Feeling like a Russian housewife

Plenty is a relative term. You think you have plenty - enough stuff, sufficient choices - until you happen to gaze over the fence one day and see what other people have. This way lies madness, of course, if you think of them as Joneses up with whom one must keep.

But as a glimpse into the way the other half lives - more than half, really - it provides plenty fun.

You haven't seen plenty till you've visited a Target in Southern California. These are department stores best measured in rugby fields rather than metres. Maybe four, maybe six? I don't know - I didn't have the energy to walk the entire perimeter or visit all the corners.

They do capitalism so well here - competition, niche marketing, endless choices - that at times this week I've felt like a Russian housewife discovering for the first time that there is a place where they don't queue for potatoes that ran out yesterday.

"Something I can help you with, ma'am?" This is the helpful Target assistant in her hard-to-miss orange vest, restocking the already bursting shelves with things I had no idea anyone needed. I was hard to miss, too, standing in one place, staring blankly with my mouth open for quite some time.

I was in an aisle that looked like the aisle in my supermarket at home (the qualifier of "super" now seems inappropriate - surely what we have at home is just a "market" by comparison?) in which all things to do with cleaning and beautifying skin and hair are kept. But this one was longer and it only had shampoo.

"Razors," I say, "and a makeup bag and some moisturiser."

She tells me three different locations - an aisle for each. More. Tinted moisturisers had their own row, separate from the plain ones.

I read labels and compare prices, then give up trying to make sense of any of it and just buy things that might be fun.

A magic face cream (it says so on the bottle) that turns the right colour when it touches your skin. A pretty green razor with five blades. A makeup bag with zips and windows and domes. Everything I buy offers more features than I need, yet suddenly it is what my inner Svetlana wants.

I find other stores with whole separate floors of clothing for women who have less distance between shoulder, waist and knee than your average lady. My Svetlana is delighted to discover that "petite" is the exotic, capitalist way of saying "short".

We eat things previously only known to us in movies - there are corn dogs and Tootsie Rolls on Santa Monica pier, and International House of Pancakes combos which come with four kinds of syrup and a hash-brown bigger than your head.

Will Svetlana be corrupted by all this excess? We doubt it. Too much choice is exhausting. No-one needs four kinds of syrup. Though we might be sold on the razor thing. Svetlana's legs are now unbelievably smooth.

The Press