Heather's Monthly Articles

Supermarket Shopping in the UK

April 2018

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UK Supermarket Goods

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to do a grocery store shop at a British supermarket – that is other than for end of vacation staples to bring back home. You know, the kind of must haves such as tea bags, chocolate digestive biscuits, OXO cubes and enough Cadbury’s Dairy Milk to stock a cattle farm.

A recent extended stay in England, however, found me having to do several “real” shops, which gave me a good chance to observe supermarket shopping UK-style – it’s a whole different experience.

First off, I’m ok with driving on the left side of the road, but the supermarket parking lot, or car park, as they are known in the U.K., had me flummoxed. I’d spot a space and then have to think twice and repeat my manta of “stay to the left, stay to the left”, before navigating my way towards said spot. Do I drive up, or drive down the lane? Do I look left, or look right? Darn it, the spot has gone. Rinse and repeat.

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Trolleys chained up

Even more perplexing was the shopping cart, or “trolley” as it’s known here. They are all chained together outside. It’s as though the supermarket is closed and the carts are being locked up for the night. Instead, it’s an ingenious devise to prevent them from being taken out of the lot and abandoned on the street. Unfortunately, however, there are no instructions as to how to release one. Turns out you need a pound coin, which is pushed with a little mettle pusher (also chained – on a far too short a chain I might add - up to the cart, because after all what petty thief doesn’t desire a little mettle pusher) into a slot in the handle of the trolley. Your pound coin then in turn pushes against another pound coin that is already in the handle. Once the cart is returned to it’s place, the process is repeated only from the other direction in order for you to retrieve your pound coin. Sounds complicated? It is! Especially if you don’t have a pound.

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Insert pound coin here

Entering the supermarket is through a single door immediately adjacent to the exit door. Which is perhaps what it would be like in the U.S. in a small size supermarket. Only the supermarket in the town in which I was staying was huge – so it’s not unusual to find yourself in a typical British queue (“line”) to get into the place. And don’t stop walking whatever you do, or you’ll find a trolley at your back.

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Once inside, the layout of the store isn’t too much different – flowers and fruit and veg first for instance. Except maybe on special occasions. When I was there it was Easter and the supermarket was closing the next day - Easter Sunday. On entering, two friendly employees were standing next to a newly erected display of pre-packaged bread and proceeded to greet everyone that stepped into the shop with a poetic reminder to buy bread so they wouldn’t run out before the store opened up again on Monday. Yes. Two people. Singing a poem. It’s one of the busiest shopping mornings of the year and the staff are devoting their time to delivering ditties to the customers. Very nice.

Tales from the British supermarket shopping aisles continues next month.

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