Grocery shopping, part two

Something happens every Saturday morning here that reminds me I am not of this place, as if the whole language thing wasn't enough. While Matt plays with Finn, or takes him for a walk, I do the weekly grocery shopping. Which is, in and of itself, a radical thing here--most people shop much more frequently, even daily. And actually, most people don't shop for themselves at all--their helpers do it. Seriously, walking through the store sort of feels like when I go to the park with Finn--it's me and a bunch of Filipinas. 

I've written about grocery shopping before, here, but, big shocker, I have more to say on the subject. It's the fact that I still do this on a weekly basis while everyone else does it on a daily basis that permeates the shopping experience through and through, for both good (a little) and ill (mostly).  

For starters, there's the basket. I pick up one of the hand-held baskets to put my food in as I shop (thanks to an American optimism that this time I'll actually have a shorter list? or an American practicality that the store is just not designed for carts?) and yet it inevitably gets filled to the top and overflowing (thanks to an American desire to have what I need before I run out.) Everyone else grabs a shopping cart, despite the fact that they put only one or two things in it, and despite the fact that the aisles and especially the check-out lanes are not even close to shopping-cart friendly--which means there are huge shopping-cart traffic jams all over the store, and then an abandoned-shopping-cart junkyard at the checkout lane, nigh impossible as it is to get them through the checkout lane in the first place.    

Ok, so if problem #1 is the basket, then problem #2 is how full it gets (better known as that American inability to turn down a good deal.) See, I have intentions of shopping more frequently and buying less each time, given that I walk several blocks to the store and all. But here's what gets in the way--Hong Kong people love their fresh food. This is, in large part, why they shop so frequently, and primarily at the markets. They love it so much that grocery stores start to mark down prices on items long before the "sell by" date. Really mark it down--sometimes by 50% or more. And I, for the record, have no problem with food that's getting close to the sell by date. 

Yogurt and cheese? Just fine. Frozen New Zealand lamb chops go straight into the freezer at home, so no worries there, as do mangoes--and what's not to love about a supply of fresh mango in the freezer? (Especially given than this is probably the only time in our lives that we could remotely consider mango a local food.) The sell-by date of fancy European chocolate bars has never troubled me before. And fruit--fruit gets marked down as soon as there is a bruise or a brown spot, but since it's going to become apple sauce or pear sauce or (our new favorite) guava sauce, who cares? I kid you not, I buy most of our food depending on what's "reduced but still fresh!", and it's how we're able to afford a mostly organic diet. But it also means that in spite of the best of intentions, my basket gets full when pineapples, say, are marked down to only $4HK (about $.50 US!).       

Ok, so you have a basket that is very full of fragrant and delicious pineapples and chocolate bars (it's a tough life, I know ....) and then you get to the checkout lane and what do you do with the basket? Well, nothing. Because there is no room to put anything down until it is actually my turn to pay, and even then, I can only unload a few items at a time. Along with the backlog at this end of things, (did I mention there's no conveyer belt?) there's also a backlog developing at the other end. Because after items are scanned, there's really only room for one bag (my trusty LL Bean tote!) and that bag gets filled quickly. So in between unloading items from the basket at one end, I'm shuffling bags at the other end, rearranging the food items to try to distribute weight equally--the clerks clearly are inexperienced in bag-loading, which is reasonable given that no one else buys as much as I do. All of this happens while a line of people with shopping carts and only two food items to purchase grows and grows, winding its way down the aisle, murmuring in wonderment and probably annoyance at this crazy lady who buys too much food.  

And now, imagining that basket and bag dance in the check out lane with a baby along, I realize precisely why I don't go shopping more frequently. Because even if I only needed eggs and bananas, the basket would get filled with reduced-price organic soy milk, reduced-price Japanese beer and always, always, reduced-price chocolate bars.

No comments: