, it's not brain surgery.

Lenny likes Degree Sport, Kerry Castile soap, Choc Full'o nuts coffee. I like Prell, Jergens loction and Folgrs. It's not at all difficult!

Another David S. said...

When shopping in today's supermarkets (or even a well-stocked drugstore), I often recall that famous scene from the movie MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON, where Robin Williams' unsuspecting Russian defector volunteers to buy coffee for the Harlem family who's taken him in--leading to his nervous collapse in the aisle once he discovers the shelf upon shelf, and can upon can, of coffee choices. Western capitalism at its most benignly oppressive. "Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee..."

I actually came close to a similar breakdown upon entering a Best Buy only days after returning from 2-and-a-half years living in mid-'90s Eastern Europe--where every product had, at best, 2-3 derivations (except beer, of course, which came in as many varieties as today's Tropicana--and was equally popular for starting one's day). It also happened to be the holiday season, and I remember being dragged out of the store in a stupor, physically unable to even conceive of buying gifts.

Of course, I can still easily spend half an hour in the shampoo aisle. Beer, on the other hand, is a cinch.

Ange said...

And THIS is why I do my grocery shopping online!

(*snigger* the word verification on this post is "enpoo"!)

J. said...

@Dave S.: I was waiting for someone to shout "Sexism!" Thank you for not making me wait very long. Though I will add that you are the exception (make that exceptional) and not the rule.

@Kendor: What Charlene said. ;-)

@Charlene: I'm with you, sister.

@Another David S.: Great comment. And so true. Though I actually like hanging out in the beer aisle, looking at all the pretty labels and debating whether or not to try something new. (That said, I know which brands and types of beer the spouse enjoys.)

@Ange: What Dave S. said.