Subway, not Subte

18 10 2010

Last night, Katie and I finally broke down and went to the new Subway on our street. It’s been the talk of the town for months and we decided to have an American night. Walking in gave us that familiar Subway smell with the usual decor of the sub shop at home with the addition of a cozy nook of leather chairs. Besides the obvious Spanish, the espresso machine, and the choice of 15 or 30 centimeters instead 6 or 12 inch, it was like any Subway in the US. So why am I wasting your time writing about it?

While in line, we had one of the most interesting experiences so far in Argentina. We’ve been used to being the clueless Americans in shops, restaurants, and bus stations, often confused by their different “systems”. In the newly opened Subway, however, we were the seasoned veterans. First, bread choice. Then sub style. Cheese or no cheese? Toasted or not? Veggies? Dressing? Combo? Listo, chau. While we were used to answering the rapid-fire questions (15 cm oregano parmesano, pollo teriyaki con salsa cebolla, con chedar, no, todo menos pepinos, combo con papas fritas), the Argentines around us seemed completely overwhelmed by the entire process.

Although Argentina is certainly rife with choice compared to most other countries I’ve been to, it still does not have the “Have It Your Way” attitude of the US. When presented with so many choices, especially simple ones that have virtually no bearing on life (eg toasted or not), people become confused and overwhelmed.

Obviously, a lot of the confusion had to do with them never being in a Subway, but there seemed to be something more to it than that. In the US, we are swamped with choice all the time. In Argentina, while having virtually anything anyone can want (minus spicy food, of course), there just aren’t 10 types of everything like in the US. Last week, an Argentine teacher at camp told me about her friend who just moved to the US being completely overwhelmed and unable to visit big box stores. With similar experiences after returning from Nicaragua and Jordan, Katie and I can understand the feeling of anxiety building while trying to choose one (just one) box of cereal from the aisle of cartoon-laden fluorescent cardboard boxes.

Well, never mind me – there are much more intelligent people than me that talk at length on this:
The Paradox of Choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO6XEQIsCoM
The Art of Choosing: http://www.ted.com/talks/sheena_iyengar_on_the_art_of_choosing.html

Tim

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