Supermarket Culture

In a foreign country, even ordinary places can be extraordinary. Fred and I have probably never been in a supermarket together in the States. Why bother? Isn’t one person’s time better spent doing something else? But in Italy, it’s like a date—”Want to go to Sigma with me???”  And the shopkeepers think we’re nuts taking pictures of cans of beans. I guess I’d think the same of someone stooping down in Stop & Shop to get a nice close-up of the Liquid Tide.


                               Beans beans! Le frutti musicali!

There are large and small markets in Italy. But there are no BJs. That’s the antithesis of how Italians live. The packages are just way too big. The small supermarkets are much like our small markets, in that there’s a little of everything, not a huge assortment of choices, but fine for the daily stuff. And the large are sort of like Walmart or Target, in that they also carry housewares, pharmaceuticals and even clothing.

You put on a plastic disposable glove to pick your produce, bag it, weigh it, punch in a code, and stick the price on your bag. Even Italians sometimes forget to weigh it and have to run back. This was quite foreign to me years ago, but now I do it all the time here at my own market (sans gloves).

Most people seem to remember to bring their own bags, but if they don’t, they buy the plastic ones. Busca, Senora? Si, due, per favore.  Do you want a bag, Ma’am? Yes, please, two. You have to guess how many you’ll need because by the time she’s done ringing you up, you’re still bagging. And YOU bag, by the way. Not a supermarket employee.


Check out the bags—new promotional bags every year for a euro each. Why, oh, why, do they look better suited for a New England farm stand?

In all the Italian supermarkets (in my experience), the cashiers get to sit down. Ironic, huh? In a country where it would be unheard of to use the car to pick up some things a half mile away, and where riding a bike is not done to save the earth, but just to get across town, they get to sit down on the job? I think we Americans can all use the time on our feet. 

Other striking differences are: On Saturdays, when it’s mobbed with all the Monday through Friday nine-to-fivers (well, nine-to-five does not accurately describe an Italian worker’s hours, but you get the gist), nobody’s in a hurry. You can stand in a traffic jam in an aisle while nobody cares that you’re blocked, but also nobody (but us Americans) seems to mind being blocked. They are illogically calm and unemotional at times, while flying off the handle at others. (Fred sits and draws for hours most days and hears families during riposo—that “quiet” time between 1 and 4—arguing with tones of voices, and levels of volume that would take our family months to get over. The Irish just do not let it all out that way. But that’s another blog.


                        Friskies aren’t just for cats anymore.

The other thing is there’s no check-out line for 12 items or less. Someone with one item has to ask all the people in the line if they mind if they cut. And nobody ever minds.

This part is the same: standing in line, people chat with each other, call out to someone they know, fiddle with their phones, and run back because they forgot their peaches (or fish—I can never remember the difference between pesca and pesce).