Garden of glutton, church of excess. I’ve heard from some friends that Asians love Costco. Other than the debatable “deals” and samples, I don’t see why, so maybe there is no underlying reason for us as a whole. Those I know who stock the majority of their homes with Costco are either too busy to shop regularly or have to entertain guests every week (i.e. ministers). I’ve always been embarrassed that my parents go several times a week. If you ask them why, they’ll obviiously say it’s to buy staples at sensible prices. In actuality, they go for the samples. And sometimes the “cultural experience,” as my dad calls it.
Because their neighborhood is too poor for country clubs, too secular for churches and too large for a town hall. The area is a mix of industrial factories and storage units and tech companies, devoid of any art or culture. The demographic is beautifully diverse, but it also makes it hard to find common ground with strangers. Costco really does become the place to see and be seen, run into neighbors and stay in touch. My parents don’t watch American movies or television, but there’s a bit of theater in every Costco visit, where they learn about upcoming holidays, ogle people eating hot dogs and churros, and share a communal experience with the town.
Of course, it’s the samples that get them there. When I live at home I almost always tag along, and I go enough to have observed several types of responses to samples. First, you’ve got people who don’t even acknowledge the food, and seem to have been placed in the crowds by some cruel act of god. They’ll curse and barrel their carts through the store like they’re too important and busy to deal with the tomfoolery. I probably wouldn’t get along with these people. I mean, it’s fine to pass them up, but to not even look at what’s being offered–these people need to stop and smell the free fajitas.
Then there are the majority of us who will look and maybe try a couple samples depending on our mood. We might be eating some nachos with one hand and spilling chowder on our shirts, but we cool. Then on the other end of the spectrum are the freeloaders who go in hungry, take as many samples as they can hold and put some in their purse. Their kids have obviously not had lunch either. And they get a little too excited, bouncing around the store and shouting at family members to cut them in line. Speaking of excited, my favorite type of uber-excited sampler is the Costco virgin who finally realizes what they’re missing out on. It’s like they’ve just stepped foot in the real America where there is such a thing as a free meal.
My mother falls into her own category–she’s a sample hoarder but rarely eats anything herself, passing them to my dad instead. Looking at our cart, you’d think we were health freaks. Instead of econo lasagnas and chocolate muffins, we roll out with a paltry cart of organic greens, eggs and soymilk. Our stomachs, however, are filled with dino nuggets and spinach dip.
As much as I grumble about it, as much as I bitch that my parents take me to Costco instead of on ski trips and fancy dinners, I love this place. I like seeing my parents in their element. I never go without them, except on the few occasions with friends, which have taken place solely in the alcohol aisle. Maybe it will change when I become the parent, but I’ll still force my kids to come with me. Costco alone is a nightmare–everything’s too big and loud and five pounds of any food is enough to kill your appetite. But Costco together is a guilty pleasure I anticipate every time I come home.