After so many years abroad, I was bound to forget certain things about my ancestral land. So here's a newsflash - Canadian supermarkets spoil us. We drive into the parking lot, grab a cart, either from the stand outside or, in the event of inclement weather, from inside the store (after all, no one wants a wet cart) proceed to pick out our groceries and head to the checkout counter to pay. Then we wait for the cashier to hand us our bagged goodies. Back into the cart they go, out to the car we go. Voila. One shopping trip completed. Just like that. I never thought about it before; I just took it for granted. Occasionally, I have even been slightly annoyed with a cashier who did not bag according to my preferences - no meats with fruit, and please double bag those cartons of juice. I promise to change my ways when I return.
My eyes have been opened.
First off, getting a shopping cart, wet or not, is no piece of cake in Norway. If you do not have a 10kr. coin, you are out of luck. No cart for you. They have a system where all carts are chained together, and will only be released by inserting a 10kr. coin into the slot on the handle of the cart. You do get your coin back upon return of the cart, but what good is that if you have no 10kr. coin to begin with?
Of course, you could try the basket approach. Baskets require no coins. However, if you have ever tried to do a major shop with a basket, you already know that it is not feasible. Not only are baskets designed to be as uncomfortable as possible, perhaps to avoid theft (because I for one am dying to get my hands on the latest basket), but they are also totally impractical when buying anything heavy. Rule no. 1 when using a cart is "Thou Must Balance Thy Load". Thus, you cannot buy one liter of milk. You must buy two 1l cartons, and place one liter on either side of the basket. If not, your basket will tip and your groceries will hit the floor! Speaking from experience here. Then there is the obvious issue of size. After two liters of milk, you have no space left to do any other shopping that day. Your basket is now full. Depending on your dexterity, you could, of course, try "multiple basket" shopping, but I do not recommend it. Again, I am speaking from experience.
But let's say that you found a 10kr coin, got your cart and were able to shop to your heart's desire. You might still be in for a bit of a surprise when you try to pay for your groceries. Because not only do you have to bag your own groceries...you also have to pay for the bags to do so. This drives Mike absolutely crazy. Every time we go shopping, he kicks himself for having forgotten to bring bags from home. To be fair, the bags are not expensive - about 15 cents at current exchange rates - and they are of much better quality than the flimsy bags we use in Canada. So in that sense, this is probably more environmentally friendly, as we use less than half the number of bags for an average grocery run.
However, it is the stress of actually having to bag them yourself that gets to me. Who knew that bagging groceries would be a race to the finish? The cashier just slides the groceries down into the bagging area, and they have an interesting divider that lets the last person finish bagging theirs, while yours are being rung up. Then you are on the clock to get yours bagged before the cashier starts sending another customer's groceries down to your side of the bagging area. Thus, it is a two person job to go to the supermarket. One person needs to be bagging, while the other one pays.
Mike and I are starting to get with the program, and I am sure we will be expert baggers by the time we head back to the other side of the Atlantic. In fact, I can see this developing into something of a competition. Who can bag the fastest, and with the fewest bags? Who will be the Bagging Champion?
I will keep you posted on our progress, but I for one will REALLY appreciate the next time a cashier hands me bags of groceries. :)