The World Wide Waitrose Web (or Why Globalisation is Sometimes a Nice Thing)

I have never taken Waitrose for granted. Even when I lived in the UK I always appreciated it. I was blissfully happy wandering up and down the well-stocked, bright, wide aisles, gazing dreamily at the tempting treats thronging the shelves. I have always considered it to be more sanctuary than supermarket. It comes as no surprise then that, when assailed by the sharp pangs of homesickness, it is to Waitrose I turn. And good old M&S of course.

I feel I should say that globalisation is, in many ways, a terrible thing. Back home I despaired at the big brands taking over our high streets, the tedious homogeneity, the predictable, uniform rows of monopolizing, multi-national shops and restaurants, side-by-side in every city centre across the land and, of course, the sad plight of so many diverse, unique business enterprises and local retailers.

And yet… while globalisation may indeed be a fat, greedy spider sitting at the centre of an ever-spreading web, my experiences of living abroad for the last two years have shown me that those shining threads it spins aren’t just there to ensnare us – they also create vital connections between people, countries and cultures, making the big, scary world feel like a smaller, safer and friendlier place. I suppose it comes down to continuity and the comfort of the familiar. That self-same predictability, though tedious and frustrating back home, can bring such unutterable joy to the lost and the lonely, the heart-broken and the homesick. Last December, if I was late home from work, my husband knew I could always be found in the Marks and Spencer Christmas shop. Hiding amidst the sparkly angels, boxes of filo pastry mince pies and cinnamon-scented knick-knacks, I could, at least for half an hour, pretend I was back home. I could pretend that it was dark and chilly outside and that I would soon be going home to a roaring log fire, instead of the hot, dusty balcony and the incessant whir of air-conditioning. It was a brief respite, but an effective one. Never underestimate the healing capacity of dry goods and knitwear.

Kindly friends and relatives often ask if there is “anything from home” they can bring with them when they come to visit. The usual suggestions include such quintessentially British items as Marmite, Heinz baked beans or Colman’s mustard. One particularly thoughtful friend brought with her, on her own initiative, nearly half a suitcase of Bird’s Custard (the ready-to-mix, powdered variety). I am always grateful for such kindnesses, but we can in fact get almost all of these goodies out here already (I am conscious of the fact that when I say “out here” I am making it sound like I’m a pioneer astronaut, walking the barren surface of an alien planet, which is of course utterly ridiculous). The retailers know their business and they cater for every expat whim. Just as in the UK there are increasing numbers of shops offering Asian or Polish food, the shops and restaurants here recognise the demand – the profound human need? – for home comforts, and stock up accordingly with British pickles, American peanut butter, South African biltong and Indian spices.

It helps. I still pine for the glorious bounty of an English farmers market – vegetables freshly plucked from the earth, bottles of apple juice from nearby orchards, local salt-marsh lamb chops or crumbly British cheeses – but it is all hopelessly out of reach. So when I’m feeling particularly hot, hungry and homesick, I allow the shining threads of globalisation to cocoon me: even in the midst of the desert, I can hop into an erratically driven taxi, grab a trolley and find sanctuary for a while, wandering happily amongst the cool, calming aisles of Waitrose.

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