One great piece of advice I’ve always heard is to shop where the locals do. It’s something kind of subtle, but can tell you about how others live and how it’s different from how you live.
When I was in Scandinavia we went to a lot of grocery stores. Many were pretty typical – food, fruits, veggies, drinks, snacks. Then every now and then we would end up in a massive grocery store ya know the ones with lumber departments, clothing and all sorts of non-grocery stuff for sale. Wow, lumber, that was pretty impressive. It was so bizarre, if we had more time I probably could have done a lot of damage there, not on the lumber but on the myriad of other offerings. It threw me off a bit too, I would have expected Scandinavia to be more of a local store kinda place, not the type of place with big giant huge super stores.
Here in the US the closest thing to that would be a Wal-Mart – but groceries are just a section, it’s not a grocery stores. Long Island and NYC don’t have great Wal-Mart stores though. I hear in the mid-west they are HUGE and have pretty much anything you could ever need in them. I’m going to have to see one of these places one of these days.
Russia was totally different though. We didn’t stop at many grocery stores, and I’m not totally sure if the grocery type places were typical grocery stores or just strange left overs from Communism. Everything in the store is behind a glass case and one of the workers gets each item that you need. The selection in the stores was poor, and the girl who I saw doing her nails behind the counter made me wonder about the sanitary issues. I opted to just get candy at that store. I guess when your country has communism and you need to create jobs for everyone, a labor intensive grocery store makes sense.
Belarus was a little different. The grocery store where I went reminded me of what a grocery store in the 70’s or 80’s in the US would have been like. It just didn’t seem as sophisticated as grocery stores are today. The produce was weighed by a person in the produce section, then she would put a little sticker with the price on it on the produce. At the check out the person entered the prices for each item manually. I had exchanged 5 euro, but the prices were so cheap that I couldn’t spend that much even when trying to spend the money. I probably spent about 2 euro worth on food and had a large bill, probably the equivalent of 3.50 euro. The girl could barely give me change, and I screwed up her drawer so much that she couldn’t give change to my friend behind me. I was with 2 other girls and we played shuffle the money around so that we could each get our change for the groceries.
Shopping can be a great way to see how people really live, and it can help you eat on the cheap too. Next time you’re away from home do some shopping with the locals, you might be surprised at what you find.