John Hodgman on New York City Grocery Stores

John Hodgman took questions from New York Times readers, and his answers have started to appear, including this brilliant analysis of New York City grocery stores:

Question: In my time in New York, I’ve noticed native New Yorkers say “on line” instead of “in line.” As in, I’m at the grocery store waiting “on line.” Do they realize this a) doesn’t make a bit of sense, and b) is likely to drive the non-natives in the city insane?

Answer: I appreciate your frustration, Katie. But you must bear in mind that, until recently, New York did not have “grocery stores” at all, not at least as you understand the term.

I first moved to New York in 1994. At that time, rather than the long, broad food avenues that you (and I) recall from our suburban youth, Manhattan food markets (“Gristedes” in the patois of the island) offered narrow streets and puzzling food cul de sacs, all cramped by necessity into the square footage of a former shoe store or bank, that you would navigate with a tiny, tiny replica of a shopping cart — until you reached a completely unexpected set of crummy stairs. Many of these stores didn’t even have aisles at all, but little labyrinths. And if you needed help finding something, your only recourse was to consult the store minotaur.

But we didn’t mind. For all its world capitaltude, Manhattan was all the same an island nation, unable to even receive reliable BROADCAST television. We were isolated and blissfully unaware of our own quirky retail traditions. We waited “on line” at the market; we waited “under queue” to buy subway tokens, and we bought our medicines at something called a “Love Pharmacy,” which for many years I took to be a marital aid shoppe that also sold Claritin and scrunchies.

Then Whole Foods came along to show us how the rest of the world did things, and we wept and changed.

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