surviving the shop

This is not going to be about food at all, it is my weekly rant about elbows. We are back from the store. It is Friday afternoon, and even this time, we survived. This isn’t so easy as it sounds.

I’m born in Western Germany. One would think that this prepared me for most shopping styles of the world – however, a Friday in a Swedish store makes me wonder. But let’s go generalize nation for nation.

Many Germans are polite but a few are not. Kids in German shops hit other customer’s heels with their shopping carts just as anywhere else. Otherwise, shopping is a predominantly verbal affair. We have learned to stomach pretty much anything from “just step aside, will you” to “watch out, you peat-head,” and we have a good supply of things to say back.

Robin is from Virginia. People in the US do one of two things: stepping way aside, mumbling “excuse me” or walking right up front mumbling “excuse me.” However, US stores are huge most of the time; you will anyway not meet many people on your half mile along the soft drinks aisle or during your chips and peanuts marathon.

Holland is a crowded country which generally results in two kinds of behavior: 1) people have learned the virtue of stepping aside 2) some people have learned that stepping on other’s toes helps them getting where they want to be. In other words, Dutch shopping customs are rough but transparent.

No special remarks about France, Italy and Spain.

I can’t judge how Japanese people treat each other in their stores because when I am around, they tend to step aside and look, especially the kids.

What’s special with Sweden? Sweden changed from left-hand traffic to right-hand traffic in 1967. The Swedish shopping population falls apart into elderly people who still navigate along the left side of things and block your way whatever you do, young people who have learned to ignore elderly people, and foreigners who don’t understand what is happening to them. Sweden is also a large country with rather few people, which means that these people have very little experience with avoiding to bump into each other, and that most families are used to shouting at each other from a distance. Sweden is, finally, the country of dour self-righteousness when it comes to standing, queue number in hand, in the way of everybody else who doesn’t even want to be at that particular counter.

Combine all these things and you can imagine how life-threatening a shopping trip can become in these parts. A second of hesitation about whether I prefer the green, the wrinkled or the mouldy tomatoes leaves me half deaf and with a bunch of sore spots, because a young lady already knows which tomatoes to choose, attempts to grab them straight through my ribcage and informs her husband, who is busy with the dark green bananas fifteen yards away, about her choice – right into my ear. A leisurely stroll along the coffee aisle will leave you plastered against the racks because someone else wants to push by with a three-babies-wide vehicle in pink blankets. The milk department is invaded by three hyper-active pre-school kids and their towering dad, who keeps shouting monosyllabic directions at the world in general while elbowing himself into a good position to access the yogurt. The meat is inaccessible because of a broadside of shopping carts while their owners stand in a cluster elswhere, gossiping and blocking the cheese. A charming old gentleman fails to slide his magnetic card through the machine at the specialty butcher’s counter. I help him to hold the card in the correct manner. He is very grateful. A moment later, however, he gets into a heated discussion with his wife, forgets all about me and wedges his torso squarely between me and the card reader, so that I have no choice but to bump into the row of people behind me.

And at any random other place of the shop, you are again and again cornered, bullied out of the way, thwarted and looked at by solitary elderly ladies. I have no idea where all these aggressive grandmothers and grand aunts come from, and where they learned that 1930s Chicago Bumper Car Trick for eliminating adversaries while letting it look like an accident. There must be a training camp someplace out there in the woods.

But we made it again. My next post, I promise, will be constructive, relaxed and friendly.

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One Response to “surviving the shop”

  1. foodieguide Says:

    Hi there

    You could be describing my weekly shop in England. Sounds pretty similar up and down the aisles, with some impatience displayed at the check-out (although nothing would actually be said!). I remember very polite and quiet supermarket queues in Germany (I grew up in Bonn), so maybe times have changed.

    Mini rant over!

    Helen Yuet Ling

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