6 Reasons Why Going to the Supermarket in the USA is Weird for a British Person
Something I have found from moving to California from England is that, often, it’s the slight differences that are the most noticeable—the details you didn’t learn growing up because they were too insignificant to be a noticeable element on an American TV show. Carrying out your weekly shop is an activity that’s packed with these unexpected contrasts—watery ambushes, archaic techniques and unhappy endings are just some of what I experience during my visits to the supermarkets of Southern California. Yes, I’m being cryptic so you keep reading.
At first glance, Southern California’s supermarkets are just like the UK’s. Bright fluorescent lights shining down on a sea of shoppers—some of whom stomp around, flinging groceries into their carts (trollies) as if they can’t wait to see Dale Winton’s face, others meandering painfully slowly down the aisles, scrutinizing labels and positively pissing off the first lot by consistently getting in their way.
When you spend more than a fleeting moment in these establishments though, you start to realize how much they actually differ. So let's run through a few of the most noticeable differences between UK and US supermarkets:
1. First things first, they’re stores—short for grocery stores—and rarely supermarkets. To be honest it’s much quicker to say and you can sing this banging pop number about a stealthy break-up while you’re on your way to the store (to the store).
2. Watch out for the spray. Many stores periodically shower their fresh fruit and veg with fine water mist to stop them from drying out. These automatic sprays are timed to go off just as I reach for the mushrooms. And scare the shit out of me every single time.
3. When it comes to anything money-related, the US seems to be at least five years behind the UK (see: the prevalence of checks as well as the only recent introduction of contactless cards).
That trend seems to hold true when it comes to self-service machines. A handful of stores have them—I’ve seen them in Ralph’s and Target—and that’s about it.
This usually leads to much longer checkout lines that snake up the slim aisles, causing blockades for those still picking out their evening dinner. What is this, 2010?
Oh yeh, Walmart Neighborhood also has some self-checkouts, but the Walmart Neighborhood checkout area is so convoluted—machines placed IN FRONT of standard checkouts which causes an absolute chaotic scene of crisscrossing lines and confused customers—that it doesn’t deserve a mention. I get angry thinking about Walmart Neighborhood.
4. Talking of Target, Target is weird. It’s like a John Lewis with a Tesco Express tacked on the end. Come in for a new bathroom mat and pick up some bread and milk while you’re there. Not your usual brand of bread or milk, mind. They won’t have that. There’s not enough room for a real variety of groceries at Target. Honestly, you’re lucky they had any bread or milk at all because Target’s shelves are always empty.
5. The small grocery store doesn’t seem to exist in the suburbs outside neighborhoods with a high Hispanic population, which sucks for me. The UK has a Sainsbury’s Local, Co-op or corner shop on literally every street in every town, and despite them being called convenience shops, I never truly appreciated their convenience until they were gone.
Now, Americans know 7-Elevens and the like as convenience stores, but for me—and the rest of people who have grown up in Britain—you need to sell a bit more than ice, White Claw and pizza slices to be classed as a convenience (no offence, 7-Eleven, you know I love you). Hell, I’d take a Londis, McColl’s or even a Premier at this rate.
6. Your receipt will make your eyes water so hard you’ll make the ink on said receipt run. Which will at least help you forget you just dropped $100 on a small selection of groceries for two people. SoCal is an expensive place to live—and just like London, the cost of living isn’t reflected enough in the wages. The price we pay for the sun, sea and synthwave, I guess.
My local favorite is this Stater Bros, despite the lack of self-checkouts...
When things look and feel similar to what you’re used to on the surface—and you haven’t had the benefit of watching a Friends or Simpsons episode that covers the basics—any differences seem to stand out like a sore thumb. I have nothing against Southern California’s supermarkets, they’re just a bit different is all. And I’m learning to dodge the water spray and re-tolerate the checkout lines like the rest of the population.
I’ll always hate Walmart Neighborhood, though.