My trips home to the US usually involve a certain amount of shopping.  I’ve lived in Switzerland for 7 years now, but I still haven’t figured out how to buy clothes here. And there are some important items that cannot be found, at least at a reasonable price, on this side of the pond…  Jelly Bellies, of course, top that list.

Luc got to visit the Jelly Belly factory with Dave while in California, the lucky dog. Did he bring back tons of beans? No! All I got was a t-shirt! And a paper hat. He said the beans weren’t any cheaper at the factory so it was better to buy them in bulk at Costco, which my mom had already done a year ago. I brought home about 5 pounds. Should last a good week or so.

Because the dollar is in the basement at the moment, I also went to the Apple Store in Albuquerque and bought a new MacBook and an iPad2. I hadn’t planned on buying the MacBook, but once I was in that techno-nirvana, my resistance crumbled. Every single computer/iPad/iPod had an iPad2 sitting next to it, describing all the wonderful things the computer/iPad/iPod/whatever could do. Legions of blue-shirted employees roamed the room, cheerfully answering any and all questions.

Sure, I could take my old MacBook apart and try to clean it out so it would run better, but it would still be six years old! I didn’t want to get a new one in Switzerland because it would come with a French keyboard. I don’t need all those accents in the writing I do, and the inversed y and z cause me to commit millions of typos. It’s not efficient! Plus look at all the stuff the new ones can do! They’re faster, sleeker, cooler. I caved in about five seconds. Luc needs his own laptop, doesn’t he? He’s probably the only 16-year old in his school without one. My old MacBook will be perfect for him! I’m doing a good thing here. It’s about time!

I read in the New York Times last week that Apple’s profits are soaring. With stores like that and products that have amazing features but simple, intuitive interfaces, I can understand why. In the store, my dedicated blue-shirted guy sat down with me and walked me through the steps of setting everything up. Across the table from me an older woman was exchanging cards with her blue guy, promising to go see his girlfriend’s art exhibit.

My guy was psyched that I was from Switzerland because he had to ask a more veteran blue person all kinds of questions about compatibilities and whether I could use the $100 App Store card outside the US (no). He didn’t know that iTunes is different overseas.  “Copyright issues,” explained the veteran. We chose “Switzerland” from the drop down menus and immediately the clock changed and my iTunes store displayed everything in German (and about half the products disappeared. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but really. Globalization, anyone? Are we, or are we not in the 21st century?).

There was a Japanese-looking man standing in front of one of the big desktop computers the whole time I was there, and I pointed him out to my guy. “Looks like he’s settled in for the day.

“Oh, that’s Horuki. He comes in every day for several hours, surfs the web, looks at videos.”

I was amazed. “You don’t kick him out?”
No, we don’t mind. Lots of people come in from hotels, too, when the wireless isn’t working, to check their e-mail and stuff.”

Now that’s an interesting philosophy. It makes sense from a marketing standpoint. We’re basically lemmings at heart. People like to be in a store with other people in it, particularly if the customer service is good. I don’t know about you, but I avoid empty stores like the plague. I can’t stand the salesperson staring at me. I worry she’ll see what a lame shopper I am. I feel way too much pressure to buy something. There has to be a critical mass of people in a store before I feel comfortable going in. A busy store broadcasts “this stuff is cool and you better check it out before it’s all gone.” So it’s good to have people hanging out, even if they don’t necessarily buy anything. Creates that ambience.

And in the Apple Store it’s pretty much true. Plus every Blue person has a card reader, so there are no lines to stand in. That way it has all the good vibe karma of a busy store full of young, hip people without the downside of having to wait in line behind them all to get your stuff.

You can buy Apple products elsewhere, like at Best Buy. The prices aren’t any better, though. Plus the blue-shirted people there aren’t nearly as hip and the line in front of  the so-called “geek squad” desk, where they’ll help you set stuff up, is a total drag. And I guarantee you that nobody’s tranquilly spending hours a day surfing the web in a place where the ambience is best described as “contemporary warehouse.”

I also love going into Whole Foods when I’m in the US. Spend a few years in Switzerland and then go back into a Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon, and you will think you have died and gone to supermarket heaven.

I ate fresh blueberries for breakfast every single day. They are available in Switzerland for about three weeks in June, and I always take advantage of that window, but I really miss being able to eat them on my yogurt every morning. I’m not complaining; Switzerland is amazing and I love living here. I just wish someone would figure out the blueberry situation. And the yummy prepared foods situation. And that supermarkets would be open on Sundays. There’s a big fat niche market here, folks. Someone should grab it! Please?

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