Field Trip

Today I went on my first field trip as a parent helper since we relocated to America.  The preschool class from my 4 year old’s nursery were being taken on a guided tour of a local independent grocery store.  I not only transported my own child there but was also asked to take another child in my car since I already have a bunch of child car seats.  I was not 100% sure where I was going and have only been driving in the US for a few short weeks so that felt like a heap of responsibility but, of course, everything was just tickety-boo.

The store manager took the kids on a tour of the store, the shop floor and the back rooms.  It was cute seeing the wonder in all of their little eyes as they learned new things.  They got to see someone making sushi and were allowed to sample a California roll, they saw the machine in the store room that compacts cardboard boxes, they had a geography lesson about locations for obtaining fruit and vegetables throughout the seasons, they saw meat being shrink wrapped and they got to see a checkout in operation.  My 4 year old’s favourite part was getting to stroke a lobster.  All the kids lined up to pat it’s shell.  So much affection before it is boiled to death.

After the tour, the kids each had a shopping list to use as a treasure hunt around the store and they were each sent back to nursery with a paper sack filled with a pretzel, carton of juice and piece of fruit.

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It was fun to accompany the trip and I got to meet a few more of the parents which was nice.  Best of all though was the fact that on the tour I spotted a display full of imported European cheeses.  I may have found a source of decent cheese!

Coupons

I am by nature a very thrifty person.  I know how to spin out a budget so I have always used vouchers and coupons when they are available to me.  I feel like an utter amateur here though.  

Twice now I have been in the checkout line at the supermarket behind someone who has saved a King’s ransom by using coupons.  I have to admit that last time was a bit tedious.  The woman in front of me handed over a fistful of coupons, a bundle of small papers the thickness of a decent novel, and each coupon was then laboriously scanned or, worse, typed into the till.  A few would not process so a supervisor had to be called to override the system and permit the discounts.  It took an age.  However frustrating it was, I was still massively impressed that the woman was walking out of the shop with her trolley bulging having handed over relatively little cash for it all.  She was a couponing pro.  When it came to my turn, I was almost sneered at for handing over just one measly coupon.  Amateur.

I have good intentions.  I have a little coupon wallet where I can file all my clipped coupons until it is time to use them. I’m a control freak who loves nothing more than making lists and organising things so this is right up my street.  The trouble is, every time I go through the coupon books, I find that probably 5% of coupons are for things I would buy.  The rest are either not relevant or are too expensive even with the discount or are simply things I would not choose to buy.  I have, however, been clipping those coupons anyway and have been leaving them on the relevant shelves at the supermarket so that someone else can benefit from them.  It adds to the time it takes me to go around the supermarket but helping the Coupon Fairy makes me feel a bit warmer and fuzzier inside so I will keep clipping.  Suffice to say, I am never going to be a coupon pro.

What is great, however, is that discounts on groceries in the UK are proper discounts.  In the UK, discounts and deals often smacked of tokenism or required the purchase of three weeks’ worth of seedless grapes in one transaction.  Lame.  And loyalty cards meant racking up points that were worth a sliver of a pence each.  Here’s a measly few quid to thank you for shopping with us all year.  Oh and by the way you need to spend that few quid in our shop like a throwback to the truck system.  Thanks again.  Here I have a loyalty card for my local supermarket, a national chain, that saves me money with regular everyday purchases, sometimes knocking things down as far as half price, while also still racking up points for special coupons and vouchers.  That’s a much better way to reward customers.  I can easily save a quarter of my bill each time I shop there with money off for this, that and the other.

I still aspire to get better at couponing though.

Supermarket

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.

Steering

Having reported in a previous post that my driving in America is going a lot more smoothly than I anticipated, in that it has been uneventful, I now feel duty bound to report that I caused carnage with my steering today.  Not in the car though.  On a visit to the supermarket, the smallest Pict decided he wanted a shopping trolley (grocery cart?) that was attached to a sit-in car at the front.  The length and weight of this thing proved a challenge.  I was doing three point turns in the aisles.  I was banging into displays (thankfully not knocking any over entirely), clipping other people’s trolleys, and I even clipped someone’s ankles.  It was atrocious.  Mini-Pict is now banned from car-trolleys and will have to put up with a regular sit-in trolley from now on.