A Trip to the Grocery Store

Time to go food shopping.

I take my zebra-striped, shopping trolley, thingy-on-wheels down in the elevator. (The trolley is a back saver and the price was right because it was a free hand-me-down, but it makes me feel like a little old lady. I swallow my dignity and exit the apartment building with it anyway.)

I walk the few blocks to the local food store. Inside the entrance, I stick a plastic key into the mechanism of the first cart in the stack and uncouple it from the one it’s attached to. This is how most stores keep their carts from being abandoned in parking lots and removed to points unknown. You can use either one of the plastic keys that food stores give out or a five crown coin as a deposit. Either way you want to get it back so you return the cart.

I stow the zebra trolley underneath the shopping cart and push on.

The first thing I see after entering is that they’ve already got crates and crates of “Julmust”  for sale. Julmust is a soft drink sold only at Christmas (or “Jul”) except for when it’s sold at Easter and is called Påskmust (Påsk means Easter). But seriously, most people think of it as a Christmas alternative to the hard stuff.

Next up is the vegetable section. The main staples are iceberg lettuce and cucumbers. The tomatoes come from Spain—not much produce can be grown in Scandinavia’s climate.

 

lettuce

Iceberg lettuce and cucumbers are staples in Sweden…

 

I wheel my cart past the meat section. I feel too shy to take on trying to order special meat or fish so I’ve never bought anything there.

meats

The pristine meat section. I don’t dare buy anything there…

 

The dairy section is a thing to behold in a Swedish store. I’ve mentioned it before in this blog so I won’t belabor the point. But suffice it to say that there is a plethora of dairy here–20 kinds each of plain yoghurt, milk, cream, and more. And that’s not even counting the generous lactose-free and organic (“ekologisk”) sections.

laktosfri

Here are some lactose-free and organic dairy products…

 

There are great sauces in Sweden. I’m not a meat lover but I do eat meat and I tell you, it tastes so much better with all the ready-made sauces available. Even when it’s just an international sauce like béarnaise, it just tastes ridiculously good here in Sweden.

There’s not a big cereal section. In fact, in the store I shop at, they keep it in a section they have labeled “Bread” for some reason. You can see in the picture that there are not a lot of sugar cereals. Corn flakes are big. Most Swedes I know eat yoghurt and an open-faced sandwich rather than cereal in the morning. Some put some granola into their yoghurt.

cereal

The cereal section is labelled “Bread” for some reason at my food store…

 

There is an amazing amount of baked goods in Swedish stores. You can always count on there being fresh cinnamon buns as well as many kinds of breads and pastries. I skip that section because I go to the gluten-free section.  In addition to the fresh breads, there is plenty of shelf real estate given to the hard breads and crackers.

bröd

The hard breads (crackers) are just one small part of the bread section…

 

Somewhere near the cash register in every self-respecting Swedish food store (and even every 7-11), is…wait for it…the candy wall. (You should imagine a heavenly choir singing when I mention the candy wall.) The candy wall is a self-serve affair where you use plastic scoops to put your selections into a paper bag. Then it’s weighed. The candy’s freshness varies depending on the store but in general it’s pretty wonderful. Most of the candy is of the jelly kind, “Swedish fish” doesn’t begin to cover it. There are jelly tongues, frogs, fried eggs, and lips.

wallofcandy

Heavenly…

 

If you pass the candy wall because you’re too mature for such things or you avoid carbs or you want to skip the diabetic coma, then you can help yourself to the gum section. I’m sorry but I just can’t be objective about the gum. It’s nasty here. Seriously, black licorice gum? Mint gum that’s so strong it’s like to take our lips off? Eucalyptus gum? Cactus flavor? I have yet to see a cactus in Sweden so that’s just wrong.

OK, the Grapefruit gum is not so bad but it takes a little getting used to.

Time to check out. If I want to put my groceries in bags, I have to estimate how many I’ll need and pay for them long before I start bagging them. There are no baggers in Swedish grocery stores. Experience has taught me that it’s important to put the heaviest items on the conveyer belt first because otherwise they’ll crush the delicate items in front of them. The cashiers use a divider bar to separate one customer’s groceries from another’s. I find it kind of stressful. As soon as I have paid, I have to begin madly bagging my groceries because other customers’ groceries are going to start piling up next to mine. And if I am really slow, then the 3rd customer’s groceries have nowhere to go but into my “chute.”

bagging groceries

My friend, Petra packs her groceries. Note the wooden divider that separates the next customers groceries from hers while she packs her bags…

 

Whew! I got my bags into the shopping trolley and I returned the cart. Now it’s time to lug my purchase home and celebrate my accomplishments by eating a few Swedish fish.

  • Mikael Johansson

    Don’t forget to visit Swedish Sea Cadet Corps or Swedish Naval Volunteers official homepage at http://www.sjovarnskaren.se. Best regards, Mikael Johansson (Head of training, summer camp Lungön)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the links Mikael!

  • Monica-USA

    Are they equivalent to  our Coast Guards here in the US? This is interesting thank  you.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Monica! I think it’s more similar to those ROTC volunteer programs (except more marine based).

  • http://woodge.com/ woodge

    Oj! I miss those candy walls.

    ..but I don’t miss the weak selection of vegetables.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      So true! Thanks for commenting.

  • Monica-USA

    Having worked in the grocery stores for years I found this story so interesting. I can imagine how intimidating it can be trying to buy the correct amount of meat because you are still learning the different weight and measurements there. That is funny about the candy wall I was expecting a choir to be standing there singing as you scoop your sugar into the bags. The part about the gum is funny but I have had the black licorice gum before it is good along with the black licorice ice cream!! Can’t you use your own cloth bags when you go shopping so you don’t have to pay for grocery bags? By the way that meat department was the cleanest I have ever seen! You didn’t show any produce though? Thanks for the insights.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Yup, either you’re a black licorice kinda gal or you’re not…guess I’m not! Oddly, I have never seen someone bring cloth bags to the stores here in Sweden. I don’t know why. And the bags can cost up to $.22 so that adds up. But nearly everyone then uses them as trashcan liners so if you didn’t buy them then you wouldn’t have trash bags. Still, it’s a system that needs improvements. Produce picture had lettuce and cukes…Thanks for posting.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jacob-Ericsson/598648853 Jacob Ericsson

        I bring my own cloth bag! But I’ve never seen anyone else do it though :)

      • cynic

        I do it very rarely, but se people do it ocassionally (about 1-2% I would say).

      • Monica-USA

        Sorry I missed the pictures of the lettuce and cukes!!! I use the grocery bags for trash bags but we don’t have to pay for them they are free but I also use my cloth bags.

  • http://teekalin.blogspot.se/ Emma

    I always bring my own cloth bags as do the rest of my family, but I rarely see anyone else do it.

    • Vaestgoete

      I need the plastic bags for my trash and the paper bags for my paper recycling.

      • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

        Yes, I do that too! And I use small recycled plastic bags to clean up after the dog…Saves on buying special bags and also finds a use for the bags (such as those that come from a 7-11.)

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      I rarely see anyone else do that either here. A few times I brought my own recycled plastic bags but I’ve never seen anyone else do that either.

  • Anita Ersson

    Sounds like my trips to the grocery store in Sweden, but I always make a quick stop to my stores ‘American’ section for some bad-for-you goodies that Swedes seem to skip over as easily as I pass over their Surströmming :)

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      I think I’ll do a “Part 2″ to the shopping post…because I didn’t cover special sections like the “American food” section. Although to be honest, what they choose to sell in those sections usually makes me laugh…not the products I would import if I had to pick 10 but I guess they are stocking what sells… Thanks for commenting.

  • Monica-USA

    Kristin, I was looking at the picture of cashier checking out the groceries and it looks like he is sitting in a chair? I have never seen a cashier sitting down before?!

    And on a side note Kristin, Hostess is going out of business after 85 years!

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      Good eyes, Monica! Yes, I see them sitting down a lot here. He is also looking at the crazy American stalker taking pictures in a grocery store!

    • cynic

      Pretty much all cashier spots in grocery stores and supermarkets in Sweden is sit down, can’t rember that I seen a standing one like for ever.
      In smaler non-grocery shops standing is more common.

      • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

        True. I agree. :)

  • http://swedishfolkart.blogspot.se/ Leif Sodergren

    I fully understand the stress you experience when the groceries come down the chute and the rubber belt mashes the groceries together. So I use the hand scanners available now. You scan every item as you pick them off the shelf and put them in your bags and the checking out (through a cashier or a machine) is a peaceful and quiet process. i could not imagine going back to the old stressful system. There are sporadic checks that you have scanned truthfully, but they get rarer and rarer when you have been Ok for a long time.

    • http://blogs.sweden.se/work/ Kristin Lund

      That’s a good point, Leif. I was stressed about those self-checkouts at first because the machine tends to rather loudly scold you if you do it wrong. But after i got the hang of it and learned a few tricks (such as setting the bag up first and not moving anything out of the bag before finishing thetransaction (such as repacking), it’s less stressful. I hadn’t thought about how one can also control the packing then as well. Thanks for commenting.