Experiencing Extreme Choice Fatigue & Culture Shock

Today was grocery-shopping day in Cyprus. I grabbed my wallet, walked to the store, and…

WOW. TOO MANY DECISIONS!

The store was huge! It was like a small Walmart which, in Europe, is huge.

In the center in Bulgaria, everything is so tightly packed together. Even in my girlfriend’s village, the supermarket was quite small & packed. There was not a lot of free space.

I’m sure there are huge supermarkets in some places in Europe, but so far my experience has been that all across Europe things are… small.

Small by North American standards, that is. Everyone in the USA is used to insanely huge Walmarts, Targets, HyVee’s, and the likes of that.

At first, the small shops in London, Belgium, Budapest, and Sofia were a bit frustrating.

I was used to having so much space to myself, and countless choices for all kinds of products.

Slowly I adjusted…

Sometime early in Bulgaria it became typical for me. Old people would simply push others around (many old Bulgarians are assholes, sorry!) to make space, and limited options became normal.

In fact, this type of shopping actually is quite easy (besides the jerks that shove their way through occasionally).

Instead of a giant labyrinth, I would walk into a “supermarket” and follow one single hallway. The entire store was designed for you to walk down a single path, picking up things you need, and take you to the exit.

Limited choices are actually a blessing, too. There was often a “low quality,” and a “high quality” selection. There weren’t endless choices in between, or confusing terms & subtle changes differentiating products that are effectively the same.

Instead of having to pick between 10 fucking types of eggs, I got to choose between the basic eggs & the high-quality eggs. I could choose a container of 6 or 12. That’s it.

Here in Cyprus, I can choose between a variety of brands, Omega 3 vs. non Omega 3, and all kinds of different amounts. I can’t even tell the difference between certain brands except in price!

Walking into the supermarket here in Cyprus was a shock. First, I’m in Paphos. Paphos is a small city (pop. 32,000). Second, it’s still a walk-able, European city.

For whatever reason, things are simply bigger here, just like the USA. I really enjoy having personal space in restaurants, cafes, malls, and super-markets, but I found that the amount of choices & directions were overwhelming.

When I walked into the super-market, my first thought was “where the fuck do I go?” I was used to mindlessly following the path that is typical of Hungary & Bulgaria.

In Hungary & Bulgaria I would follow the path, pick foods, and continue on until I reached the exit, and that was it.

There was also very little fear of “missing something” because you walked past everything.

Here in Cyprus, I was dazed. I even took photographs for my girlfriend! This isn’t the largest supermarket I’ve been in (‘murican Walmarts for the win!) for sure, but after having lived in Central Europe & Eastern Europe, it was a fucking shock to my system.

The first 10 minutes were spent just trying to get my bearings. This sounds crazy, but it’s true.

An employee told me to stop taking photographs, and I apologized, explaining that I lived in Central & Eastern Europe for the past 7 months and things were quite different.

After I mentally mapped out how I was going to explore the entire super-market, I began walking my own self-made path.

I had a wide variety of nuts & seeds to choose from, which was overwhelming, but also pleasant.

There was a huge abundance of everything; anything I wanted, I felt could be found, somewhere. It was overwhelming.

I would’ve thought that I would’ve easily re-adapted into something I used to be used to (again, Walmart!!), but I couldn’t.

There is something called “The Paradox of Choice.” The more choices you have, the harder it becomes to make a choice, and the more likely it is that you regret your choice.

I didn’t regret any of my purchases (eating healthy makes choosing easy), but figuring out how to shop was insanely tough.

I must admit, I became more Bulgarian that I initially realized. I recall a BLOG post in which a Russian complains of all the choices of bread in the USA. Now I understand.

I’m absolutely not complaining about Eastern Europe’s lack of choice & size in supermarkets. It’s a hidden blessing!

You can mindlessly wander down the single direction in the supermarket, and collect everything you need.

In Cyprus & the USA, we are burdened with choices & choices & more choices. Simply figuring out where to start shopping took me 10 minutes!

Yes, I know this sounds crazy, but once you adjust to living in a packed center such as the magical city of Sofia, choices & size become overwhelming.

I love the amount of choices, and the fact that no old ass-hats will be pushing their way through the lines. But I also find it overwhelming; there are so many choices even in restaurants for places to sit!

I thought this might entertain some of you guys. I really have become more Eastern European than I could’ve ever imagined.

While I enjoyed reminiscing about Walmart in Bulgaria, actually returning to the equivalent of a Walmart in Cyprus was a huge culture shock.

I thought I would adjust quickly because Cyprus is quite like the USA. I’m not.

I’m officially part-Bulgarian now. The lady at the register thought I was high because I realized as I was leaving that my eyes were wide open, still in shock of how many choices, things, and room there was in the market.

I bored my beautiful girlfriend with stories of the magical Walmart & endless choices.

Now, I get to bite my bullet…

-Michael