Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Grocery Shopping, Revisited
Can you describe what the stores actually look like? For instance, do they look like Rogers? With one exception, the Swedish grocery stores of my experience have been significantly smaller than their American counterparts. This is, no doubt, partly due to the fact that we are still living downtown; however, the ICA a few minutes from our new place in Flogsta is no larger than the downtown ICA or the Hemköp across the street from me as I write this. Part of the size difference comes from the fact that grocery stores here sell little other than, well, food. Oh, sure, there's an aisle of paper goods and cleaning supplies, and a few toiletries, but no greeting cards, no pharmacy, no wine and very little beer (nothing with more than 2.5% alcohol, in fact), and no magazines other than a few at the register. Beyond that, though, the stores here simply don't have as many choices for any individual item. For example, any given store will only have about half a dozen varieties of Campbell's soup, and maybe only a dozen varieties of soup all told. Instead of an aisle of breakfast cereal, there's maybe 8 kinds of prepared cereal, plus some muesli and oatmeal and whatnot. Say you want to buy something like refried beans? Expect one brand of beans, available in one variety. For something more popular, like tuna, maybe two brands plus a generic, each in two or maybe three varieties.
Not so much Rogers as Zicks, in other words.
Are there carts like ours? Well, slightly smaller, but yes, they do have shopping carts. They don't get used too often, though. They have the same little baskets that American stores use, as well. The most popular option, though, is something I hadn't seen before. It's sort of an oversized basket that has one handle you can fold out to carry the basket, and a second handle you can fold out instead to drag the basket behind you like a little cart (Did I mention the tiny wheels? I should have mentioned the tiny wheels. Note to self, mention the tiny wheels next time.)
Does one go through cashier lines? Yes. Again, similar, but smaller. The main difference is at the tail end of the register counter. They all have a belt the cashier can put your food on after it's been scanned, but they also have a sliding divider. The cashier pulls it to one side, and all the food goes sliding down to that side of the counter. Then, before they ring the next person up, the cashier slides the divider over to the other side, and the next person's food goes down the other side. They do this because after you pay, you'll be down there bagging your groceries, and they don't want to wait for you to finish.
Are there baggers, and will they help you to the parking lot? First of all, no, there are no baggers. In fact, it's rare for a store of any kind in Sweden to bag your purchase for you. As for helping you to the parking lot, well, most of the stores I've been to so far don't have a parking lot. Get out of downtown, and many will have a small parking lot (although it isn't in any way unusual for you to be expected to pay to park there while you shop), but in the downtown area there aren't any parking lots like that, just structures.
Even if they had parking lots, I doubt anyone would bag your stuff and take it to your car. Swedes make a big deal about equality, and to them bagging your groceries for you isn't service, it's servility, and it makes Swedes very uncomfortable (both to give and receive). They tend to view American customer service as disingenuous at best, and invasive at worst.
I assume you use your own bags... Yes, I use them all the time, not just at the grocery store, because with few exceptions all stores charge you for bags. They keep the bags at the start of the register line, and if you want one you put it on the conveyor belt with your stuff, and they sell it to you. Only a few crowns, but it adds up.
How often then do you grocery shop? Pretty much every day. Most people seem to stop at the store on their way home from work and buy a day or two worth of food. Keep in mind that most everyone is walking, biking, or taking the bus to the store, so no one buys more than they can carry.
Have you found Swedish brand of food that you really enjoy? Well, Hemköp had Mamas Meatballs on sale for 15 SEK per kilo last week, and they were pretty tasty (not to mention the cheapest food we've found in the whole country).
And the important question—can semlas be sent across international borders? I don't think there are any international accords preventing the shipment of semlor across borders, but they go stale wicked fast. A day old semla can be partially resuscitated by serving it in a bowl of warm, cinnamon scented milk, but after that they're pretty much done. Anyway, it's Easter in a few days, so semla season is just about over!
Well, that's it for this week in grocery shopping here in Uppsala. Next it's back to the pharmacy!