I’m sure I’m not the only British person to have been excited by the American superstore Walmart…I remember when I was preparing for Camp America one of the pieces of advice from returning camp counsellors was “don’t worry about packing too much, the camp director takes everyone on a Walmart run in the first few days”. So Walmart was built up as being the best place ever because if they don’t sell it…then you probably don’t need it, whatever you need, you can get it! When planning our Route 66 itinerary, we even factored in a Walmart stop ‘supermarket sweep’ style…grab a trolley/cart, you have 45 minutes to grab everything in sight!
Now I’m LIVING in America and actually have to do practical weekly shops there, it doesn’t really have the same WOOOOO factor anymore. So ladies and gentlemen, I give you ‘A Brits Guide to Walmart!’ from my expat perspective!
When I said they sell everything. I’m not joking. You can buy a tyre for your car. Some new pet fish. How about a bike?!…just pick it off the shelf and wheel it to the check out (you have no idea how hard it was for me not to get on it and ride it through the store to the tills/registers!). Fancy buying a kayak along with your bread and milk, yep you can get one of those too…I may not have bought a kayak (YET) but I did buy a lifejacket with a GoPro mount on it because it was on sale. And I had to fight against my will power to not buy a giant meerkat head…
When it comes to trying to conduct a weekly shop, Walmart is TOO. BIG. I consider things like toothpaste, bubble bath, deodorant as disposables. The type of items you’ll probably need to pick up at least one of during a shop. However at Walmart they are approximately a 6.4 mile walk away from where all the food is. So you pick up your 1 tube of toothpaste and then push it in a completely empty trolley past: 2 rows of coffee machines, 3 aisles of photo frames and decorative cushions, enough greeting cards for a whole year’s worth of different occasions, enough watches and earrings for a whole city, women’s XL clothes, women’s regular clothes, women’s gym clothes (sorry men) AND THEN you finally reach the food.
Oh and the shelves will likely be different EVERY TIME you go in for a shop, so you walk around for 10 minutes just trying to find where the shower gel is because now it’s home to suncream (in the middle of winter). Clever Walmart, trick us into buying more stuff that we probably don’t really need.
As a British expat, there are a lot of recognisable ‘worldwide’ brands which makes some aspects of shopping easy. I still use the same coconut Herbal Essences shampoo that I was using in the UK, you can buy Colgate toothpaste and Charmin bog roll, obviously Coca Cola products make an appearance and Activia yogurts (although I swear they don’t taste the same though…). When it comes to sweets and candy there are more than enough options when it comes to familiar brands: M&M’s, Lindt, Ferrero Rocher, Kit Kats, Starbursts, Skittles etc…although the purple ones…they’re not blackberry flavour, over here they are grape (bleugh!) and the green ones are usually apple and not lime. Sometimes Malteasers (chocolate malt balls) will make an appearance but they are Canadian made rather than British made, not that they taste any different.
Then there are brands that are in disguise…hidden in a really bad costume so they are still recognisable. The logos are the same, just the brand name is different. Walkers crisps are Lays, Galaxy chocolate is Dove. And some products just like to confuse you, USA Milky Ways are UK Mars Bars…And don’t be fooled by these little imposters…
‘Kinder Joys’ are a rip off of ‘Kinder Eggs’ that have been around in the UK for YEARS. The real Kinder Eggs are actually illegal in the USA. The British ones have a puzzle ‘toy’ inside a plastic egg which is then INSIDE of a chocolate egg shell. The USA wouldn’t sell or even import them because it’s illegal to sell something inedible INSIDE of a food item (I’m not judging but that suggests to me that someone once upon a time tried to eat the toy…). The USA version is a plastic egg shaped container that has a toy in one half, then a bit of foil and then a lump of Kinder chocolate, separating the 2 parts and therefore ruining all of the fun.
The problem arises when it comes to trying to find true British brands. The one near me in Iowa lacks in that department. If you want Marmite, think again, you won’t find it or anything remotely similar (BOOOOOO!). Yorkshire puddings? Nah, don’t exist.
($1.58/£1.11 – ‘Royal Dark’…not heard of that one before)
The best bet for finding something British, is Cadbury’s Chocolate. The American chocolate company, Hershey’s bought the rights to manufacture and distribute Cadbury’s in the USA and at one point there was a British Cadbury’s ban…(Hershey’s was jealous that Cadbury’s tasted better and was too similar to some of their products and basically wanted to annihilate the competition). Unless you import it yourself or go to a specialist small scale import shop, you still can’t get the whole range of Cadbury’s. Of course there’s regular Dairy Milk, Caramel and Fruit and Nut though. Instead of Hazelnut Dairy Milk, in the USA is uses almonds (and is therefore Almond Dairy Milk…no false advertising!). If you’re lucky Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers biscuits MAY be in stock.
During Easter, Walmart is Cadbury’s galore. There are whole sections of aisles dedicated to Mini Eggs and Creme Eggs!
When it comes to coffee in the USA, there are only really two options: K-cups…the really expensive little plastic cups of coffee that you put in a Keurig coffee machine OR filtered coffee pots (not really practical if you only want one cup and not to be buzzing on 10). If you look hard, tucking in the corner, you’ll probably be able to find the Nescafe instant coffee granules that us Brits are so used to. Because lets face it, we’re more likely to own a kettle than a coffee machine being a nation of tea drinkers…which leads me swiftly on to…
TEA! I have found PG Tips tea bags in Walmart…although while researching for this post (yup I’ve been researching for this!) PG Tips had disappeared off the face of the earth…probably in the same place as the Cadbury’s Fingers. However there was plenty of stock of Tetley tea bags which is good enough for me! I’ve tried some USA brands of black tea and although I find it OK to drink black, I’d imagine that if you add milk, it’d just taste like a cup of milk. It’s quite weak in flavour and I never take the tea bag out so that’s saying something!
(80 Bags $2.98/£2.10 ..look the box even has a Union Jack flag!)
Along with tea, it seems that in Walmart’s eyes, the only other thing that Brits make well enough to make worth stocking, is Fish and Chips (of course! It’s the mother of all meals!!). They have recently begun stocking Youngs Cod including a cod and chips one person ready meal. I’m yet to try the ready meal but I’m intrigued by the chips, although I’m sure they’re not going to taste like those from a traditional fish and chip shop! It’s not badly priced either.
($3.48/£2.46 …there’s that good ole Union Jack flag again!)
Anddddd that’s pretty much all you’re going to find in Walmart when it comes to British food, so here’s my final tip. Don’t forget that you don’t actually pay the price that it says on the shelf!! In the UK, all items have the tax already included on the labels…not in America, the tax doesn’t get added on until you’re at the check out.
I find this SO ANNOYING!! In true British fashion, sometimes I like to pay with smaller notes and coins to make my wallet lighter. So back home I’d often get the exact money ready before I reach the till. Not here, I crack under the pressure and start panicking because I’m holding up the line while I dig for the 7% extra that I should have added on top. I made this very mistake while taking the pictures for this post, thinking “oooo I have (only) 3 dollar bills in my wallet, that means I can buy this bag of Mini Eggs for $2.98″…NOPE you better find that extra $0.20, oh and lets make it harder by there being no such thing as a 20p!
I tend to use the self service scanners, but another difference is the ‘bag rule’. The UK adopted the 5p bag rule to try and cut down on plastic usage by encouraging people to use the reusable shopping bags. In the USA, the bags are still currently FREEEEEEEEEE and man don’t you know it. The cashiers pack your bags for you, which is lovely, but they will put every item into it’s own individual bag…I think the bag spinners say something like “3 items per bag” as a reminder. Maybe the bags aren’t strong enough? I’m not sure, but I haven’t had to buy bin bags for little bins/trash cans since I’ve been here…winner (we do try to use reusable bags but we’re awful at remembering them, our whole stash pretty much came curtesy of the Chicago Auto Show)!
But after all this, I don’t think I’ve ever seen 2 Tesco or Sainsbury’s workers break out into dance when ‘Jump On It’ is played on the shops ‘in store radio station’ while stacking the shelves…proper full blown Fresh Prince of Bel Air style…if you’ve not seen it, here’s the YouTube video! It put a smile on my face (and I’m kicking myself for not filming it)!
*Did You Know?* Walmart actually bought the UK supermarket ASDA!
**Footnote** Please note that in true British fashion, some sarcasm is used in this post.