Grocery shopping

Grocery shopping for a foreigner in China can be a bit daunting and is not for the faint-hearted. Most of the time we have to brace ourselves for the sensory assault that is involved.

  • It is BRIGHT! Most of the big chains, specifically those with an international flavour, have a yellow-on-red /red-on-yellow colour theme throughout the store. We tend to do most of our grocery shopping at either Carrefour 家乐福 Jiā lè fú or Tesco 乐购 Lè gòu because there are English shelf labels for most products.

Here’s a picture of the outside facade of our nearest 家乐福:

Carrefour - Wuning Lu

  • It is LOUD! Loudspeakers with music, TV screens with advertisements, shop assistants with megaphones and speaker phones broadcasting the latest specials competing for the shoppers’ attention. Most of the noise seems to come from the dairy/yoghurt section where they try to sell off their stock before the sell-by date. Chinese people love a “good deal”, so “about-to-expire” goods are bundled in pairs, with freebees, etc to encourage purchasing. The dairy section also tends to be in close proximity to the fish/meat section and every now and again the booming voices of the fish sellers threaten to drown out the voices of the yoghurt megaphones, which is no mean accomplishment!
  • It is BUSY! Housewives, grannies, wives with husbands in tow, couples, families…very, very busy, especially around sections offering specials and discounts. At the end of the day there is often a sale of “ready-to-expire” fruit and veg and bakery products with throngs of people vying for the opportunity to score a bargain.
  • It can be SMELLY! Especially when the durian is in season – this is the fruit that is banned by airlines and shopping malls. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durian reports:

“Widely known and revered in southeast Asia as the “king of fruits”, the durian is distinctive for its large size, unique odour, and formidable thorn-covered husk….Some people regard the durian as fragrant; others find the aroma overpowering and offensive. The smell evokes reactions from deep appreciation to intense disgust, and has been described variously as almonds, rotten onions, turpentine and gym socks. The odour has led to the fruit’s banishment from certain hotels and public transportation in southeast Asia.

  • It is somewhat DIFFERENT to our stores back home! Live fish and sea creatures and an open butchery for those that don’t want to buy their meat pre-packed. Lots of shelves with products that have no English translations: freezers full of frozen dumplings and dim sum instead of frozen pies and pasta dishes; exotic fruit and veg; aisles of noodles; HUGE vats of rice; shelves of tea leaves in a variety of packaging and flavours; counters of dried and preserved meat, seaweed, mushrooms, vegetables; etc
  • We are part of the ENTERTAINMENT! Foreigners and their trolley contents are viewed with great interest and many curious eyes peer into our trolley every week to see what we are buying. We have learnt to either ignore or stare into other people’s trolleys to get our own back.

Suffice to say – grocery shopping here certainly requires fortitude and resilience and a sense of adventure.


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January 2011
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