Today, I embarked on my first solo Swiss shopping trip!
I don’t know about the rest of Switzerland, but in the canton of Vaud there seem to be just two major mainstays: Coop (pronounced ‘KOH-opp,’ and not ‘koop’ as I thought at first) and Migros (MEE-grow…this is the French part of Switzerland, so pronouncing the last letter of a word is pretty rare).The closest store to where I am staying is a “Hyper-Coop”…the Swiss equivalent of a supermarket. A Swiss “Hyper” market has about the size and selection of small-ish U.S. market. From the perspective of someone used to the likes of Walmart, Costco and Hyvee, the Hyper-Coop seemed downright cramped and I kept running into other people with my cart.
I got to practice my “Désolée!” and “Pardon!” a lot.
It turned out that the size of the store wasn’t the only reason for this problem…the wheels were metal and had tracks down the center, which made them hard to steer but which, it turned out, allowed customers to put them on the escalator up to the parking deck without them sliding backwards. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I’ve noticed that American and Swiss businesses differ with respect to what they will trust a customer to do or not do. For example in Switzerland, you can pump gas without paying first…they will trust you to walk into the shop to pay when you’re done pumping, and not speed off as soon as the tank is full. But they won’t trust you to use a shopping cart without stealing it.
So, if you want a shopping cart you have to be sure you have 1 Swiss-franc (1 CHF) on you, which you slide into a slot in the handle. This releases the cart from the stack, and you can be on your merry way. It’s pretty ingenious…if you return the cart to the stack when you’re done, the franc will pop back out again once the cart is secure. Otherwise, you’ve just bought yourself a shopping cart with wonky wheels.
There are a lot of fun, subtle differences between a shopping trip in the U.S. and one in Switzerland, so I’ll try and summarize some of the highlights here (in no particular order).
Top 10 Best Things About Shopping at My Local Swiss Coop
1. Really good fresh bread
2. Huge chocolate aisle
3. Much better fresh produce
4. Hilariously-named cereal products. Dinkelflocken, anyone?
5. Efficient check-out lines
6. Wine selection larger than most U.S. liquor stores
7. Entire aisles devoted to raclette cheese and aperitif nibbles
8. Ultra-pasteurized milk…no need to refrigerate!
9. A relieving lack of horrifying tabloids at the check-out counter
10. Approximately 8,000 different varieties of yogurt.
Top 10 Hardest Things About Shopping at My Local Swiss Coop
1. Really awful bagged sliced bread (so, no ready sandwich bread)
2. No peanut butter to speak of
3. No granola bars to speak of
4. You have to bag your own groceries, and buy/bring the bags themselves
6. There is shampoo…but no conditioner!
7. Labels and ingredient lists are all in German/French/Italian
8. The paper bags they sell at the check-out are very weak…Coop staff who had to clean up my half-dozen broken eggs will back me up on this.
9. Everything comes in very small containers or bags. No family size, economy size, or 42-packs of anything.
10. No peanut butter (it’s important enough that it counts twice).
Next time I will have to give Migros a try, although my Coop experience was entirely satisfactory. I enjoyed the store atmosphere most of all…It was incredibly clean and orderly, and walking around the aisles I heard at least four different languages. It is especially fascinating to me when a small child, flailing in his or her parent’s grocery cart, has a much better grasp of French diction and pronunciation than I could ever hope for.
All in all, it will take some getting used to, but I think it was a pretty successful start. I am not much of a cook (that’s being generous…I can make scrambled eggs and rice and sometimes the eggs have shells in them), but the relative lack of processed snack foods here may change that! I will keep you posted 🙂