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differences in food cultures

Differences In Food Cultures: Eating Lunch at Costco

Over the summer I collect ‘little stories’; these snippets that might seem normal to an American living in the United States, but they are my ‘little stories’ because they are situations, conversations, images of how Americans approach food and meals that seem so culturally different to my adopted France. Here is the fifth ‘little story’ observed in a typical warehouse food market, otherwise known as Costco.

If you missed the first ‘little story’ you can read it here: Differences Between Food Cultures, Why Can’t Parents Say No?


differences in food cultures

Differences Between French and American Food Culture: Warehouse Food Samples for Lunch

Do you remember the Modern Family episode when Cam introduces Mitchell to warehouse shopping at Costco? Here is a blurb if you don’t remember:

Mitchell turned the cheek and loved the concept of shopping in a big warehouse. For me, I am not convinced yet.

I find these warehouse shops too big and sterile. But while my experience last week in Costco in New Jersey was very pleasant, the staff extremely helpful and nice, there was one part of the shopping trip that made me uncomfortable.

The samples.

My little story has to do with Costco, free samples, lunch and a big cultural difference between France and America.

Costco comes with a membership and an optional lunch

differences in food cultures

The Costco near my mom’s town is pretty new. It lives in Manahawkin, NJ and is a very close distance to the other warehouse store that I know better, called BJ’s. I don’t have any official complaint with these types of stores except for the large square feel and white lights, both of which make me feel tiny and weird. And I don’t particularly like the extra big sizes that are sold, even if the prices are low for what you get. But maybe I am being too picky. If you have a ton of kids or need to buy a ton of things for a party, why not do warehouse food shopping?

So when my mom suggested a stop in Costco with the crazy crew (the swarm of kids) during our thrift store adventure day, we zipped in the parking lot and headed inside. But there is one clear difference between Costco and BJ warehouse shopping. Costco is filled with employees offering food and drink samples. BJs is mostly just a warehouse store. And when I mentioned to my mom the OMG amount of food samples for the tasting of member shoppers, she said, “Just come shopping here on the weekend, this is nothing!”

There was samples of cheese, meats, popcorn, sorbet, guacamole, sorbet. And this was just on one aisle. There was so much to taste. So much to eat and drink. So much to buy. My kids were going crazy with sample heaven too. And when I thought about it and looked around at the other shoppers in tasting paradise it hit me:

A Costco membership allows you that daily optional lunch. Standing up. In small quantities of different flavors. It felt so American to be in this store. And that is part of the problem. Because America has an overweight eating crises.

A warehouse of samples, a warehouse of eating.

As I walked around the aisles of Costco last week I was struck by the whole American-ess of this experience. Warehouse food shopping is truly an American thing, or at least I can say it doesn’t exist in France (as far as I know). Lots of space to park the car, big carts, big food, big store!

And shopping while trying food samples is also very American. Would a French person eat so many samples and then go home to eat lunch or dinner? (Probably not). And what about eating in between meals? (non, the French wouldn’t do that either). Would a food sample paradise like Costco do well in France? Don’t know.

Differences between America and France: eating between meals?

Costco is really a food sample heaven. And with your shopping experience you get smiling employees who encourage you to taste and try. This is all good, except for one big thing: just too much food!

Mega-sampling disrupts meal schedule. Eating in between meals. Overeating. Snacking. In France, a food culture with very strict no snacking meal discipline, would a Costco store with sample heaven have the Frenchies milling around eating between meals?

I don’t think so.

So next time you are in Costco and see all these samples to try, allow yourself one or two. Or opt for the optional lunch as part of your membership, just like this article suggests, “The Psychology Behind Costco’s Free Samples.” What do you think?

Just my two cents.

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Thanks for your support. Warmly, Mary

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