Going to the supermarket

Written after my first trip to a supermarket in the UK  when I’d just got back from Kenya.

I went to the supermarket today. I didn’t really stop to think twice about it. It’s a normal everyday activity, surely? It shouldn’t be complicated. But it was.

Going round the supermarket was actually ok (well apart from stalling at the dairy section trying to decide which type of cheese to buy. There’s so much choice!). I was lulled into believing it was easy. Then I got to the tills. Who knew it could be so confusing to pay for some cheese, mince, milk and veg?

Problem number 1: I left my whole basket on the till. Forgot that of course, in England you’re meant to unload the basket of it’s contents and then place it under the till. The check-out assistant didn’t look too impressed that I’d left her to unload it for me. She gave me a look that clearly showed…well, clearly showed she wasn’t too happy about doing something that was beyond what she was being paid for. The beginning of a slippery slope that really didn’t endear me to the poor girl.

Second problem: I hadn’t picked up a plastic bag, and certainly hadn’t been prepared to pay for said plastic bag. Which meant I had to squeeze past grumpy customers behind me to get one from the other end of the till. People aren’t so ready to help you out here… or at least not in this supermarket. So I and paid for my plastic bag and thought: all the hard-work done to recycle and re-use here in England is being undone by supermarkets across Kenya where almost each item purchased is given it’s own individual carrier bag by the guy packing your bags. You get home and find yourself playing a shopping version of parcel the parcel where instead of unwrapping many layers to reach the prize, you remove layers of plastic bags to retrieve your shopping.

Third problem: I go to pay. I automatically start rummaging around in my purse for loose change. Check-out assistants in Kenya seem to like collecting coins. No big deal, but I forget that here it doesn’t matter if you give a big note for little money. Just an added thing to remember or think about.

Fourth problem: I’ve navigated the tills. I’ve managed to pay for my items and my plastic bags. I’ve survived the evil looks from the girl behind the till and the sighs of exasperation from those in the queue behind me. Things are going well. Then Bam! I look at my shopping. I look at my plastic bags. And I realise… NO ONE IS THERE TO PACK IT FOR ME!! A disaster. I’ve forgotten how to put shopping into a plastic bag sensibly, I’m so used to the luxury of someone packing it for me (see problem 2). And don’t say it’s easy and what am I complaining about because it’s not. See, if I put the bread at the bottom of the bag and the milk on top, the bread gets squashed. But if I put the milk in with the frozen meat the bag becomes too heavy. There’s an order to these things. And then, of course, there’s the added stress of having to pack as quickly as possible so as not to hold up the people in the queue behind me, who are already rolling their eyes and obviously wishing they’d chosen another till.

It’s tiring! Yes, shopping and the stress of supermarket tills, but also the general adapting back to life in the UK. It gets me everytime. People ask if I’m doing ok, how the reverse culture shock is etc and honestly it’s ok. I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again, and it’s fine. And if you’ve read my blog post about a day at the races, you’ll know I navigate very different cultures within Nairobi anyway. But I forget about the small things: like going to the supermarket. Putting petrol in your car. Bargaining at the market. Getting the bus. Small, everyday activities that are done differently here to Kenya. I forget to allow time to re-adjust to these small things.

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2 thoughts on “Going to the supermarket

  1. Great blog! and so true… however, just want to add there there are different supermarket cultures even in this country… let me guess, the supermarket you describe was Aldi (or maybe Lidl)?

    Having grown up with Aldi (and other supermarkets with a similar culture) in Germany – where the sole ambition of the people behind the till seems to be to scan items more quickly than the customer can pack and to get rid of the customer as quickly as possible with a minimum of interaction – I have quickly got used to (and so much prefer!) the more relaxed culture of the standard British supermarket – or is this just Brighton? Here you often get a smile, staff behind the till ask how you are and if you need help packing, and once you’ve packed your stuff and paid, they normally wait until you’ve gathered your bags and left the till before they start scanning the next customer’s items.

    Every time I now go to Aldi’s I get a reverse culture shock – and have to take a deep breath and grit my teeth when I get to the tills… what gets me is that the customers seem to get into the same fast-track mind-set and seem to expect you to play along with it – sometimes if I’m in a rebellious mood I make a point of slowly packing my bags at the till and not the packing tables… just to show that supposedly ‘the customer is king’

  2. Don’t forget you are the customer. Christie and me do the self scan at the supermarket and one day they said we had to have a re scan, so I said well get on with it then, the cashier said aren’t you going to unpack it and do it and I said no as I had done their job already so why should I do it again. I AM THE CUSTOMER and am paying.

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