It’s always an adventure to shop in a foreign supermarket because of the things that you just don’t expect to find. Florence is no exception. We looked around at the supermercato near our apartment and in many ways it all seemed like home: corn flakes, milk, soda, pasta, wine, produce and of course Italian specialties like prosciutto, salami, bufala mozzarella, olives and crusty Tuscan bread loaves. There was one item that took us by surprise: I’m talking about a little stress at the checkout line.
The Italians have no word for stress in their language. Okay, that’s not exactly true…in fact, it’s not true at all. What is true is that Italy is a pretty relaxing place; they seem to have a patent on all the things that make life worth living: beautiful art, scenery and culture and absolutely delicious food. So why do my wife and I feel a slight feeling of anxiety every time we approach the checkout line at our Florentine supermercato?
It starts as my overstuffed green plastic shopping crate-on-wheels rolls into the only checkout line. When it’s my turn I load all the items on the small counter and the lady quickly scans each item and slides it towards the rectangular stainless-steel bagging surface. I fumble with my Euros trying to get the correct change so that I can quickly get to bagging my food. This is the source of stress: trying to bag everything quickly before then next person’s things start sliding towards me. Almost every time, I’m struggling to get all my things into bags while the person behind me has paid for and bagged his/her goods. On a few occasions the person behind me has left the store before I’ve finished bagging. At this point a few people in line lean to one side to get a better view at what is taking me so long. This is the moment I try to avoid and every time it happens.
What is the source of this stress? The unfamiliarity with the Euro coins definitely slows me down. Part of it is that I’m buying a lot of food – for a family of four -- so it takes me longer. Another factor is what I’ll call Costco expectations vs. Italian reality. This is the intersection between an American buying enough food for a week or two and the Italian model of shopping for smaller and fresher quantities daily.
Things got a little better over our four weeks in Florence; for one thing I became more familiar with the coins and took less time fumbling for the right change. I also took my wife’s suggestion and placed the heavy items that get bagged first – milk, juice, wine – on the counter first so that I’d be able to bag faster. Lastly, since we were in Italy, I decided to just relax a bit, do as the locals do and take my time.
For more interesting finds check out Orange Polka Dot's current Blog Carnival on Interesting Finds in Foreign Food Markets