Expat conversations at Tesco’s Fresh & Easy

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6a00e55455c9358833017c3842ac28970bTesco’s Fresh & Easy has been in the news lately, having failed to capture the US market. Some say the Tesco formula just didn’t translate. I found myself there recently, in search of mint sauce.

After passing through the produce section, and stocking up on Peeps from the Easter display, I finally found the British food aisle. Taking up a mere 6′ by 5′ section of shelving, it contained an all star list of British packaged foods. I immediately started checking out what they had, mentally comparing prices. Marmite was $5.49 (a bit much), Colmans mustard was $2.99 (not bad), Heinz Beans were $1.49 (an absolute bargain).

“I wish they had more,” the blonde tan woman standing next to me offered. At first I couldn’t make out her accent, then she spoke again. “The Oxo is really expensive, you can get that in England for much less.” Ah, I thought, she’s Northern.

I eyed the Oxo, with exchange rates the price looked pretty reasonable. I wondered how long this woman had lived in the US. “I came to get some mint sauce,” I responded, “we’re having roast lamb for Easter”.

“I love roast lamb, but no one likes it here”, she said wistfully, reaching to the left, magically producing a jar of mint sauce for me. It was a brand I didn’t recognise, but hey, it was real mint sauce. Not the lurid green mint jelly I had to serve last Easter.

My new expat friend gazed longingly at the small aisle. “I like lemon curd, but sometimes I make my own. Do you like lemon curd?” She didn’t look at me as she spoke, instead locking eyes with at the foods of her past. I found myself doing the same thing. We must have been a sight. Two women staring blankly at Paxo Stuffing, lost in thought, connected by an imported food aisle.

Are you from here or there, she asked. She must have had the same trouble working out my accent. After two decades in the UK, I have a hard time understanding myself! “I was born in the US, but have lived in the UK for nearly 20 years”.

“I’ve been here 40! I smiled back at her, noticing a few line near her eyes, surrendering to her expat seniority. “Do you have kids”, she asked. “I wish I had taken my kids back when they were young. They’re grown now. I wish they had British accents.”

Another tan woman stopped at the aisle (everyone’s tan here). She grabbed some Branston Pickle ($3.99) and left. I have no idea if she was American or British. Maybe she was Australian.

It’s record cold there, I reminded my expat friend.

“I wouldn’t know how to dress for the cold weather!” She was wearing pink running shorts and a tank top.

I mentioned that Fresh & Easy might be closing, but she either didn’t hear me, or chose not to respond.

“What they need here is some Birds custard.”

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7 Comments

  1. This was a great post, Susanna! I could really see the scene and feel all those expat undercurrents… It read like the openings of a novel*.

    *Something to think about there…! 🙂

  2. 12/04/2013 / 18:56

    I wasn’t aware of Fresh and Easy till you wrote this as they aren’t in the mid-west BUT I drove past one in Manhattan Beach on the way to LAX yesterday. I must say, it looked open but I didn’t make anyone stop to let me out!

  3. 11/04/2013 / 18:16

    Wow – that’s a good price for Branston pickle. I think I pay nearer $5. Currently in CA – it’s beautiful.

  4. 07/04/2013 / 20:16

    Nothing says “home” like food…

  5. 07/04/2013 / 15:55

    Beautifully written! I love how food bonds you with perfect strangers, even after a number of years away (I’ve been in the UK 22 years, longer than I ever lived in Sweden, yet go crazy in the Swedish food shop).

  6. Susanna
    07/04/2013 / 02:49

    Spoken like an expert…

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