Saturday, August 13, 2011

Grocery Store Adventures

You move to a new country. At some point, you can't avoid it: you have to go to the grocery store. You must stare at a wide variety of food products and only sort of get what you're looking at. You must interact with your fellow man at the checkout.

Zurich has two main grocery stores: Migros and Coop. They are fairly standard stores, and within themselves, have a range of sizes - from the baby Migrolino and Coop Pronto to the big MMM and Coop City. In addition, there is Denner, which strikes me as a Trader Joe's without the cool products, but with the limited selection, cheap prices, pre-packaged produce, and warm beer. There is also your variety of ethnic stores and little kiosks around town.

While in our temporary apartment, I've limited myself to the large Coop near us, as well as the smaller Migros and the nearby Denner. I've gotten my Migros and Coop store cards - they only provide limited benefit in the way of coupons or other benefits, but they prevent additional question/answer at the end of the checkout line [Them: "Haben eine Supercard?" Me: "Eh? Oh, nein, danke"]

Generally, grocery shopping has taken me about an hour per trip, mostly because I spend a lot of time wandering around lost and staring at things. As you would expect, grocery shopping is different from the US in innumerable ways, but here are the main ones I can think of:

1. Everything is not in English
This is sort of a duh. But when you're wandering around looking for the lemon juice or trying to differentiate between types of beans or rice, you remember it much more fully. In Switzerland, most things are labeled in German, French, and Italian - since I speak only bad French, this has been helpful, as then I can at least get a gist of what I'm buying.

2. You weigh the produce, not the cashier
In the US, you take your produce to the cashier and the cashier weighs it as part of the checkout process. In Switzerland, and in much of Europe, you weigh your produce at a scale, poke the number corresponding to your produce, and stick the given sticker on the bag or fruit/vegetable. We had read about this, but of course, forgot the first time we went to a grocery store for a banana. And were, of course, judged.


3. The produce, for the most part, looks great and is local
Almost all produce I have bought (except lemons and avocados) has been really good quality and from Schweiz - so from pretty close by. I feel like we've been eating a lot of fresh produce - could it be that it's so pretty? Or could it be that I have a lot of time for cooking. Who knows.

4. You're not going to find everything you want
Also maybe a "duh", but there are lots of things that you're expecting to find that are not on the shelves of common grocery stores or are hard to find. For example: skim milk is not a super common item in Switzerland (and Brian drinks a lot). Other things somewhat difficult to find that you (or I) may want: chicken stock (or any kind of stock that's not in bouillon form), peanut butter (such an American thing), American cereals (Cheerios, Crispix, etc.), cheddar cheese (what? in this land of cheese? it's true), most "ethnic" foods (Mexican/Tex-Mex, Asian), brown sugar, anything larger than a small packet of baking soda/baking powder/vanilla, and bulk food bins. On the flip side, there are tons of products I've never heard of and lots of great, cheap cheese. I love cheese!

5. Variety of brands? Not so much.
You want some chickpeas (I always want some chickpeas)? In a typical US grocery store, there are like, at least 5 varieties or brands to choose from on the shelf. In Switzerland, maybe (if you're lucky and there are some at all) two.

6. Things you think you should be refrigerated? They're not.
Milk? Eggs? Mostly on the shelf, rather than in the refrigerated section.


7. Sales are less common
Before coming, I thought sales were totally not-at-all common, but I'm glad to see that sales do happen. They're usually on the perishable items, though, like meat and dairy - you're not going to see sales on canned goods or wine. Also - usually in the US when you buy something in bulk, you get a discount. Not so much in Switzerland. This does keep me from buying anymore of something than I need right now.

8. Empty your cart/basket (it won't empty itself)
You approach the register. You should empty your basket onto the conveyor, rather than just plopping your basket on top. Since most cashier here sit while checking people out, this is more convenient for them. Also, have your cash (preferred) or card ready, as well as your Migros Cumulus or Coop Supercard ready. Checks? Not done in Switzerland. Ever.

9. You bag your groceries
There are no bag boys and I have gotten very good at bagging my own groceries. Perhaps this is why people come for their daily shopping instead of weekly or monthly trips - the chore of bagging one's groceries (and being rushed along) overtakes the chore of going to the grocery store daily.

Oh, you thought I was going to do ten things? I'm not.

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