X–Cultural Exchange: Trader Joe’s
The more I go back and forth between the US and France, the more I have an appreciation of the little things that make each place unique. While you can find most things anywhere these days, this trip home I couldn’t help but think of all the things I would show my French friends if I were showing them around the US. And strangely enough I can’t tell you how often Trader Joe’s has come up as a topic of conversation during my travels, so I figured I’d introduce it to the international standard.
Lesson 1: Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe’s may just be a grocery store, but it tops my list of places I miss about the US and love to visit when I’m home. It’s also one of those places that still feels unique to the US, and you can’t find elsewhere in the world. I’m sure one day that will change too, but for now I love having simple things to look forward to on my return visits. While you can’t find Trader Joe’s everywhere in the US, there are 300+ locations around the country. Believe it or not it started in the 1950s!
Perhaps the most defining qualities of Trader Joe’s are the Hawaiian shirts the employees [crew] wear (however, on my last visit, it appears that sweat and t-shirts have replaced this bit of insignia). Who says a grocery store needs to take themselves seriously? A bit of fun is always welcome.
Then there is the “2 Buck Chuck” – aka cheap wine. While very affordable wine is something I’ve become quite accustomed to in France, back in the homeland it’s harder to find. Trader Joe’s has always had a fairly good, affordable selection (even if it’s more than $2 these days). However, the catch is to not visit a Trader Joe’s in a state such as Maryland where any kind of alcohol can only be sold in official liquor stores. Be warned.
While many people may not realize it, every sign in the Trader Joe’s stores is hand-painted. The only reason I know this is because one of my instructors in a print making class I once took was the lead sign painter in the local Baltimore store. There are regularly promotions and new inventory which keep that position busy. I also just like the idea of having a touch of handmade, while also supporting local artists. (They also strive to support local food suppliers as much as possible too).
When it comes to what to buy, for me Trader Joe’s is a snacker’s paradise. It is not uncommon that you’ll overhear a conversation such as “Have you tried Trader Joe’s yogurt covered holiday pretzels?” This word of mouth buzz is seriously dangerous, because this particular snack blew me away. Several years ago my boss got me hooked on the chocolate covered edamame. It’s an unlikely combo, but I have yet to find someone I have not won over with this snack. (I even brought a container back to France with me, with the idea of sharing, of course!). Finally, the ginger cookies are my other weakness. Ginger – they have to be good for you, I figure. Oh, and less we not forget the sample table where no doubt there is something yummy to taste test.
The other thing that sets Trader Joe’s apart, beyond it’s hull like interior where you may see a palm tree or two, is that it’s kid friendly. Their snacks tend to be healthier than most (amazing dried fruit section too) with less sugar, so it’s less likely that your child may throw a tantrum in the store. Instead, they can keep busy looking for the hidden stuffed animal in the story. In the past I remember it being a parrot, but in the Alexandria store, it was a dog. It’s a fun game which helps occupy kids, and now that I think of it, I’m a bit disappointed that I’ve never participated myself. But I think only the kids are the one who get a prize if they find him.
In short: Trader Joe’s is awesome.
There are certain things about a culture that you’d never think to ask. I’ve learned the best things about France in the most unexpected ways. X-Cultural Exchange – as in cross-cultural – is a semi-regular column that takes a mundane, yet humorous spin at learning about different cultures.