The Shopping Experience

Exito Supermarket It is that time of the week again. I have to go to the supermarket in Medellin. I dread it! While I normally enjoy shopping of ANY kind, I can’t never get out of these Colombian supermarkets fast enough. First off, their aisles are extremely narrow! There is barely enough space for one cart as it is. But trying to maneuver through the aisles during rush food shopping hour, where zillions of school kids, housewives with their dogs, couples that just have to make out right then and there in front of the row of vegetable oil you are trying to get to … it’s a nightmare! The worst of them all however are the old ladies that occupy entire aisles with their carts while talking to their friends/niece/nephew/grandchild. I have tried to ask for permission to pass, I have tried (in vain) to push my cart around them, I have also tried to move their carts so I can pass which usually ends with them yelling at me for being so uneducated impatient.

To make matters even worse, the stores hire an army of employees that are paid merely for standing around: in, at and along the aisles – making it impossible to push your cart anywhere. In theory, they are there for marketing purposes, and are supposed to offer you special products. In practice however, they just hang out and gossip. I am also not sure why it has to be 8 employees per promoted product. This incredible number of 8 promotional employees is further increased as their buddies from other departments usually join them. Obviously, if I try to ask one of them a question, they react very annoyed, as I have dared to interrupt their gathering.

Besides the hyper-presence of people and animals, another giant obstacle for me is the way the Colombian supermarkets are organized (or not organized for that matter). There seems to be no logic whatsoever in putting the toothpaste next to the candles, and the matches next to the notebooks, the chips next to the cheese and so on … Of course, this “organization” leads to me having to run back and forth for every little thing I need, through the aisles, around the employees and the dogs, past the couples and the old ladies.

While I am desperately surfing through the aisles trying to avoid any major accidents, I suddenly remember that I forgot to get a number for the meat counter line. Big mistake. By the time I get to the numbers, I get number 104. They are helping customer  number 86 now. In my experience with Colombian supermarkets, every customer seems to buy an entire cow with very specific instructions as of what part is supposed to be cut in which way. So really, 20 customer means at least one hour waiting. I am not sure why the supermarket managers never thought of introducing a fast lane for customers like me who just want to buy a pound of ground beef! Would that be so hard?! I am also a bit shocked to see how much meat Colombians devour, but that’s a different issue. On the other hand, if you have to wait in line for one hour, a LOT of thoughts cross your mind …

Once I finally get the meat, it is time to go to the cash counter. On a scale from 1 (fast) to 10 (slow), Colombians are probably a 12.5 when it comes to handling the cash counter. It doesn’t matter if there are 20 people with fully packed shopping carts waiting, they still take FOREVER to pick up a product, find the bar code and slide it over the scanner. Sometimes they also like to point out that you didn’t get the best deal on the eggs and advise you which eggs you should get instead. Of course, they are happy to wait for you until you made your way back (anything from 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the number of old ladies in the supermarket). Which is very nice of them, but not if you are (as in my case) customer number 20! There is never a rush to speed up the process by any means. While scanning your groceries, they might even check out the things you bought to make sure THEY haven’t missed a deal. Somehow it also seems to be their common understanding that a packed supermarket with impatient customers is the best time to chat with other employees while completely forgetting that you (and 20 others) are still waiting in line. Finally, they also take the time to pack everything you bought into plastic bags and tie them up with the tightest knot ever. Even though there are baggers that are supposed to do it. Even though I told them that I will do it myself to save some time. Even though I said I have my own backpack and don’t need bags. Once they realize the mess-up, they take 5 extra minutes to untie the knot, take everything out of the bags, and place it in my backpack. While 19 people are still waiting in line. Of course, they also never have the right change for me, and have to run outside to the supermarket next door to get my money.

By the time I finally make it out of the supermarket, I am a sweaty, angry mess. Next time it is definitely Samuel’s turn to go grocery shopping!

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2 thoughts on “The Shopping Experience

  1. Wow, well next time I’m stressed out at a Lider here in Chile, I’ll remember this story and feel better about life 😛 Also, don’t be inefficient, grab your number early and shop while you wait for yours to come up! That’s my classic strategy for fiambres, and it usually works wonders 🙂

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