Clearly I’ve shopped in US supermarkets before but doing so as a resident trying to feed, clean and clean up after a family of six is a whole different experience than being a casual shopper or supermarket tourist.

I always like to visit supermarkets, markets and grocery stores whenever I visit a new place. The geography of the store and the products can provide an insight into everyday life in a location that just don’t all the tourist stuff would not provide. I still have fond memories of the pastries counter in a store in Crete and of seeing a special on hog jowls in a Piggly Wiggly somewhere in Mississippi. My husband and I still laugh about us seeing a freezer full of stuffed “pasta” in Greece and me boiling them just to discover they were pastry and should have been baked. The problem of not being able to read Cyrillic.

So wandering around a new supermarket can be fun. But trying to navigate your way around a supermarket in order to buy a week’s worth of groceries becomes very time consuming in those same circumstances.

Let’s start with the basics: it’s back to front. Because driving happens on the other side of the road here, so does everything else: escalators go up and down on the opposite sides and entrances and exits are the other way around. It’s so ingrained in me that I actually have to make a conscious effort to remember to steer my trolley (cart) at the other door. Sad but true. Once in, the layout is also different from a typical UK supermarket and, because I’m institutionalized, I’ve taken to shopping back to front, against the tide of most customers – though I’ve noticed I’m not the only person who does so. I like to start with fresh produce and end with the bakery, what can I say. Then there is locating all the items in store. Every single trip I take, I have to ask a shelf attacker to guide me somewhere, sometimes three or four of them in one shopping trip. Sour cream isn’t with the cream or even the milk; it’s over by the cheese in a different aisle from all other dairy products. Cans of green chillis are clumped with other Mexican cuisine ingredients, not with other canned goods. Today I was looking for frozen savoury pastry (because I feel like cheating) and there was none to be had but I went in a tour with one employee who took me to all the places in the store where I could buy numerous pre-made sweet pastries or bread doughs. It’s not that it’s wrong; it’s just very different and, consequently, it takes me ages to find everything I’m looking for.

Today’s treasure hunt item was turkey gravy. In a jar. Jar. Yes, jar. The kids’ school is doing a Thanksgiving food drive and each class is donating specific items. My 6 year old has to bring in turkey gravy of a non-perishable kind. I hoped I would spot it in passing but I gave up and asked a young man who was stacking tuna and he guided me to where there were several varieties of turkey gravy in a jar. I have never seen such a thing.

Bag packing is different here too. Here there is an employee who packs for you. That happens from time to time in the UK but does not happen as standard. I’m pretty fastidious when it comes to bag packing. I might even be a tad OCD about it. I, therefore, load my trolley and thus the conveyer belt in a very particular way so that I can load up my bags the way I want them. That process becomes a bit haphazard when someone else is handling the final step. At times the bag packing is nothing less than lamentable with a bag of frozen veg squashed in with a loaf of bread and some avocados. That sort of makes me judder. I’m grateful for the help, of course, especially when I’m also running a three ring circus with my accompanying kids but it is going to take some getting used to. The bags themselves are terrible. You could spit peas through the plastic, they are so thin. Carrying umpteen cans in one of those bags without it splitting is a massive challenge. I’m looking forward to my shipping arriving so I can get my hands on my jute shopping bags again because all of those thin bags are such a waste. That’s the one great thing about them: if they are so awful that it encourages people to use reusable bags then that is great for the environment.

I could segue into discussing vouchers and coupons as part of this entry but I think I will save that for another day. There is only so much excitement one can handle in a piece of writing about supermarkets after all.

Small Differences: Bin Bags

Bin bags (garbage sacks?) here smell faintly spicy.  Maybe it is just the brand my husband bought but they have a definite whiff of 1970s Dad Aftershave about them.  That type of spicy.  Not delicious curry spicy.  This is not an aroma I have come across when dealing with British bin bags.  There they either smell of nasty plastic or else they smell of nasty plastic and pesticide.

In one of the schools I worked in as a High School English Teacher, there was an annual competition between form classes to decorate their classroom for Christmas.  The themes were quite elaborate because the students were very competitive.  My form class decorated our room as “Christmas in the Trenches” which meant a couple of weeks of teaching in a room filled with soil and splintery duck boards and the occasional bloodied bandage dangling from a book shelf.   It cast a sombre pall over every lesson.  However, in the other classroom I taught in, the form class based there had decided on a horror house theme which apparently necessitated them lining the walls and even most of the windows with black bin bags.  For weeks I had to teach in a room that reeked of pesticide.  It was Winter, of course, so the radiators were on full blast which generated what amounted to toxic fumes.  It was ghastly.

So spicy bin bags are definitely an improvement.  US bin bags win the international war on refuse sacks.

Who knew I could mediate on bin bags, eh?