Friday, 17 August 2012

Visions of Grocers

Yesterday I was visiting with some of my new mom friends (holla Jess, Suzy, and Clare!) and we were talking about the difference between customer service in the US and UK. I said that I'd love to train retail and restaurant workers on proper customer service. Waitstaff who never check on you or act put out if you want a refill of your water irritate me. The people who stand at the entrance of Next (a department store) drive me bonkers. I assume they are meant to be "greeters" a post I filled often when I worked in retail. In the US, this person cheerfully welcomes people to the store, informs them of any sales and encourages them to ask for help if it's needed. In the UK, however, it seems that this person is meant to awkwardly and pointlessly hover by the entrance. From time to time they may shyly make eye contact and tentatively smile. The very bold ones might mumble something about "Do you receive the catalogue?" as you walk past. It seems an utterly pointless thing to have a staff member do if they aren't actually going to do anything.  (Oops.  Are my crazies showing? I think so.)

At any rate, I was relating a story about when Ross and I were dating and he'd come visit me in Dallas.  My apartment was in walking distance to a Tom Thumb.

While I was at work, Ross would work from my apartment and often walk to the store and buy some food. Often times, he would actually cook dinner for me too. He's a keeper! Very early on, we went to the store together and all of the employees made eye contact and said "Hello".  Many asked how we were doing or wished us a nice day. Ross leaned over and whispered to me "Do you know them?" I laughed, confused why he was so bewildered.  After living in the UK for over 2 years now, I get it.  

After telling this story, one of my friends said that they loved that I call it a "grocery store". I paused, caught off-guard, never having thought to call it anything else. I asked what I should be calling it. She declared that I should never stop calling it that because it made her envision me shopping at a quaint little shop served by men in striped aprons, surrounded by fresh fruit and veg. I started to correct her, but she cheerfully insisted that I not ruin her illusion. There are some that are a bit like that. Central Market and Whole Foods are the best grocery stores known to man, even they don't quite fit that image. In my experience, American grocery stores and British supermarkets are pretty similar. 

I learned afterwards that someone in the UK would call it a "supermarket", though most often I find that people say the name of the actual store they are going to (Morrison's, Sainsbury, Tesco, Asda, etc.). Ross and I were discussing that "supermarket" is actually an American term, but it's not one that I would ever think of using in the sentence "I'm going to the supermarket later to pick up some bananas".  It strikes my ear strangely. Just, I'm sure, in the way that "grocery store" strikes the ears of my British friends. I don't find it strange to think of a store a supermarket, but to actually refer to it as one is another story. 

I think Clare is safe as I can't imagine calling it anything but a grocery store... If you need me I'll be spreading false images of the American grocery shopping.

Wait, what would a British person say instead of "I have to do the grocery shopping?" or "Tonight I'm shopping for groceries?"?
I just asked Ross and he wasn't able to offer any clarity...
Would it be something like "doing the weekly shop"?
I don't think I'll ever stop coming across these little fun idosyncracies! Isn't learning about a new culture fun!?


  1. believing you know the RIGHT and WRONG way for everything... I can't get over your American arrogance. You're the reason most British people can't stand Americans.

  2. I'm pretty sure there's nothing in this post that insinuates one way is RIGHT and one way is WRONG. You're the reason people can't stand Anonymous commentators.

  3. It is fun! Thanks for sharing. :) Oh and ignore these haters who keep commenting. Sheesh.