Visiting Supermarkets Abroad – Aruba, Japan & Spain
Many experiences make up a memorable vacation, including the usually mundane task of food shopping at the supermarket. My son recently had to write a report about a memorable vacation, and one of the things that he wrote about the trip was the visit to the grocery store. I realized what an important experience visiting the supermarket abroad is for kids; it’s an interesting peek into the life of locals. Here are some of things that my family has learned about supermarkets when traveling abroad.
The supermarkets in Aruba carry a large variety of American, Dutch, and local foods, with the American brand name foods being 2-3 times more expensive. You can shop the aisles and find the Dutch brand of an item you need by looking at the pictures on the boxes and looking for some words that are cognates in English. For example, rum boter is rum butter, which was a delicious and seemingly popular flavor of baked goods, and if you are peanut butter fan, Dutch pindakaas is amazing!.
We saw customers with carts that looked identical to what you would see in America with boxed crackers and U.S. brand name deli meat, but what fun is that? Check out the deli with petite packages of freshly sliced gourmet European cheeses, over 20 types of ham (arm ham vs. leg ham for the discerning customer), and smoked fish.
Prices on the tags are in Aruban Florins, which make it seem like the grocery trip is going to break the bank, but the clerk will convert it for you at the checkout to USD with no conversion surcharge. At the checkout, your groceries will be carefully bagged for you, but the baggers are not paid a wage and work only for tips. We usually tipped $5 for our large weekly trip that they brought to our car or a couple Florins for bagging a few items that we carried out ourselves.
Visiting a Japanese Grocery Store
The supermarkets in Japan can be pricier than in the U.S. However, store prepared and packaged items like salads, sushi, and Bento boxes are prepared and sold the same day only.
Usually 30 minutes before the supermarket or food courts found in department store basements close, the items are marked down 50% off or more. I was a little wary about these marked down items, because I usually wouldn’t go crazy on discount items at home. However, my Japanese sister-in-law, holding a tower of sashimi, chicken yakitori and pickled vegetables told me, “Nonsense. This is all good food!” Most items were made less than six hours before and were just as delicious. We had to hurry and pick out our items, because there were a lot a of other people swooping in at the last minute to pick up yellow- and red-stickered items for dinner or lunch for the next day.
Also when you pay for your items at the supermarket or any other store, you place your credit card or currency on the little plastic tray, and hand it to the cashier with both hands, and they will hand your change back in the same manner.
Supermarkets in Spain
I found the grocery stores in Spain to be similar to home, and you would probably make it ok without knowing any of this information ahead of time. One thing that might be a little different is that there are lockers to put your bags. A purse is acceptable, but you should put your backpacks and shopping bags in the lockers and retrieve them when you’re finished shopping.
If you purchase fresh produce, you’ll need to weigh and sticker it in that department, rather than the clerk doing it for you. There will most likely be a box of plastic gloves in the produce area. These are used to handle the fruits and vegetables, like checking a peach’s ripeness or just pulling an apple from a pile. You might get some dirty looks if you don’t use them.
When you check out, you will bag your own groceries and if you didn’t bring your own reusable bags, you’ll have to decide on how many bags you’ll need for your items. The grocery bags cost around 0.10 Euro, which is a great way to get people thinking about plastic bag usage and bringing their own bags.
It’s easy to forget niceties when you’re just trying to make it through your purchase without making a grocery store faux pas, especially if there is a language barrier. Do let your kids know that they can say “hello” and “thanks” or “have a nice day,” or some similar greeting in the native language to the clerk when you leave.
If all else fails and you’re not sure what to do in a foreign supermarket, a little inconspicuous people-watching always helps, or ask a fellow shopper who doesn’t look like they’re in a hurry. From personal experience, I touched the fruit at the market without the glove, I got yelled at, and I learned my lesson to watch and learn.
You may also enjoy:
- Tips to Exchange Money Overseas
- Local Customs of Japan, Thailand and China
- Picky Eaters? Tips to Help Kids Eat Foreign Food
- 10 Ways to Experience the Local Vibe While Traveling
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Rachel is from Peoria, Illinois. She works full-time as a software implementation consultant in the healthcare field. Her family includes her husband Justin, also an IT professional,…