Carrefour. We had been in Syria for about eight months. While we were visiting Beirut for fun, a friend took us with him grocery shopping. We walked into this huge, brilliant, gleaming store and the sign out front said CARREFOUR. It was magical. Inside, we found such treasures as tortilla chips, granola bars, and rice cakes. It was truly exotic. There were mounds of produce heaped up right next to aisle after aisle of dairy products. Then of course came a wide selection of any food you could think of from just about any country. Coming from Syria where grocery stores still operate on the small neighborhood scale, Carrefour was at once behemoth and something of a Middle Eastern miracle for me.
Even now, all these years later, every time I walk into a Carrefour I get a rush of that first sense of wonder and awe I felt back in Beirut. Every time.
2. Guilt. Here's the weird thing, though: I also feel guilty. The part of me that is not busy being amazed feels a bit sheepish for having it so easy. It's as if you shouldn't be able to live in a foreign country AND be able to buy lentils, bananas, charcoal, sunscreen, and batteries all at the same store. It should require three separate trips, minimum, probably more.
The guilt was worse when we lived in places like Amman or Cairo where the small local grocery store model was still operating in the shadow of the giants like Carrefour, Spinneys, and Metro. It never felt good going past three or four corner stores just to get to a big Western market.
Here, though, there is no such dilemma. We have a branch of the Sharjah Co-op on campus, about a three-minute walk from our house (note: this is a bad thing when it's 9.30 at night and you get a hankering for some Milka chocolate). There's another, bigger Sharjah Co-op nearby and then my precious Carrefour a little farther away, along with Hyper Panda and Spinneys. So no matter where I go, I'm either shopping at a big Arab hypermarket or a big Western hypermarket.
It's equal parts wonder-inducing and guilt-dispelling.