Saturday, January 15, 2011

Grocery Shopping

One of the things I have concentrated on this year is changing the concept in my head, redefining what I've thought "normal," replacing it instead with "different." I always thought it normal for a teacher to have a classroom, for example. I thought it normal for ovens to get hot when you push a button or turn a knob, and certainly thought it normal for post offices to have regular business hours. Alas, these things in Romania... they are different.

One such different experience is a trip to the grocery store.

I typically go to the grocery store about twice a week, because I have to carry all of my things home, and I feel better spending 40 lei twice rather than 80 lei once. Regardless of my mental games of self-reassurance and trickery, this set-up requires that two times a week I empty out my canvas bag and walk to the store, stepping around the stray dogs and trying not to fall on the perpetually icy sidewalks.

Walking into the grocery store, you turn to the left and grab a basket and then go through the turnstile, which is one-way only. The produce section is first, an odd assortment of lots of oranges, some apples, some lettuce and other vegetables, and nearly always fresh pineapple. I had to go to three different grocery stores to find celery one time, but my local market always has fresh pineapple.

Moving on, you are faced with a dilemma. Head straight towards the meat, dairy, bakery, frozen food portion of the store, or turn right to the general grocery. I've found it is almost always better to go straight, all the way to the back, and sneak around to grab a loaf of bread because there is invariably a 271 year old woman examining the loaves with her basket in the middle of the three foot wide aisle. They all taste the same, sweetie.

Taking about 5 extra minutes to maneuver around all the baskets and random carts filled with food stuffs in the dairy/lunchmeat section, I usually curve back around toward the front of the store and the checkout lanes. You should note that I am usually on a fake cell phone call during this entire process, attempting to avoid the 7 awkward conversations I will get into when people start talking in Romanian to me and I have to say, again, that I am sorry but I only speak a little Romanian. Yes, I speak English. No, I'm not from Great Britain. No, not France either (???). Yes, I am American. No, I don't know Justin Beiber. Okay, goodbye now. Da da da.

Finally, I've reached the checkout lanes. First of all, Romania doesn't believe in conveyor belts. You just load up all your stuff precariously on a tiny little counter-like thing. The pressure to get it just right is enormous, plus you have to think about bagging when you place things on the counter. If you do it incorrectly, you'll be holding up the next fourteen people in line, in the middle of saying over and over that you don't speak Romanian, while you try to get the canned goods at the bottom of the canvas tote bag. You have to pay for bags in Romania, and you must know ahead of time how many you will need. Why? Because you cannot ask for another afterward- it seems to be an inconvenience similar to requesting that your friend with a pickup truck help you move for the 14th time. Thus, the canvas tote.

Finally, we come to the payment part of the ordeal. One learns quickly that you had better have your wallet out and ready or the fourteen people behind you will start to mutter. Secondly, you will be growled at if you hand them a bill and no coins. Everything is rounded or estimated here. If you owe 41.32, you pay 41.50 and get a 10 Banat coin back. There are no "pennies" here, no 1-cent equivalent. And if you have no coins, you must steel your heart for the shame that is to come, the wrath of hellfire and the damnation of the god that sits atop the thing on high. Also, you don't hand the cashier the money, but instead lay it on the counter. This seemed rude to me, but nevertheless I am scrambling to pick up my coins that have slid down the metal bagging table during every visit. I mean, we probably could have avoided holding up those fourteen people if I wasn't busy picking up 5 and 10 Banat coins from in between my soup packets and eggs that can't go on the bottom, but no bother, really.

I haul my things out of the store and slide down the ramp with no traction in site, trudging back to my apartment with groceries balanced carefully. Only three more days until I do it all again. Super, really.

It's not abnormal, it's different. But sometimes, I still miss Meijer.


  1. I'm guessing you go to a supermarket, like Mega Image (there's one near Tineretlui, from what I gather that's the area where you live...).
    There ARE conveyor belts at the larger "Hypermarkets" (Cora, Carrefour, Auchan, Kaufland etc).
    And yes, for smaller-than-supermarket stores having no change is a hassle, but you can always take on a condescending face that says "So I don't have change - that's not my problem! Do you want to make a sale or not?"
    You can always take your money and leave, have them take all your items back to the shelves, deleting the bill from the system etc. It's much fun.

    OTOH if you want fresh produce (letuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, NOT pineaplle) you can go to the market (piață) and that's a whole different experience. See Sam's ( advices on the subject.

    Oh an don't shy away from talking to people in the store. I think you'll find it's a pleasant experience (apart from the Justin Bieber comments :-) )

  2. You don't know Justin Bieber? Why am I even friends with you then?

  3. i agree with poster #1. work on your condescending face!

  4. Kaufland is by far my favourite.

    It's funny that they ask about Bieber, considering he is from Canada. As a Canadian, I am ashamed. So on second thought, you can keep him.