We are nine weeks away from the return of shopping carts in our lives. North Americans do not think much about shopping carts, where they come from or the specs on their wheels, or how it is that store executives think making customers plug a loonie (Canadian one-dollar coin) into them will prevent anyone from stealing a $146 cart from the store parking lot.
I think of carts. I do. European stores have shopping carts, but none that I get to use, because filling up a shopping cart is a luxury reserved for vehicle-owners, which we are not, at least not any vehicles on this side of the Atlantic. Anything I would put into a shopping cart I would soon have to pull or carry back to our hotel room under my own middle-aging power.
And so, I shop in small pieces, every day, sometimes several times a day, which people remind me is the quaint European way, but there is nothing quaint about it. It is an annoying march into the land of inconvenience.
This shopping-gripe begins with the fact that all the stores in our district have their produce sections at the store entrance, and all the canned or heavier goods near the exit. For the cartless walk-a-mile shopper like myself, this means I spend my shopping time juggling the goods in my shopping basket so as to protect the strawberries from the milk bottles. This is easy at the beginning of the shop, but by the end when my basket weighs in at 15 lbs., it is a hazard to my wrists. On the upside: I have pectoral definition now that I could only dream of back in Canada.
There is a myth in North America that daily shopping means the food here is fresher, but this is not the case. The Europeans view in-store refrigeration in a more lax manner than do we, and so milk purchased on Thursday can be sour by Saturday, sending us to the store to begin the cycle all over again. Strawberries must be eaten the day of purchase and veggies left in the fridge for two days acquire a mossy sheen then quickly descend into fungal blackness, except for Bell peppers which inexplicably last for weeks, making me think I may have accidentally picked up plastic display peppers.
We are only two people, and I have the luxury of being able to pick my shopping times, but it must be misery-multiplied for double-income couples who not only have to contend with all that I do, but also with the fact that stores here close at 7 p.m. and all-day Sunday, forcing them to rush to the grocer immediately after work, every single day, in a misery-go-round of check-out line-ups. This explains the famously tolerant Swiss’s aggression at the cash till where they are not past physically elbowing their way into any minute gap we North Americans might innocently leave open.
And so, I dream of the day when I can go back to once-a-week shopping excursions where I pack up all 30,000 cubic inches of a standard-sized cart, load it into the trunk of my car and return home where I will not have to ice-pack my wrists and study yoga videos for ways to restraighten my spine.
Reality check: There are European grocery stores that are very much on the same scale as those in Canada/U.S. If we had opted to buy a car here and live in an outlying area, our food-supply system would be simpler. So yes, we asked for this.