How To: Grocery Shopping

I was going to title this “The Tale of Two Tescos,” but I only managed to get a few photos of the second one before the security guard started trying to sneakily follow me around like I was going to steal something or take inappropriate photos. Anyway, I figured for the next few posts I’d do a few How To’s on everyday life here unless something major cropped up to otherwise fill blog space. A week or so ago I was put in contact with a sweet girl who needed some advice on how to get by in England as an American fresh off the plane and I realised I had quite a few stories to tell already that I wish people had told me when I arrived. With that in mind, let us begin!

First and foremost, let us dispel the idea that everything in England is tiny. Yes, the country is old and has been continuously occupied and expanded upon, but they’ve hardly reached peak capacity. There are still rolling green hills of countryside and they’re just as big fans of supermarkets as we are in the US. There are many varieties of grocery stores to go to, but the closest supermarket to me is Tesco, so that’s who you’re getting as an example today.

I’m in the city proper, so I can walk everywhere I need to go and the shops are not an exception. The big Tesco is about a half a mile from my place, so it’s only a 10 minute walk to get there. The only issue with this is it also means walking in the cold for half a mile each way, and one way is carrying back everything you bought. I’ll revisit this later though.

Carrying on, we’re just going to start at the front entrance.

I apologise, but it was freezing and I did not feel inclined to march across the car park to take a photo of the front straight on. If your curiosity is killing you, you can see it here on Google Maps, complete with loitering youths. Also, if you’re reading that sign you aren’t crazy – there are old laws here that restrict opening hours of certain businesses on Sundays and Tesco falls into that category. You run out of crisps at 6pm on a Sunday evening and you’re running to a convenience store. Be sure to note that Click & Collect. I’ll get back to that.

When you walk inside you’ll quickly notice that it looks remarkably like a grocery store in the States. Ooo. Ahh.

Dueling Buggies
I didn’t intend to catch this moment of dueling buggies, but I think it makes the picture all the better.

Looking in to the fruit and veg, you’ll see that they’re all clearly labelled with expiry dates, but look closer… Where are they from?

This is when you realise that America is absolutely MASSIVE and that we can grow almost anything we want in our own country. You’d expect to find state names here. However, Britain is an island about the size of Oregon, so sometimes imports have to happen. You’ll find the locally grown food tends to say so in big, bold letters on the signs over the place they’re in (though not always, as this bag of apples indicates).

Honestly though, you’ll find a lot of the shop looks pretty much identical, or at least in setups that you wouldn’t find particularly striking. I’m a big fan of this style of frozen food section actually. Less likely to be hit by a frozen pea bag avalanche in the bottom shelves.

Heck, even some of the food is exactly the same. Wait, did I move to a new country?

Activia, what are you doing here?
Activia, what are you doing here?

Eventually though, you will find things in containers you didn’t expect and in shelves you wouldn’t have looked on.

I have to say I really love the teeny tiny pints of milk. You may not be able to tell easily, but those little ones on the middle shelf are only a pint! If you’re not a milk fiend, it can be difficult to go through a 2 pint jug and next to impossible to manage a litre one. Even if you are a milk fiend like me, it goes off much quicker here than in the US, so it’s great to get just a little one and pick another up on the way home if need be on another day. (Short shelf life is a trend with all the food here. Seriously guys, what’s going into US food?) Also, the milk jugs are tall and narrow, which is a genius move and should be mandatory to start doing in the States immediately. Suddenly the amount of leftovers hidden behind the milk for days drops by 90%.

And of course, the eggs. I could go on about why eggs are left unrefridgerated here, but I’ll link you to a more reliable source than my own word. You can put them in the fridge if you want to though, and if I have room I sometimes still do because it’s an odd sight to see eggs in the pantry. …And I’m afraid of knocking them over with a box of cereal, but that’s another matter entirely.

There are also a few things which just don’t come to the States, but are fantastic and should market themselves overseas. There are all the fun chocolates and biscuits and Yorkshire puddings of course, but man oh man do you need to try the squash.

SO MANY OPTIONS.
SO MANY OPTIONS.

Squash is an interesting concept. Imagine powdered water flavourings, but it’s real fruit juice involved. Yet no pulp. And it’s liquid. Whilst you could drink it straight from the bottle, it’d be like eating a spoonful of sugar when you’ve got a slight sweet tooth. It’s highly concentrated and depending on personal preference, you only want to fill up a standard pint glass with maybe an inch’s worth at the bottom. From there, you fill the rest with water (fizzy or flat will work) and enjoy! It comes in a ton of different flavours, and it’s probably my go-to decaffienated drink of choice.

Let’s mosey on over to the checkout at this point. Not pictured are the self-checkouts, but they are identical in every respect except instead of a Midwestern woman reprimanding you to please put your item in the bagging area, it’s a posh English woman. Now let’s see if you notice the only main difference in the manned checkout…

IMG_5116

They let their employees SIT! It’s a common sight at cash registers when the employees are expected to be there all day to have a chair (and usually a semi-ergonomic looking one) so they aren’t dead on their feet by the end of their shift. I can only ask incredulously why this isn’t a thing in America because frankly, it’s fantastic and I know folks who would go home hurting pretty badly because they had to stand in one place for 8 hours.

At this point, we’ve wandered the shop and checked out. Now let’s get a look at a Tesco Express (also fondly referred to as the Teeny Tiny Tesco). This one is much closer to my flat, but being smaller they only carry essentials. Great if you’re missing honey or carrots or such for a recipe, but you wouldn’t want to use it as your main stock up place.

For perspective on this shop’s size, imagine a decently sized gas station, but it’s only got grocery store essentials in it instead of an aisle for car parts and two aisles dedicated to sweet things. For example:

Here’s the point where I started getting shadowed, else I would have taken photos of such exciting things as the cereal/grains/bread/soup aisle and the dedicated 3 doors of frozen foods.

So earlier I mentioned something about Click & Collect and having to walk a half mile home with groceries. What’s up with that you ask? Ladies and gentlemen, I am about to share something that will make you insanely envious, as it well should for it is fantastic. Living in England means I have access to the glory that is online grocery shopping. Are you guys ready for this?

Log-in Screen

TA DA. Now this is the way to go for a grocery trip when you need to restock the pantry. Same as with the physical stores, there are plenty of companies that will do groceries online, so look around for what’s the best deal for you. Sticking with the Tesco theme today though, so we’re on Tesco.com. You can look on these websites and play around with them from any country – you can even order so long as it comes to a UK address in the company’s range. I should know, as my wonderful parents have sent me groceries before. 🙂

So looking at this front page, you should notice two main details. First, I need to get to £25 to avoid the £4 fee. And £4 will get you a lot of food, so that’s not going to waste. Second, the Click & Collect has reappeared! But I have no car! This is nice if you want to order your groceries and just swing by to pick them up at the front desk on the way home from work, but doesn’t do me much good. What’s that option on the left though? Does this mean I’m not trudging home with six bags through the cold wind? Why yes, yes it does.

Shopping 1

Let’s do a faux shop to give you an idea of how this works. I can always use some milk, so let’s toss that in the basket. Ooo, no whole milk in 2 litres. That’s okay, I’m a skimmed milk gal myself.

Shopping 2If you get milk, you always have to get bread, so I’ll just check the special offers out. Hey, they’ve got that tasty bread I liked on offer. I’ll grab one! Oh wait, I’ve missed the sale. Thanks for pointing that out Tesco! I’ll grab two! (You can conceivably click the Special Offer at the front page and buy only things on sale for an entire shopping order. I should know. I’ve done it once.)

Money Total

Speeding through the process, I’ve made it to my minimum spending amount and it lets me know how many clubcard points I’ve earned (good to spend on cheaper petrol) as well as any savings I’ve racked up. At this point, this will be the final price. However, I can choose substitute down here if I really want to make sure I get some bread. They could glitch the system and actually be out of that one on sale and allowing substitutions means a bread of equal (ish) value will arrive. (Sometimes it’ll be a nicer item, sometimes lower quality.) If I say no substitutions and the bread is gone, I’ll be refunded the price and the delivery driver will let me know what didn’t make it.

Here’s the basket in full, explaining what I’m buying and what sales I’ve gotten. It also gives a rough approximation of how long the fresh food will be good for, just like the labels found on the produce earlier.

Delivery Address

Next, you enter your details for delivery (blurred out for this occasion). After you’ve confirmed this delivery you’ve got some time available (Tesco says until 8:30 the morning of if your delivery is after 7pm, but different companies have different rules) in which you can come back and change your order around to add anything you might have forgotten or change a carrot for a parsnip or such. Or to add all those heavy tinned goods and soda that you didn’t want to lug back from the shop yourself.

Time Slot 1

You next pick a time slot. As it’s around 10pm now, I’m definitely not getting anything delivered tonight, but tomorrow is still available. Those crumpets will have to wait for another breakfast.

Time Slot 2Hmm, let’s go for the 9-10pm slot because I’m lame and know full well I’ll be in then tomorrow. From here, you just enter in card details and you’ll get a confirmation email. That easy!

It’s at this point that you can run into trouble in flats, and I have. Tesco and Asda both grump and grumble about bringing the groceries up to my flat, but Ocado has no issue doing so. I take the stance that if I’m being lazy enough to have groceries delivered, I want to be able to stay in my PJs if I so desire and tend to go with Ocado so they’ll bring them straight to my kitchen. Your milage (and levels of lazy) may vary.

So yeah, that’s the exciting experience that is grocery shopping here in the UK!

— Kate

 

In Which She Travels Even Further

I’ve made it to Day 7 and have managed only minimal jetlag. Sleep is a bit wonky, but turning out okay. It’s been around this time in the late afternoon each day that I start regretting not making a second cup of coffee or tea, but I have yet to learn from this. Let’s see… What have I gotten into since? Well, on Tuesday a handful of students in the program all met by the clock tower (We originally were supposed to go to the Starbucks at the university, but I got two of us lost… Thankfully everyone was fantastic and they came to the tower.) and all grabbed some coffee and lunch and chatted for an hour or so. It’s SO nice to meet people before term begins, and everyone was awesome. I’m greatly looking forward to courses with them!

After we all went our separate ways, I continued with my new tradition of wandering aimlessly around the city – half genuinely lost, half somewhat aware of landmarks and just adventuring. Not having a car and aiming to walk everywhere teaches you some important lessons pretty quickly. Firstly, you really don’t need all that crap in your bag that you always take with you. Secondly, the more you can fit in your bag, the less you have to carry in flimsy plastic bags that cut off circulation in your fingers. Thirdly and most importantly, if you cannot carry it all comfortably in a basket in the shop, you are going to have a heck of a time getting it home. The only time a shopping cart is a good idea is when you have a willing victim alongside you that can help carry things home, of which I did not. Amazing what you’re capable of when you realize it’s either sit on the street and wait for an expensive taxi to come by and take your lazy rear home or just suck it up and walk already. Needless to say, I’m gaining new callouses on my feet.

Walking back from meeting fellow students and there’s a very drunk man staggering through the streets and screeching (at 3 pm). I stopped and asked some shop staff:

“What exactly is he going on about?”

“England. And some profanity. That’s all we can understand. He just came out of the pub, so sports maybe.”

Exciting.

Back at my flat, it was time for mail call!

Have I mentioned recently that I have amazing parents? Because they not only sent me things I needed that were going to be hard to walk back from the shops with, but also a surprise with the sweeteners.  I have since christened the coffee machine and can gladly dismiss the stereotype that the British do not have good coffee. Picked up a Colombian fresh roast from Tesco that tasted great.

After unpacking presents, it was a walk to the train station to catch up with one of my favorite Twitter people! I take great offense at people who say that technology is ruining our social lives and that we all need to leave the phones at home. Yes, you should always engage with those talking to you, but the internet only helps to broaden that scope. My life would be much poorer without the weirdness of social media, and I wouldn’t want to change it. Heck, even meeting everyone from the program ahead of time was due to Facebook and email. Making new friends, the millennial way. 😉 Had a massive “You’re a real person again!” squeal, then set out on the city to talk and catch up with so much that’s happened since last we saw each other in November.

I would like to apologise to the now local ( 😀 ) people in my life as the anthropologist in me has been having a field day. Coming to a new place you’ll always have new experiences to process, (sometimes happens just crossing America) but instead of just shrugging it off with a “well that’s odd,” I have an intense curiosity to find out why things work that way. It’s my motto to always look at life and new things as interesting, never weird or “not like home.” The world works around things in many different ways, and societies are fascinating because of it. Over the space of dinner my poor friend was questioned on how the bank overdraft in the UK works (you can pull much, much more over the limit of what you have in your account than in the US), the why/when/how of putting x’s at the end of text messages (best stick to loved ones to be on the safe side), and the curious absence of doggie bags/boxes in UK restaurants (though honestly, if you walk everywhere it’d be a pain to carry that around). And of course, any time you share restaurants around the world, you’re bound to get a giggle out of the menus and signs.

This leads us into Wednesday, which was a travel day. Brief wander around town, but I had also packed up a bag and made sure to wash the dishes in the sink. By the afternoon, I wheeled my bag to the train station and hopped on the first of two trains to Colchester, where I’ll be visiting for a little over a week. Trains really are the way to get around in this country, though there’d have to be a cultural shift to have something like this happen across the United States. Maybe when gas hits $10 a gallon it might become more of a thing. Be sure to bring something to read with you though, because playing on your phone will suck the life out of it and unless you’re in a first class seat, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a charging place for your plug. Also, if you qualify for a railcard and plan on doing more than a quick journey or only one ride, it is well worth the price for the card in the savings you’ll accrue over time. Train travel is still at reasonable costs, but that little bit helps.

On the train from Leicester to my change point in London, I just happened to sit across the way from two Texans visiting friends in Nottingham and heading back to London for the evening. Sadly, they were University of Texas alumni and my family are Texas A&M alumni, so we were sworn enemies. I kid, I kid! It was nice to hear a random “y’all” so far from the source. 🙂

Oh! An important thing I learned when you come in to London in one station and have to leave from another to make your connection – you don’t have to cough up cash or your Oyster card to use the Underground as long as you go from point A to point B. Make sure your ticket has a little cross printed on it somewhere on the bottom and you’ll just feed your ticket through the reader at the Underground barriers, letting you both in and out. Basically, DON’T LOSE THAT TICKET. You’ll also be using it to get through the barriers coming and going from each train station as well. Another random but important fact – there are toilets on the trains, but you can’t use them in the station because the flush system just dumps it out of the bottom of the train on older models. Eww.

So as I write this, I’m now safely in Colchester, about 2 hours away from Leicester by train. I’ve got near and dear people to pester, and as it turns out there are a few other foreigners that I may get to catch up with in London! The world is shrinking every day, and it’s pretty interesting to witness. Hope all is well wherever you are. 🙂

— Kate