I'm convinced there are two schools of grocery shoppers in Korea.
One school are the Treasure Hunters, those foreigners who revel in the search for exotic foods and rare finds. These kinds of foreigners travel great lengths in search of American staples such as, say, cheese or tortillas. The Treasure Hunter proudly braves the Saturday crowds of Shinsegae in hopes of snagging a mere 100 grams of cilantro, a pittance in comparison to traditional American offerings. Food is their drug. They jones for $12 liters of maple syrup and $20 watermelons. For them there's no shame in the exorbitant prices Korean mafia grocers charge. They take joy in perpetuating the cycle.
Treasure Hunters also posses the rare medical anomaly of a robust immune system coupled with a total lack of hearing. Traipsing through the mart, they sample all the offerings: the doekkbuki and mandu, the seaweed snacks and wine, without the slightest stomach lurch. They are also impervious to the Grocery Auctioneers parading throughout every mart, bodega, and superstore on this peninsula, imploring shoppers to buy, buy, BUY! Their carts overflow with the exotic and the mundane.
Treasure Hunters are also expert drivers. Weaving and sideswiping are the rules of the road in the mart and Treasure Hunters come prepared. They graduated from the Bumper Cars School of Driving. They muscle and elbow through the crowds like an ajumma on the subway prowling for the noyak seat.
For the Treasure Hunter, their perseverance and patience pays off in the loot.
"Look! I found limes! LIMES, people!"*
(*Possibly not-so-interesting side note: My friend Jamie is a Treasure Hunter. A few Saturdays ago, we sat at a bar sipping mojitos with actual limes. Jamie, always the Treasure Hunter, asked the bartender from whence the limes came. The bartender said something in Korean [I think. I may have been drunk, so I'm taking a few artistic liberties], and disappeared to the back. He reappeared holding a bag of perfectly ripened frozen limes. Jamie and Korean Bartender chatted for a few minutes, at which time I checked out. That is until Jamie called the distributor's number listed on the bag at 1AM on a Saturday night. Not surprisingly, some dude answered AND he spoke English. Score! And that's about the time the conversation went from cordial inquisitiveness, to all out drug deal. For the next 20 minutes, Jamie asked the Lime Dealer important questions such as, "How many kilos are in a bag?" and "How long will the product stay fresh?" and "Where was the product grown?" and "When can you deliver my bags?" A few days later, Lime Dealer made a drop at a local bar. Cash was exchanged and now Jamie and I can sip mojitos in the privacy of his home. Jamie has also been known to pick up a few mint plants on the way to the bar simply because he spied them in a storefront. See? Food IS like a drug.)
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, schools of shoppers.
Then there are the other shoppers. The "I'm perfectly happy living on spaghetti and ramen if it means I never have to go to Lotte Mart because that place makes my ears bleed" kinds of shoppers. These shoppers find a mart that works for them and stick with it. The believe in mart-monogamy, but not for the traditional reasons. Knowing the routines of their mart is key: when the cute English-speaking butcher works and how to avoid the Headset Vegetable Hawkers. They know where all their favorite foods (read: spaghetti sauce, ramen and tortilla chips) are located. These shoppers crave familiarity and routine. Leaving their dong just for a block of Tillamook cheddar or some dill pickles is patently out of the question. (However, these shoppers are not above abusing the Costco privileges of their friends and coworkers. They find no shame in the "Could you pick up an enormous box of Cheerios and some sour cream and lug it home on the subway for me? Thanks!" request. Best to send others to your dirty work, eh?!)
I am this kind of shopper.
Side-side note: Treasure Hunters who brave Costco on a Saturday are just masochists. I don't understand them and I refuse to acknowledge them.