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Grocery Stores around the world-quirks?

This post http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/820746 inspired me. Have you ever been to a supermarket in another country? Did they have a quirky way of doing things?

In England, I put my hand basket on the conveyor belt and let it slide to forward to the cashier. I do it all the time here in the US. The cashier yelled at me! She told me to remove the things from the basket and place them on the belt. WTF? Her hand wasn't broken.

In Italy, the cashiers SIT DOWN on the job. And in both countries don't hold your breath waiting for someone to bag your groceries for you. Nope, you have to do it yourself. They have a different concept of customer service.

What else have you encountered?

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  1. In Mexico, the kids who bag your groceries are working for TIPS.

    1. I've experienced almost everything you mention in almost every grocery store I've been in in Europe. Customer self loads and self bags. Cashier sits. Bags are not free.

      Things are just different. When in Rome ...

      1. We live in Dubai and the two biggest differences in how the supermarkets are organised are:

        1. Fruits and vegs are weighed and bagged in the produce section. The bags will be sealed and the price tag slapped on it. The cashiers do not weigh/price the produce at the checkout line.

        2. Unless you protest otherwise, cashiers will automatically bag even just one item, such as a can of coke or a small bag of chips. I've even seen a stick of gum go into a plastic bag. It's a sheer waste of bags and it drives me crazy whenever I see this happen.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Roland Parker

          Plastic bags are a petroleum product.... no?

        2. The basket on/off the conveyor varies from store to store in the US. I shop at some that ask you to unload and leave the baskets at the start of the line because they don't have space at the end to collect them. Most want me to put the basket on the conveyor, or there isn't a conveyor and I hand the basket to the cashier.

          Are you saying you have to bag your own in Italy and England, or Italy and the US? I'm sure this also varies across the US, but all the stores in my area bag groceries for you. In fact, most have the check stands arranged so customers can't easily bag their own. The nicer stores in my area will even send someone out to help you load the car, no tips expected/accepted.

          20 Replies
          1. re: mpjmph

            I have never been to a grocery store anywhere in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, or Luxembourg where they bag the groceries for you. It is strictly bag your own.

            In Europe there are no baggers, and you're on your own for getting it into your car. If it's raining, snowing, windy, or cold, hurry up, or you'll be wet/cold.

            1. re: sunshine842

              That's what I thought based on my (limited) experiences in the UK and France. Just re-read the OP and realized I misread it the first time around, and thought his/her home was the UK, not the US.

              1. re: mpjmph

                There is a store called WinCo in CA/OR/WA/ID/UT. The bagging area of the cash register is long and is divided in half with a piece of wood that acts like a railroad switch. When the cashier is done with your purchases she/he check out the next customer but moves the switch so that the next customer's groceries go to the opposite side of the bagging area. You have to bag your things quickly. You get to put into practice all those years of watching pros do it.

                1. re: pdxgastro

                  I was going to mention WinCo, the checker has two cash registers also (or at least the ability to switch between two orders), so if there is some kind of hold-up, with price checks or something, they can switch and ring up the next person.

                  1. re: pdxgastro

                    Costco's self-checkout lines could use something like that.

                    At our local Costcos you have to move quickly once you're checked out because the person behind you usually starts putting their purchases through to the conveyor while you're still hunting for a box for yours. Kindof like the people who drive into the drive-thru car wash behind you and start the water spraying while you're still in the blow-dry end. Pressure... pressure!! ;o)

                2. re: sunshine842

                  That is my experience here in New England as well. Some stores have baggers at some registers some of the time, but I'm never surprised, nor do I mind, when I have to bag my own. And there's only one chain (Roche Bros) that actually brings your stuff out to the car for you. They don't accept tips either, unless it's dark and the managers can't see you slip it to them!

                  1. re: Isolda

                    I used to work at a CostCo (i.e. The Price Club) and we would routinely bring things for the customer out to their car. It was company policy to never accept tips. The managers never went into detail but I think the idea was that they did not want the customers to fumble about for tips. If you know that they can never receive them, no matter how graciously you may offer, you know that the service is being done in simple good faith...or something like that.

                3. re: mpjmph

                  Sunshine's right. Certainly in the UK, we bag our own stuff and I can't recall ever seeing staff bagging for customers in other European countries. It seemed odd to see them recently in South Africa. Meant we just had to stand around twiddling our thumbs until it was time to pay.

                  1. re: Harters

                    I never understood the bagging thing here in the US. What's wrong with bagging your own damn groceries, anyway? Too much work?

                    Please.

                    1. re: linguafood

                      Americans don't bag primarily because that's how it's always been done. It's possibly the last "service" we still expect and take for granted.

                      I used to prefer to self-bag because generally found it quicker, but many cashiers now automatically bag as they scan the items and it can be a very efficient process.

                      Besides. don't necessarily assume that self-bagging is always going to be quicker. Plenty of people are slow at bagging, just as they are slow at counting out the payment. I've been stuck behind people who took forever to self-bag because they kept moving items from bag to bag.

                      1. re: Roland Parker

                        I usually try to bag my own unless I have a large number of heavy items. Essentially, the people bagging don't care if they put my salad greens underneath the canned goods, or it the tomatoes go in between the soda bottles. I'm paying to much to have my groceries ruined before I even get home. My pet peeve - I have one heavy-weight grocery bag and a few lighter ones. Not one bagger seems to get that heavy items should go in the stronger bag. And yes, it is apparent just by looking which is the heavyweight bag.

                        1. re: rockycat

                          I'm the same way - I bike to the grocery store with panniers and a backpack, so I'm very particular about weight distribution in each bag. (The panniers need to be roughly the same weight, but the backpack needs to be lighter, since the return trip is up a steep hill.) Luckily, self-bagging is common enough in US cities that I just tell the cashier I have my own, and they hand me each item as they scan it. If I'm not packing fast enough to keep from holding up the line, I just put everything back in the cart and then pack the bags at the exit, as I'm taking the cart back.

                          In DC, plastic bags cost 5 cents each, I have to put all my stuff on the conveyor belt, and cashiers stand up.

                          1. re: rockycat

                            <My pet peeve - I have one heavy-weight grocery bag and a few lighter ones. Not one bagger seems to get that heavy items should go in the stronger bag. And yes, it is apparent just by looking which is the heavyweight bag.>

                            For me it's filling the cooler bag w/random stuff and putting the cold storage food in the regular cloth bags.

                            1. re: viperlush

                              You would do well to put everything back in the cart and put them in your bags yourself. (as Kathleen does)

                              1. re: pdxgastro

                                I usually just switch things up when I leave the store. I don't want to hurt the baggers feelings or hold up the people behind me.

                          2. re: Roland Parker

                            Roland, I usually bag my own if I can but I hear you about the last service. I went to a big box home repair and lumber store last week (Home Depot) and even though there were plenty of employees standing around chatting my friend and I had to check out our own paints and supplies. There were no cashiers. And one item had an old upc code so the self check out attendant had to go through a big deal anyway. That was aggravating and I'm usually pretty mellow. I kept muttering about only going to Lowe's from now on.

                            1. re: Roland Parker

                              Be careful with the generalizations. We've been mostly self-bagging in the major Twin Cities grocery stores for about 25 years now.

                            2. re: linguafood

                              Lingua, I bag my own gorceries here all the time. I mean, the cashier would certainly do it for me, but I bag the already "rung-up" items as the cashier is ringing up the next items. But, their bagging is available if I so choose.

                              And, of course, we bag our own in the self checkout line as well.

                              Personally, i think it is a pretty good system.

                            3. re: Harters

                              At the check out In England now, you are routinely asked 'Do you need assistance

                              with packing Sir?'

                              Mind you, I have never seen anyone affirming that they need assistance.

                          3. I've lived in or visited most Western European countries, some middle eastern countries, and a few Eastern European countries. They all have their quirks, which I find to be nice because I'd hate to travel all that way and things to just end up being just like in the U.S. In fact, I EXPECT it to be different and would be disappointed if it weren't. I love grocery shopping abroad. It's usually the first place I hit when in a new place.

                            1. I'm in the UK and once in a supermarket (Sainsbury's) someone started to bag my shopping. He was not wearing a store uniform and I have no idea why he was bagging stuff.
                              As I wasn't expecting it I thought he was trying to steal my shopping; I said something loud and rude like 'what the hell are you doing, that's MY shopping' and he stopped. I then had to unpack the plastic bag and transfer the items into my own cloth bag.
                              Today in Asda (another supermarket chain) I noticed what seemed to be a rugby player (in full kit) at the end of each till, I guess to bag-up people's shopping. There was no sign that they were collecting money, so I've no idea what that was all about. (I used the self checkout line).

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Peg

                                the cashier bags for you in Marks and Spencers.

                                1. re: smartie

                                  You're right - in M&S they do ask 'do you want help putting things in bags' - I say 'no' unless there's clothes that need folding.
                                  Why would I want someone to bag up my food? I like to be certain the heavy things are at the bottom - also I use my own cloth bags, plus the Biggest Handbag in the World where I stash the booze.
                                  Mind you, having said that, I once left my wallet at home and when I ran back to get it the helpful lady in Asda packed my shopping in my cloth bags for me; my shopping was waiting by the information desk when I got back.

                                2. re: Peg

                                  Sounds like a charity bagging, Peg. My normal supermarket, Sainsbury, seems to have about one a month.

                                  Like M & S, Sainsbury usually asks if you want any help bagging. I can't recall seeing anyone say yes.

                                3. My favorite thing to do when I travel is to go to local grocery and hardware stores. You can learn so much more about a place visiting them.

                                  Also, you can find better souvenirs than any snowglobe laden store will have.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Jennalynn

                                    Word! There is a hardware store in Vancouver BC (Commercial Drive) that has the *BEST* kitchenware! I found a Chitarra there, which is an Italian device for cutting pasta that is stringed. Hence the guitar name. I also found metal forms for making cannoli shells.

                                    1. re: pdxgastro

                                      Hi, pdx:

                                      And the *name* of that store in Van would be...?

                                      Thanks,
                                      Kaleo

                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                        Dang it Kaleo, you're going to make me work, right? :o)

                                        Doing a search found: HOME HARDWARE STORE, 1575 COMMERCIAL DR.
                                        If this is the one I go to, it'll be on the west side of the street, in a little mall.

                                        But do this: walk Commercial north of Broadway. Up one side and down the other. You'll see all sorts of neat stores. I always enjoy visiting Grotta del Formaggio, an Italian deli.

                                  2. In Bolivia (at the IC Norte in Cochabamba anyway) the cart you push around the store is completely different than the one you push out to the loading area. I don't mean a different cart of the same kind, I mean a completely different style. It was very confusing trying to figure out what to do with the first cart after the food was off-loaded. There was no convenient place to put it. I also thought it was interesting that they sold eggs in plastic bags. I was surprised that not many broke.

                                    1. i used to work in a grocery store (slightly north of boston) and HATED it when people put their hand baskets on the conveyer belt and didn't unpack the goods. it slowed me down, and just added an extra annoyance. i never would have said anything to the customers, but maybe that's the difference - you might have just landed on a cashier willing to say something to you, not an international custom.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: jamieeats

                                        I often see (in the US) signs to remove items from the basket and put them on the belt. The signs seem to be more common in 'ethnic' groceries (including the big HMart chain).

                                      2. In the US stores have experimented with bag-your-own groceries for some time. Earliest I can recall was Cub foods in Chicago in the 1980s. It was intended to be a cost saving measure; i.e. less staff. But didn't seem to catch on. It could that it slowed things down. Some stores had 2 conveyor belts in the bagging area, so one person could bag while the next customer was being rung up.

                                        I wonder if the size of the typical purchase makes a difference. If most people are buying small amounts (e.g. for a day or two), they can bag their purchases quickly. But a customer bagging a shopping cart full can hold up the whole line. An experienced clerk or bagger can do the job a whole lot faster.

                                        Speaking of service, baggers used to wheel the cart out to the car for you and and load your car. That's pretty rare these days. And more often than not those baggers were high school kids.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: paulj

                                          Cub Foods in Minneapolis/St. Paul are all bag your own to this day. Yes, people with huge loads can sometimes back things up. They do have the two conveyor belt system but if you're behind two people with a lot of groceries it will be slow going.

                                          My little local supermarket still has baggers and they also take the cart to the car and load the trunk. That's nice with our cold and snowy winters. The Coborn's chain has baggers too but they give you a claim number to pull up your car to the store and they load them there.

                                          1. re: justalex

                                            I'm so used to the 2 conveyer system of Cub, Rainbow, and Festival Foods that when I go to a store that still bags groceries for the customer such as Byerly's (these are all Minnesota grocers) or Safeway, Basha's, Fry's, or Alberson's (Pheonix area) it seems odd to me.

                                        2. You sound pretty hostile. Just because something is done differently than in your corner of the world doesn't make it lazy, rude or wrong, or even "quirky".

                                          I've noticed in Europe that cashiers are usually seated. I'm not sure why that's not the case here, it's not like the job really requires standing.

                                          When I was recently in Poland I noticed everyone had their own bags. When my stuff was rung up and just sitting there, I understood why--the store doesn't provide them. Luckily I had a big purse so I just stuffed everything in there.

                                          1. I'm from Canada, where you bring your produce to the cashier and they weigh it at the register. When I moved to Europe and did my first big shop at an Italian Carrefour I totally held up the line by not having pre-weighed and stickered my fruits and veggies at the scale located in the produce section. Oooops! A few years later I got my wrists slapped at a Romanian supermarket for weighing and stickering my own produce in the produce section... apparently I was supposed to stand around near the scale in the produce section until an employee bothered to show up and weigh them for me?

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: Jetgirly

                                              Weighing in the produce section was the norm in Chicago in the 1970s.

                                              1. re: Jetgirly

                                                Jetgirly, can't speak for Romania, but France and Italy have gone to weigh-your-own -- having just phased out the people who sit in the produce department and weigh stuff all day long.

                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                  Similar where we were in Spain this year, sunshine. Much more efficient than waiting for someone to do it for you. Although it does mean that's another person out of a job.

                                                  1. re: Harters

                                                    "Although it does mean that's another person out of a job."

                                                    Yes, that's the downside to the self service approach. Many westerners are uncomfortable with the level of service and "help" that's available in other parts of the world, which quite often takes longer than doing it yourself, but they don't realize the service is a way of providing employment for local residents.

                                                2. re: Jetgirly

                                                  Hi, Jetgirly:

                                                  LOL. Been there, done that. The checkers in Cortona are probably still cursing me.

                                                  Kaleo

                                                3. I used to live in Aruba for most of the year and in some of the supermarkets there the cashier sits. There is a different area for liquor (not wine or beer) and you pay in that area. In some of the stores your fruits and veggies are weighed, bagged and stamped. If you want help with your groceries you are usually packed up in boxes - some plastic bags but mostly boxes - and loaded into your car for a tip. Of course, OT, you have to know what days to shop as the containers come in on Thursday and if it is heavy tourist season they run out of milk, etc.

                                                  1. grocery layouts - in the UK you always walk in and find the produce department (fruit and veg) at the entrance. I have noticed - in S Florida anyhow - that produce is always at the back in a corner. Wonder why?

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: smartie

                                                      There's a typical pattern of how most customers will walk through a store. It's been studied to death, apparently. Items that are generally considered "necessities" and higher ticket items will be towards the rear of the store and on the perimeters to force you to walk past more items, giving the opportunity to do more impulse shopping.

                                                      1. re: smartie

                                                        Ah. I think there's a whole science to layouts. My understanding of the fruit & veg layout in the UK is that it immediately gets you handling the produce - so you're immediately involved in the "shopping experience"

                                                        1. re: smartie

                                                          Many of the groceries that I frequent in Seattle have produce on the entrance path. If it's not the produce it's the bakery and/or deli.

                                                          In S Florida, what is near the entrance?

                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                            Bakeries are just inside the entrance, followed by delis, THEN produce.

                                                            I wonder if it's not because the produce (thus, the stuff that needs to be kept at a cooler and/or more stable temperature isn't in the back because it's more energy-efficient to run the coolers well away from the front doors that let in the hot, humid air.

                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                              Wegmans (at least our local store) opens into the produce section. It's the first thing you seen when you enter the store.

                                                              There are aisles I've never walked through...(cereals, box dinners, canned soup, cookies).

                                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                                If they're actually baking on the premises, then I guess the placement is to do with smell. I mean, fresh bread, who doesnt love the smell. Gonna get you in the shopping mode.

                                                                And taking up lingua's point - in the UK, they often move the regularly bought items so you have to walk down new aisles. Pisses me off considerably - I do not want to have to look at shelves of freaking dog food just to get to the freaking sugar.

                                                          2. Foreign supermarkets are my number one favorite tourist destination. I'm serious. Yeah, I love the cathedrals, museums, ruins, hiking trails, whatever, but it's in the grocery stores that you really feel foreign.

                                                            11 Replies
                                                            1. re: Isolda

                                                              But then you find all those great food items at your tourist destination that you can't find when you return home:)

                                                              1. re: viperlush

                                                                you say that like it's a bad thing.... ;)

                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                  It is when you can't remember the name of the product and didn't take a picture of it. Damn you pineapple filled cookies from Costa Rica!

                                                                  1. re: viperlush

                                                                    Heh....we've all been there! (but just can't remember the name of it....)

                                                              2. re: Isolda

                                                                I'm fascinated by snack/junk foods in other countries, and always make a point of visiting a grocery store and a convenience store.

                                                                1. re: mpjmph

                                                                  And the candy. I once wrote a "book" about candy in Europe when I was in elementary school.

                                                                    1. re: pdxgastro

                                                                      Yup, my mom has a stack of the "books" that my bro and I wrote (with illustrations). Our school bound them (wallpaper wrapped cardboard covers w/the pages sewed in) so they have held up well.

                                                                      A couple quotes from my book:

                                                                      "The gum in Italy is good."
                                                                      " In England M&Ms are called Smarties"

                                                                2. re: Isolda

                                                                  I feel relieved to see all these posts saying how much people enjoy going to grocery stores in foreign country---and here I thought I was weird. I swear I can linger for six hours in a big different-country supermarket---in some ways it's better than a museum---you can learn a whole culture by studying the products people buy for their daily needs---and how they buy them. And I agree with others that this is the best place to buy small gifts and souvenirs like chocolate bars and tea, which will be much less costly than in the tourist shops. If you are staying in a place where you can keep house the possibilities are endless: Austrian markets sell ready-to-use strudel dough, French markets sell do-it-yourself quiche pastry and cheese, Spanish markets sell saffron at bargain prices---and incredibly delicious fresh fruit-- and any English market sets you up for a lovely tea of sandwiches, scones, cake...wish I were there now.

                                                                  1. re: Querencia

                                                                    I remember going into a large store in Bavaria about a dozen years ago. It was huge and included both groceries and clothing/general merchandise. Looking back I am sure we were in an Aldi South store although I don't remember the name. If in the U.S. we would have been in a SuperWalmart. I also went into a small town local grocery store which was quite similar to the stores of my small hometown. I remember buying 24 Milka and Ritter Sport chocolate bars to take home. With the exchange rate at the time they were .50 (hey, where' s the cents key?) apiece. Since that time both of these chocolate bars are available in the U.S. The Aldi brand chocolate at the local store is just as good as well.

                                                                  2. re: Isolda

                                                                    And the BEST source of inexpensive gifts and souvenirs. Abroad, I can spend an entire afternoon in a supermarket.

                                                                  3. In Manhattan, where space is at a premium, there are several multi level grocery stores. You take an escalator from one level to another and there is another escalator for your grocery cart.

                                                                    7 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Motosport

                                                                      Europe, too -- it's very common to shop on multiple levels.

                                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                                        About the only odd one I can think of is Daido, a Japanese supermarket I go to on occasion. In the store there is a kiosk/section for the Parisienne bakery (a Japanese/French patisserie) Despite the fact that the section is located wholly in the supermarket, any bready or pastries you buy are paid for at the section, rather than at the checkout line with your other purchases. My only real explination is that maybe the bakery rents the space, so they are not afilliated. Oddly the bakery supplies baked good to the other two, smaller Japanese supermarkets in the area, and there, they are simply brought up to the counter with the rest of your pruchases.

                                                                        1. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                          At the 99Ranch in the Seattle suburbs the bakery has its own cash register. It is located in one corner up front, next to the hot food deli (with its own register), which also serves the roasted duck counter.

                                                                          HMart (Korean) has an independent bakery in the front lobby area, near the food court (which includes a cream puff shop).

                                                                          Speaking of differences in American Asian groceries (both small and large), the clerks are likely to be wearing vinyl gloves.

                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                            No that I think of it , Kam Sen (the larger of the two local Chinese supermarkets) also has seperate cash registers for the roast meat/prepared food and bakeries, though in the case of the former, you can also simply bring the food to the general register and pay for it along with whatever else you picked up in the store. You can't do this with the bakery however, since it's on the wrong side of the registers (you check out, and when you leave the registers you enter the bakery.

                                                                            1. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                              I'd love that. So I could go buy a roll, pay for it, and eat it while I go shopping. Nobody can accuse me of stealing it. And no more shopping hungry and buying too much.

                                                                              1. re: pdxgastro

                                                                                That's one way to look at it. I personally hate it becuse the beginning of the checkout line is also where you are supposed to leave your cart/basket, so it means that when I want to go and pick up a nibble for the trip home, I am encumbered by the fact that I now have all of my shopping bags crowding my hands and have no where to stick whatever I buy. I will also point out that the bakery is on the "out" side of the store; you aren't allowed to use the checkout lines to go "in". Besides, my pastry of choice is the roll-sized glutinous rice dumpling; if I tried to eat one as I went shopping, the cart handles would become covered with grease, and it would possibly slip out of my hand and go careening across the store.

                                                                                1. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                                  I like to pickup a pork sung bun at the 99 bakery after buying groceries, and eat that on the way home. Or if at the Korean market, a cabbage filled donut.

                                                                    2. Can't understand why the sitting cashier is not logical. If they're not swinging around to bag the groceries, allowing them to sit will probably produce fewer work-related problems than standing. And it just seems kinder. And I'm not being sarcastic with that.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: lemons

                                                                        You have to consider the arc that their bodies move in. The cashiers in Fred Meyer's pull food forward on the belt sometimes, they reach behind them, they sometimes lean to the left to put a bag in my cart. You would not be able to do all that sitting down.

                                                                        All the sitters (mostly in bag-your-own countries) just pull the food forward to scan it and take money. It's an easier job, for sure.

                                                                        1. re: pdxgastro

                                                                          ..so they not only bag your groceries, they also put the bags in your cart?
                                                                          No wonder they need to stand up.

                                                                      2. I think all supermarkets have their quirks including branches of the same store. A lot of it is related to the space they inherited when they bought an existing store and turned it into their own. Some are just the way the store is marketed, for example in the US Aldi does not bag but drops your shopping into an empty cart for you to bag yourself.
                                                                        Here in South Florida where Publix has but a monopoly almost, every single store is laid out differently. It's not like you can walk into any Publix and know instinctively where the dog food, eggs and canned soup is, or whether the produce is on the left or the right. Even some branches have different types of conveyor belt systems.

                                                                        Supermarket shopping is bewildering, frustrating and irritating. I miss the days of going online at Tesco or Sainsbury's and for a UKP5 charge I could have my shopping delivered to my kitchen within a 2 hour window the day after I ordered it.

                                                                        1. Visiting grocery stores in different countries is one of my favourite things to do. I celebrate the differences as I find them fascinating and they teach me a thing or two. As already mentioned many times, every cashier in European grocery stores that I have been to sit. As also mentioned, we also learned while purchasing produce that we had to go back to the produce section to weigh our goods and place the sticker on the bag.

                                                                          Spoken and "sign" language is so much fun, too. My husband get as immersed as we can in it. It took us a couple of times on our first European trip years ago to realize that holding up your thumb meant "one" whereas I am used to holding up my index finger to indicate same. The first time my husband did it he was requesting gelato. Instead of one scoop he got two. Same applies when requesting bakery, cheese or deli goods where there is someone behind the counter.

                                                                          We have been to countries where shoppers take their dogs into stores with them. And not just tiny ones, either!

                                                                          One grocery store we were in whilst in Croatia had a moving ramp - almost a slanted version of the walkways in airports. Fine for going up with a cart but going down was a bit tricky.

                                                                          Toilet paper in parts of Europe in general is different - none of the 24-roll size things we are used to. And the toilet paper is colourful and very thick.

                                                                          We have found the bagging area to be tiny in most cases, too. Here in Alberta the bagging area is gigantic to allow room for our vast amounts (or large-sized) items.

                                                                          We do a lot of grocery shopping in Croatia, Italy and Slovenia. In Croatia many items have their ingredient lists in 8 languages, not just French and English as in Canada. Very cool!

                                                                          10 Replies
                                                                          1. re: chefathome

                                                                            heh -- that's changing, quickly -- I saw a 48-roll pack in France last week.

                                                                            Sometimes there are so many languages on the label the resulting type is too small to read!

                                                                            1. re: chefathome

                                                                              ah toilet paper, in England it comes pink, blue, yellow, green and of course white, and then it can also be printed with flowers or puppy dogs a little like paper towels. I was surprised that in N America it's only white. Some supermarkets in the UK also have up and down ramps from the car parks.
                                                                              There is a much wider selection of dairy produce in UK supermarkets than US especially cream and cheese.

                                                                              1. re: smartie

                                                                                We used to have colored TP in the US. I wonder why they stopped making it? And of course there is also the -unbleached version-.

                                                                                1. re: pdxgastro

                                                                                  Used to have in in Canada too, but not anymore. Not that I would want it, don't really see the need for it. I remember as a kid talking my Gramp into buying pink TP. Of course, it didn't match the bathroom and was so garish. My Nana just sighed and smiled. I had Gramp wrapped around my little finger.

                                                                                  1. re: Sooeygun

                                                                                    That reminds me of an old comedy skit. Adapted (the orginal was done in Britain, so the names have to be changed )

                                                                                    "I read the New York Times, because it gives me the news accurately and up to date"

                                                                                    "I read the Weekly World news, because it's non-biased, it lets me decide my opinion for myself"

                                                                                    "I read the Wall Street Journal, because I have a pink bathroom"

                                                                                    1. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                                      I bet the last paper (Wall Street Journal) was actually the Financial Times; printed on a pink (or light salmon) coloured paper.

                                                                                      1. re: Spelunk

                                                                                        You are probably right, I just could not remember the names of the papers (I think that 1 was the Times (London, presumably) and 2 was the Guardian)

                                                                                  2. re: pdxgastro

                                                                                    >>>
                                                                                    We used to have colored TP in the US. I wonder why they stopped making it?
                                                                                    <<<
                                                                                    The most obvious answer would be, "People stopped buying it." But why?

                                                                                    The dyes caused allergic reactions in some people. They developed nasty rashes. Sometimes they were misdiagnosed and told they had herpes. The same goes for scented TP.

                                                                                    Ecologists also began warning the dye in the colored toilet paper rolls was harmful to the environment. Colored TP didn't decompose well and would clog up septic systems. The guy who pumped my septic system once told me colored paper was good for his business.

                                                                                    To cut costs/increase profit...it costs more to produce colored than white toilet paper.

                                                                                2. re: chefathome

                                                                                  Chef, maybe you could be prodded into doing a whole separate thread on all of your food related experiences in Croatia?

                                                                                  Personally, I would be fascinated.

                                                                                  1. re: chefathome

                                                                                    "Toilet paper in parts of Europe in general is different - none of the 24-roll size things we are used to. And the toilet paper is colourful and very thick."
                                                                                    ~~~~

                                                                                    I was in Moldova a few years ago and they must have still been using the old Soviet-style toilet paper. It was a natural brown, thick as you say, and quite rough. I certainly would not compare it to try-ply Charmin in a favorable way.

                                                                                  2. Visiting grocery stores is a favourite tourist activity for me....

                                                                                    I live in Taiwan.

                                                                                    Food that needs to be weighed (like vegetables) gets done so before you go to the cash - there's a stand in the fresh food area which will weigh and tag your bag of vegetables or fruit, and then seal it. Ditto for the bakery section and deli section - you get a tray and tongs, then take it to the stand where they will bag it, slice it if you want to, and label it.

                                                                                    You always bag it yourself, and grocery and convenience stores charge for bags (~3 cents each). But you get nice big sturdy bags for that.

                                                                                    Eggs are not refrigerated.

                                                                                    Coupons are not common, although store points cards are pretty standard.

                                                                                    1. Can I assume your hand wasnt broken either? Why are you incapable of unloading & packing your own shopping? We dont have to pay for our bags but in the interest of the environment, we are kind of expected to recycle our bags or bring our own. I am always asked at the checkout if I would like help packing but I would rather do it myself as I am not incapable & pack it better myself.

                                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: psycho_fluff

                                                                                        One quirk I've noticed, both in Some foreign and some domestic supermarkets, is the concept of there being only one employee allowed to run a specific section of the supermarket, and if he or she isn't there, you cant buy that item. I can sort of understand it in cases where the section requires someone with a particualr skill (say, the deli can only run while there is someone trained to use the deli slicer). but quite often, it's simply a sort of prestige thing, only an employee of a certain rank and seniority is allowed to sell for a section, even if doing so needs no particular skills that would not be standard to all employees. at my local Whole foods, there have been times when I literally was not allowed to buy from the cheese section because the "cheese person" was off that day (and bear in mind that most of the cheese there is pre cut pre wrapped and pre priced, so the person at the counter usually does not actually have to DO anything. Similarly at Kam Sen (that I mentionjed before), there is a rack of large black metal canisters, which contain varios loose teas. Only one very senior member of the store staff (I think he's the head herbalist) is allowed to open the canisters, weigh the tea, price it and bag it (bear in mind the tea and it's price per pound are written in both Chinese and English on the outside of each canister, so anyone who could use a scale could theoretically do this). Moreover he's also required to bring the bags (which are paper and stapled shut, so it's not like you could do any hanky panky really) to the checkoul lane; the store rules prohibit him from handing the bags to you for you to put in your cart and keep shopping. Basically loose tea has to be the last thing you buy (even though the rack is pretty much the first thing you get to when you enter the store.) I always seems really inefficient to me.

                                                                                        1. re: jumpingmonk

                                                                                          Sounds a bit like the Chinese equivalent of buying items from the pharmacy located within a larger store.

                                                                                          A common pre-supermarket retail arrangement is for one clerk to take your order, writing everything down on a bill of sale. You then take that to cashier ('caja' in Spanish speaking countries), where you pay. Then it is back to original clerk to pickup your order. In that arrangement only one trusted employee is handling the money. That 'caja' might also be behind a glass enclosed counter, even raised. Here I am remembering some old style stores in Ecuador.

                                                                                          1. re: paulj

                                                                                            What I always found particualry frustrating was that it was obvios that the druggist HATED doing this, taking time out of preparing important medicine to have to sling tea. It was almost a releif to me when they stopped carrying the loose oolong I was interested in (they replaced it with another I did not care for) so that I coud stop bothering the guy.

                                                                                            1. re: paulj

                                                                                              paulj, that was really common in Guayaquil when I shopped there from '88-90. And the large grocery store (SuperMaxi) had the same kind of security, where you pre-paid on a card, then used the card to check out.

                                                                                          2. re: psycho_fluff

                                                                                            No, of course my hand wasn't broken. I was just doing what I was used to doing. The point is, she yelled at me. No consideration that maybe I was not used to doing it their way and telling me kindly. Again, a different level of customer service.

                                                                                          3. Like many others on this subject, I hit the grocery store in any country I visit. Love them, even with all the "quirks". I live in South-Central Texas and in our local store the checker checks, a young person bags and will take the items to your car if you like. They always ask "would you like some help out with that?" I'm a strong woman, so I say thanks, I'm good. Once when visiting Valencia, I was surprised to have to pay to "rent" a grocery cart and last summer in Barcelona I experienced the "one clerk writes up your order; pay another clerk (caja); go back to the original clerk to get the items Thought it very strange, but it made shopping a new experience. I love seeing all the different products in foreigh markets, but then am always confounded by the sheer number of items in U.S. grocery stores. Do we really need 10 different kinds of canned tomatoes? Not a complaint, just an observation. My favorite city
                                                                                            to shop for food/groceries/produce....Seattle, hands down, with Pike Place Market, Uwajamiya,
                                                                                            and that nifty Queen Anne Hill upscale market ( I can't remember the name, maybe Metropolitan?). Too much fun and ALMOST like being in a foreigh country!

                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                            1. re: amazinc

                                                                                              "Do we really need 10 different kinds of canned tomatoes? "

                                                                                              Anytime you start using the word "need" you are simply asking for the most minimal experience.

                                                                                              Do we really need Collards, and Kale, and Spinach, and Chard, and ...

                                                                                              In the country that my mother grew up in they had 2 kinds of apples: Sweet and Baking. Interesting, but not what I would *want*.

                                                                                            2. Does anyone who lived on the East Coast recall the Finest grocery chain? The one in my town growing up had a cool conveyor belt that would take your bagged groceries in a little crate outside where you could drive over and put your groceries in? I thought that was the coolest thing ever. Obviously now many stores have that, but in 1984 that was major!!

                                                                                              1. Grocery stores in Nevada have slot machines. So you can cash your social security check and gamble it away in the same place.

                                                                                                1. Back in the mid 70's when I was in Italy I was told there was a shortage of coins. Because of that, stores had a bowl of individually wrapped candies next to the cash register. It was common for the cashier to put a handful of candies in your bag to "round out" your order, so they only gave bills for change. Do they still do this?

                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: al b. darned

                                                                                                      In Harare in early 2011, the change I received from buying chocolate milk included a US dollar, rand and stale bubble gum (http://buildingmybento.com/2012/08/20...).

                                                                                                      Since I'm from NY, if I started getting change in the form of bagels and Metrocards, I wouldn't complain.

                                                                                                    2. I'm originally British (where you unload and bag your own) but have lived in Spain and am now living in the Netherlands, where things are the same. The thing I hate most about stores here though is you are supposed to unload your own basket but there is nowhere to rest/sit it while you do, and of course you don't want to tip it out (eggs etc). 6 inches of space next to the conveyor belt so you could set the bag down would make all the difference. There isn't really any such thing as 'customer service' in Europe, not when compared to the US anyway!

                                                                                                      15 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: victel

                                                                                                        Yes. Just about everything is better in America than in Europe. Folk to bag your purchases. Folk who stand in roads with Stop/Go signs at roadworks, instead of traffic lights. And writing in American English is much quicker than in, say, British English - no need for all those "u" in words like humour/humor. It's only a matter of time before our culture becomes completely American.

                                                                                                        1. re: Harters

                                                                                                          Oh, Harters. So incredibly droll. I'm afraid you may be right about some things, though - I understand the percentage of registered voters who actually vote in elections is trending downward, a la the US. But then, I suppose, as a friend of mine says, why vote if you don't know what's going on. But this is not food related. Sorry.

                                                                                                          Tea. Chocolate. Strawberries, Marmalade. Zebras in roads where people actually stop. Clotted cream. I could go on.

                                                                                                          1. re: lemons

                                                                                                            I'm pretty sure they have tea, strawberries and marmalade everywhere but Dairy Milk and clotted cream are why I love England :)

                                                                                                            1. re: victel

                                                                                                              FWIW, marmalade is a Scottish invention. So, if their referendum goes for independance, then I'll have to think of it as a "foreign invention"

                                                                                                              And Dairy Milk is produced by a subsidiary of American company Mondelez International. Used to be British owned from 1824 until 2010.

                                                                                                              1. re: victel

                                                                                                                No strawberries like Cheddar strawberries. And tea as a midafternoon break, not the actual leaves. And the variety of marmalade you can purchase far surpasses what we can get. You have almost as many varieties as we have yogurt....

                                                                                                              2. re: lemons

                                                                                                                A thing I love about checking out a supermarket in a country that is new to me is that they always have convenience foods attuned to local specialties. In Austria---prepared strudel dough. In Argentina---prepared empanada dough. In France---quiche pastry and special quiche cheese. In Germany---cake mixes to die for. One of the great joys of renting an apartment for a week rather than staying in a hotel or B&B is shopping and cooking. Somewhere I have a picture of the dinner I had just cooked in Spain---a slab of swordfish that must have weighed a kilo, tiny baby artichokes sold by weight, gorgeous bread, unforgettable melon.

                                                                                                            2. re: victel

                                                                                                              I'm a native US citizen and I much prefer to bag my own groceries.

                                                                                                              "Bagboys" may *seem* like a courtesy, but I find the practice bothersome. I know how my pantry is organized and prefer to bag accordingly. I bring my own bags and am also aware of the weight limitations (both for the bags and my arms).

                                                                                                              1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                                                                unlike the oh-so-nice kids at my local store, who seem to believe that the weight of a single butterfly is more than one bag could possibly bear, so they put no more than one item per bag.

                                                                                                                (I have two dogs, so have a use for the bags, but seriously, gimme a break)

                                                                                                              2. re: victel

                                                                                                                Where are these folks in the US shopping? I've always had to unload my cart/basket at the grocery store - East coast, Midwest, and West coast.

                                                                                                                The bagging of groceries is something standard in the US, but after having lived overseas - I'd really prefer to bag my own. Especially at Trader Joe's where no amount of conversation will convince the checkout person that I bring 3 cloth bags because I want the items distributed across bags.....not as a challenge to see if everything can all fit into one bag.

                                                                                                                1. re: cresyd

                                                                                                                  I'm in California and at the Trader Joe's and some of the other smaller markets the checkouts are set up so you can put your cart or shopping basket on the checkers side and they will take out the items as they ring them up. They will bag for you too, unless you jump in and start bagging yourself.

                                                                                                                  Safeway and the other big chains require you to unload your own items onto the conveyor belt. They will bag for you, and often have baggers helping out the checkers.

                                                                                                                  Winco and Pak-n Save chains require you to bag your own. They have two-sided conveyor belts, so that they can start ringing up the next customer while you are finishing up the bagging.

                                                                                                                  1. re: pamf

                                                                                                                    The founders of Winco were SuperValu executives back in the 80s when they developed the Cub Foods stores in the midwest (mostly the Twin Cities). That was an early 'warehouse' type, no frills, grocery store. Cub Foods got away from the mostly no frills, but still has the double sided conveyors for self-checkout.

                                                                                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                      I was a bit of klutz at Winco (Seattle area) a few months ago. I loved the large bulk foods selection, but was slow to realize that they didn't accept credit cards. And you say, the bagging set up was similar to Cub Foods (which I remember from Chicago).

                                                                                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                                                                                        It was not too many years ago that credit cards were not accepted at any grocery store. They are working with small margins. I wonder which store first accepted credit cards as payment?

                                                                                                                        I have only shopped at Winco in Arizona when visiting my snowbird father. I really like the Winco store. The bulk foods section is my favorite part of the store. Who woulda thunk you can buy Cheetos by the pound? Theoretically, you could buy a single Cheeto.

                                                                                                                    2. re: pamf

                                                                                                                      Trader Joe's where I am also has that set up. But the "classic" style grocery stores that have the conveyor belt - I've always had to unpack my basket/cart (unless it was self check out which I do prefer).

                                                                                                                2. In England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Holland, Belgium, and Austria, we were expected to bag our own groceries and the cashiers sat at their posts--- the checkout was arranged so that they could sit. Because something is accepted practice in another country, does that make it "quirky" and the US way of doing things normal?

                                                                                                                  1. uhhrr..I can't stand those people who just wait until the cashier is done. Just go and pack your darn things to move the line faster.

                                                                                                                    In Korea, where I am from, they charge for bags for environmental reason so you have to bring your own bags. A lot of free samples and free gifts and it's quite hectic. Prices are high and when they say, sale, it usually means maybe 10% off the original prices. I think generally speaking, US has the lowest prices for food.
                                                                                                                    Supermarkets in Korea usually have a separate bakery, food courts and other smaller shops that sell housegood. Also has a pharmacy attached to it too.

                                                                                                                    I remember shopping in France and I thought they packed the items for me...but it could be my bad memory.

                                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: Monica

                                                                                                                      The HMart (NJ based Korean chain) that opened near me (Seattle area) 5 years ago has something like that - an entry area 'mall' with small shops (shipping to Korea, floor heaters, cosmetics), a bakery (love the cabbage filled 'donuts'), cream-puff shop, and food court.

                                                                                                                      Just inside the store entrance is a stand making and selling fresh puffed rice cakes. Housegoods are in a back corner of HMart itself.

                                                                                                                      Checkout is pretty much the same as other American groceries.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Monica

                                                                                                                        No, France most definitely doesn't pack anything for anybody.

                                                                                                                      2. I've noticed in some Japanese supermarkets that, when it comes time to bag your groceries, you bring your shopping basket to a table just in front of the register. The cashier would drop a couple of bags in the basket for you. Also, I've been offered "ice" packets when buying seafood and other perishables.

                                                                                                                        My first time in China, I had no idea that there was a separate area for weighing/pricing produce. Also, I was frequently yelled at for indulging in photography; a comb with orange juice, toothpaste with milk (http://buildingmybento.com/2013/02/24...). garlic detergent and Caesarwave (fake Toblerone) were just some of the amusing subjects present.